Well it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to cook with Freddie, my gorgeous 5½-year-old grandson. With the pandemic lockdown, for weeks we couldn’t see each other and then only at social distance, which Freddie was very strict about! ‘The virus’ is part of his new vocabulary. One has to hope there won’t be a long-term scar.
Now, as someone living alone, I’ve been able to ‘bubble’ with my son and his family (who live within walking distance) and thus seeing and even hugging Freddie is ‘allowed’. This is truly a delight.
Freddie came to my house a couple of mornings ago. Now he can visit me again, he likes being here as it’s part of his ‘normality’ (in ‘normal’ times I take him to school three days a week; pick him up once and bring him back to my house for about three hours until his mum’s home). He has toys here (shared with the other two grandsons) and knows the treats Nonna will allow him. ‘Tickle water’ for a start; i.e. Pellegrino sparkling water. Whenever the family come for a meal, Freddie’s first question will be: ‘What’s for pudding?’ Because he knows I’ll always make a dessert. A treat was on offer on Tuesday … a promise that we’d go for a walk down by Twickenham Riverside, feed the ducks and geese, and go into Corto Deli, which now sells ice cream from Gelateria Danieli. Gelato for Freddie; coffee for Nonna; Quack Snacks (a new find of safe, healthy duck food) for the ducks and geese.
But we’d also decided to make some focaccia. Freddie’s dad, my son Jonathan, makes wonderful sourdough bread; Nonna keeps things more simple and makes focaccia. Focaccia is so simple even a 5½ year old can (almost) make it (with a little help from Nonna). So that was our plan. And although I’ve made focaccia for years and years, I’d never thought of putting olives on top. But when I asked Freddie what we should put on it, ‘Olives!’ he immediately said. So we did.
I said it would be a good idea to make the dough before we went out, as it needs to be left for an hour to rise (with his dad’s regular bread making, this was completely understood by Freddie). While it was rising, I said, we’d go down to Corto and get his ice cream and feed the ducks.
For my focaccia recipe click here. I’ve started using half semola and half Italian ’00’ flour and buy these and fresh yeast from Corto.
We measured the flours. I pointed out the numbers on the digital scales to Freddie and we watched until we reached the required amount and he tipped them into a big bowl. We measured out the water – some boiling water and cold. Was it lukewarm? Could you leave your finger in it comfortably? No, not quite. A little more cold water. Then the fresh yeast (already weighed) went in and Freddie mixed it all together with a small whisk then poured it into a well I’d made in the flour. We added sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. Then I gave Freddie a spatula to start mixing it together.
I had to take over to gather the dough into a ball and start the kneading. Then I left him do it for a bit. (He’d already learned to knead with his dad.) I did take over after a while (10 minutes of kneading is a long time when you’re five!).
We put the dough back into the large bowl and covered the bowl with clingfilm. Now it was treat time! And we headed down to central Twickenham and the riverside.
We bought not only gelato and coffee in Corto but some prosciutto too, for lunch. We told Romina we were making focaccia and Freddie said we were going to put olives on it. Romina seemed suitably impressed; she’s always so lovely with him and has watched him grow from a tiny baby in arms to the schoolboy he is now.
Back at my house the dough had risen well.
I do think this is an exciting cooking experience for a child – the magic of the way the dough slowly puffs up! Really, who wouldn’t be awed by it.
I lifted it carefully out on to the worktop. Then knocked it back slightly and shaped it into a baking tray. I gently pushed shallow holes into the dough in rows and poured on a little olive oil and spread it all over with my fingers. I seasoned it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; sprinkled over a little dried oregano. Then Freddie and I counted the olives. We counted the holes I’d made first … 20. So we counted out 20 olives from the jar. Freddie carefully put an olive into each little dip. This is something that a child can easily do but gets so much satisfaction from. Now it had to be left for another 30 minutes to rise again.
The preheated oven was hot and ready and into it went the focaccia dough. A little over 10 minutes later it was beautifully golden brown and ready. Nonna lifted it out (not something for a 5 year old to do!) and transferred it to a cooling rack.
I sent a photo to my son, who was working at home: Look what Freddie and I have made! He said he’d join us for lunch.
The prosciutto that Romina had cut freshly only about an hour ago was laid on one of my lovely Italian platters. Roasted peppers in oil from a jar; buffalo mozzarella; sweet cherry tomatoes with some fresh basil; a little mound of olives in the middle. And our freshly baked focaccia. I’d cut in half (half could go back with Freddie to his home).
What a perfect lunch. What a delight to cook with Freddie again; to enjoy a simple lunch of the best ingredients with two of my favourite people in the world. Joy can be found in small moments.