Focaccia di Recco, sister to pizza
The salty sweet focaccia al formaggio di Recco is named for the small town on the Liguria coast from where it originates called Recco. With less than 10,000 residents, Recco is little known if only for it’s focaccia and by water sports enthusiasts for its waterpolo team. Made from flour, water, salt, olive oil and crescenza or stracchino cheese, it’s the focaccia that defies all perceptions of the name.
Regular focaccia is often eaten cold and is known for being thick, a staple on Genovese breakfast tables and mostly eaten as simple as bread alone. In Recco, creamy spreadable cheese melts into a pool of chewy dough on the bottom covered by crunchy dough on top is thin and served hot. The two thin layers of dough about a millimeter thick, filled with cheese, is baked in the oven to order and best consumed piping hot. Baked in a steel, shallow circular pizza pie-like pan, unlike regular focaccia which is usually baked in deeper rectangular baking pans.
While we can all agree pizza is a universally loved food, it’s also one that sparks continued debates. In 1993, the New York Times explored focaccia’s relationship to pizza, as American grocery stores began to fabricate names for frozen foods that claimed to resemble both. General Foods USA made up the world ‘Boboli’ to name a ‘bread shell’ resembling focaccia advising the customer to add sauce and cheese on top making it a ‘boboli,’ similar to a pizza. It’s agreed that what we now know as focaccia came to be enjoyed before pizza as centuries ago people around the world were put slabs of dough under fire and adding olive oil, salt or herbs on top. In the Middle Ages, people used rounds of breads as plates or hallowed out loaves of bread for bowls.
Focaccia means 'under the fire', and in Italy it’s origins are attributed to Liguria. The Ligurian coast is dotted with small towns, many whose populations are less than 3,000, yet have up to five bakeries (panificio) that specialize in Ligurian focaccia (also known as focaccia Genovese) as well as farinata, a large round flatbread made with chickpea flour sold by the kilogram. While focaccia is baked all over Italy, Focaccia di Recco is IGP certified. This means it must always be linked to the place or region where it is produced, processed, or prepared and furthermore, requires greater skills. The real thing is allowed to be produced and sold in Sori, Avegno, and Camogli,the towns surrounding Recco.
While controversy often fuels creativity, especially in Italian kitchens where traditions are passionately preserved and bold chefs after studying these traditions, defy them, focaccia di Recco may appear to be one of these modern twists. However, the earliest documents referring to this gastronomic specialty date back to this time 12th century.
In Recco, visit Moltedo Bakery (Via XX Settembre, 2), the oldest historical bakery in Recco that is still open. Since 1864 it has been family run for five generations. The most famous producer of focaccia di Recco is Manuelina 1885 whose traditional trattoria with an extensive menu of local pastas and main dishes books out weeks in advance in the summertime. If you’re stopping in for a light lunch before going to the beach, head to the focacceria next door. And if you’re Milan don’t miss their outpost near Duomo. In 2014 the Carbone family (Manuelina Carbone was the current generation’s great grandmother) opened an no frills modern take-away casual cafe under La Rinascente near Duomo.
A group of Californians well versed in pizza during a food tour in Milan compared focaccia di Recco to mac-n-cheese. “There’s a cheese drip instead of a cheese pull,” he marveled.
Note: the name of focaccia di Recco on the Milan menu is written focaccia col formaggio in Genovese dialect (they wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the IGP regulators).
Manuelina’s focaccia col formaggio (recipe courtesy of Manuelina)
Ingredients for 6 people:
800g of crescenza 200g water 400g wheat 00 flour 120g of extra virgin olive oil 3 pinches of coarse salt
Mix the flour on a pastry board with 80g of olive oil adding cold water until the dough is very soft. Form a ball, place in bowl and let sit for an hour at room temperature, avoiding cool air. Knead the dough for a few minutes to form another ball. Let it rest for 5 minutes then roll it out into a thin sheet. Work the dough with clenched fists, enlarging it as much as possible, making it as thin as possible - almost transparent. Evenly oil a large, round copper baking tray (50 cm in diameter). Line it with half of the rolled out, think dough. Distribute the soft cheese in small pieces evenly on top of the dough. Cover with the other half of dough, making small holes by pinching it 10 times to release the air from the two stacked layers. Sprinkle with coarse salt and remainder of oil. Distribute oil with palm of hand or pastry brush and gently push down the peaks formed by the mounds of cheese. Please in a hot oven (300 C / 570 F) for about 6 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately by cutting in 4-6 pieces.