As a teenager, I used to go skiing in the Alps, in Valle d’Aosta, the austere north-western part of Italy, crowned by dramatic peaks. On a sunny, crisp, late winter day, coming down the slopes was exhilarating. And exhausting after a few hours of fun. By late lunch, I was starving. We would generally find a safe spot and have a picnic – a slab of focaccia, stuffed with ham or mortadella, a coke and some chocolate. The local alimentari down in the village used to sell a great focaccia and I indulged often. I have never come across a bakery or alimentari in Italy that does not sell focaccia, though not perhaps always as good as the one I used to buy up there in the mountains. Now that I think of it, this is a little curious, because focaccia is actually specific to Liguria, in the north-west of Italy, but it has become a national food in the past few decades.
It is only in Liguria, however, that I have come across the lesser known focaccia d Recco, which is not a focaccia in the conventional meaning, but a flat bread, stuffed with cream cheese.
This unusual focaccia comes from Recco, a town not far from Genova, the capital of Liguria, but it is popular also in other parts of that region. Outside Liguria, however, you will hardly encounter it. This has remained a strictly regional food. Fortunately, it can be easily made at home.
Two thin sheets of a quickly made, yeast-less dough enclose walnut-size dollops of crescenza or stracchino, two similar types of cow’s milk cream cheese, light and fresh testing. The top layer is torn here and there to create steam vents and it is drizzled with olive oil (of which, Liguria is a great producer). Then the focaccia is dispatched to the hottest possible oven, where it cooks in just a few minutes.
When it is golden all over, with darker patches of brown, it is done. Bring to the table, cut it up and eat straight away. Hot, crisp, tender, cheesy – and very nice.
The following quantities are ample for two large focaccia, 32-34 cm diameter, each one enough for 3 to 4 portions. There will be a little dough left if you go with my dimensions; however the cost of this dough is negligible and these quantities allow you to work with ease. To be honest, the two of us polished off one whole tray between us – but that’s being greedy because it is quite rich.
Focaccia di Recco (focaccia with cheese from Recco, Liguria)
300 g strong bread flour
5 g fine salt
180 g tap water
30 g olive oil
150 g crescenza or stracchino cheese, per each focaccia di Recco
One 32-35 cm non-stick pizza tin, well oiled
Before starting, check this video here and refer to it all the way through the recipe.
You are aiming at a dough as soft as your ear lobe – supple but not sticky.
Get a wide mixing bowl and mix the flour and salt in it.
Add most of the water and all the oil. Stir with a fork until a rough dough has formed.
Start kneading with your hands, adding the extra water little by little. When all the flour has been hydrated and there are no dry patches (add extra water if necessary), transfer it to your working surface and knead it until smooth and supple – between five and ten minutes. Cover and let it rest for one hour.
Preheat your oven to maximum. Divide the dough into 4 pieces: two (the bottoms) will be larger than the other two (the tops). Keep the unused dough covered and refrigerate if you are not going to use it on the same day – I kept it in the fridge for a week.
Roll the larger piece of dough into a round, almost as large as the tin, using a rolling pin. Then pick it up and start stretching it with your knuckles, from underneath. As you turn the dough, its own weight will stretch it further, making your job even easier.
If it tears, do not fret – you will patch it up in a bit.
When the dough is almost transparent, transfer it into the tin, making sure it adheres well to the sides. Patch up any tear by pinching the dough.
Add walnut size dollops of cream cheese, leaving some space between them.
Roll out the top as before and lay it tautly over the base.
Press the edge well to seal it. Do not be afraid – you can be quite forceful.
Tear the top here and there, especially where the cheese is, to create steam vents. Press it down with your palms.
Remove the excess dough that is hanging on the side, with a rolling pin (this dough can be re-used for another focaccia).
Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with some flakes of salt and bake it in the lower part of the oven until golden, with darker brown patches – about 8 minutes (according to your oven, of course)
Remove from the oven and transfer onto a chopping board.
Ideally you want to use a strong bread flour. A plain flour can be used too but you will have to be more careful when you stretch the dough as the risk of tearing is higher.