A large container of fresh heirloom tomatoes and a block of feta cheese can be combined into many things, though I’d be willing to bet that more often than not, they end up in some kind of salad or pasta dish. Tomatoes, cucumber and feta is a classic combination that makes a side dish to match just about any meal. The delicious combination of feta and tomatoes can work well in many other things, and after trying a crostini that had tomatoes and feta on top, the pair seemed a natural one for other baked goods, as well.
Focaccia is a versatile bread that can be used as an accompaniment for soup or salad, eaten alone as a snack or halved and used as sandwich bread. The versatility of the bread makes it a natural choice for flavorings and toppings, which is why I chose it to be a canvas for the feta and tomato combination.
Starting with a focaccia recipe I know well, I adapted it to make a smaller batch (enough for a 10×15-in. baking pan) and topped it with the tomatoes and cheese. I also threw on some fresh lemon thyme, which has a mild lemon-herb flavor, as a finishing touch. It didn’t take long to make and the end result was delicious. The bread was light in texture and the toppings were outstanding.
The bread would work well with a variety of salads and pasta dishes, but could also be served with most chicken or steak dishes. If you make it a day ahead, you can reheat it in the oven on even on the grill before serving to give it a hint of crispness. As tomatoes are now in season, as long as there is feta in the fridge, a fresh batch of this bread will never be far away.
Feta and Tomato Focaccia
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups water, warm (100-110F)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tomatoes (pref. colorful heirlooms)
3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
handful fresh thyme or lemon thyme
extra olive oil/vegetable oil, for handling dough
Combine yeast, warm water and honey in a large bowl and leave until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
Stir in olive oil, 3 cups flour and salt, mixing until the dough comes together. Add remaining flour gradually (adding a bit extra if necessary), mixing until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes (or “knead” for 2 minutes with the dough hook of an electric mixer). Dough may be slightly sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Gently turn out the dough onto a lightly greased 10×15-inch jelly-roll pan. Greae your hands with olive/vegetable oil. Flatten dough gently into a rectangular shape. Splay your fingers and press into dough, indenting it and pushing it out towards the sides of the pan (much like a cat kneading a blanket) until the pan is full. This will help keep the air bubbles in the dough. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Slice tomatoes very thinnly.
When dough has risen, place tomato slices on top of dough and top with crumbled feta. Sprinkle with thyme leaves.
Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes, until bread is golden brown on the bottom (peek underneath with a spatula) and lightly browned on top. Let cool in pan for 15-20 minutes before removing it to a wire rack to cool completely.
Slice as desired and serve.
Makes at least 15 pieces.