The Meal that was Offered to the Gods

Some of my favorite memories as a child involve going to La Focacceria, a place that made and sold focaccia breads. This place just made a certain number of large and small focaccias, and when they sold out, the shop would close. 


My sister Lucia would walk me to school in the morning and, on the way, we would make a stop at La Focacceria to buy focaccine (small focaccias) for me to take to school. I could smell the unmistakable, tantalizing aroma of the focaccias about a block away, and, mi veniva l’acquolina in bocca, my mouth would start salivating.


These heavenly flatbreads were cooked in a wood oven. Some were large, round pies with dimples, filled with cherry tomatoes, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. The large ones would be purchased to take home to share with the family. The small ones we took to school were six-inch circles. Even at a child’s height, I could see the stacks of focaccia on the counter. At times, we had to wait until the breads came out fresh and hot from the oven, but the smell in that shop was intoxicating. 


Often we would stop at a delicatessen (salumeria) to buy prosciutto or mortadella to make a sandwich (panino) with the focaccine. It was devine! Of course, the focaccine never made it to school.


Gioia del Colle, Bari, Italy, was my home until I was eight years old. That year, I moved with my sister Lucia and her husband Angelo to La Spezia, in Northern Italy. I gained an educated palate, and have many delicious memories about various Italian foods, from the south and the north. Now, when I make the focaccia bread at home, the aroma wafting through the house brings me back to those days.


The name focaccia comes from the Latin word for ‘focus,’ which means ‘fire.’ Focaccia is meant to be cooked over fire. The first focaccias were prepared by the Phoenicians, and were made by mixing millet and barley with water and salt, then cooked with a rich amount of fat. In those days, focaccia was considered a meal. It was considered so good and rich that these breads were offered to the gods by the Latin people because they were a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Focaccias were consumed together with wine during weddings in the Renaissance.


In Italy, there are many variations of focaccia due to different preparation procedures and the diversity of ingredients and seasonings. There is an historic bakery, a panificio that’s over 90 years old, named Santa Rita, located in the heart of Old Bari (Bari Vecchia). It is an excellent authentic focaccia bakery; not just a bakery, but an institution. It offers the possibility to taste a typical product of the Apulian cuisine. Focaccia varies from region to region. Although Puglia and Liguria compete for paternity, its presence—and enjoyment—is strong throughout the Mediterranean.


Buon Appetito!







  • Pamela’s Pizza Crust Mix – 1 bag,  11.29 oz.
  • Packet active dry yeast – use the one enclosed in the crust mix container
  • Sugar – 1 tsp.
  • Sea salt – 1 tsp.
  • Warm water – 1 ¾ c. (at 110 degrees F.)
  • Olive oil – ¼ c., plus more for the pan




  • Can of peeled plum tomatoes (14.5 oz.) or fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half 
  • Dried oregano – 1/3 tsp.
  • Himalayan pink salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil – 4 Tbsp.




  • In a mixing bowl combine yeast, sugar, and ¼ cup of warm water; let rest for five minutes.
  • Mix with a hand mixer for three minutes, or mix by hand.
  • Add olive oil, remaining 1½ cups warm water, and Pamela’s Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix.
  • Mix with a hand mixer for three minutes, or mix by hand.
  • The dough will be a little sticky.
  • With your oiled hand or a large spoon, gently combine the mixture into a ball.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. 
  • You can use a six miniature round cake pans or a six-muffin pan.
  • Oil each pan or muffin cup with olive oil. Place two tablespoons or more of the dough    
  • in each to cover the bottoms evenly, then, with your hand, smooth the tops evenly.
  • Allow to rise about 15 minute or more, so that the dough looks smooth. 
  • Press five pieces of tomato into each focaccina (like the picture).
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, and dried oregano on top, then drizzle with olive oil.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F/205°C.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from the pan and enjoy.


Note:  Pamela’s Pizza Crust Mix was the easiest and tastiest gluten-free flour I found for this recipe. Some grocery stores carry it, but it’s easy to find and buy on the Internet.


You can enjoy these focaccine just out of the oven, or you can use them to make panini (sandwiches) with your favorite lunchmeats, cheeses, vegetables, or all of them together.


Rita Romano is a native of Bari, Italy, is the youngest of ten children and has a deep appreciation for the culinary arts. From 1990 until 1993, Rita operated three Italian restaurants, specializing in pasta. She has published Sauces for Pasta Lovers, Italian Entrees for Protein Lovers, Ciao Tesoro! and Italian Gluten Free Gastronomy with Clarissa Burt.     [email protected]