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La Focaccia di Recco, Illustrated

Focaccia Di Recco

Focaccia Di Recco

Focaccia di Recco is a delightfully – nay, libidinously – cheesy variation on the focacce you’ll find in many parts of Liguria: It’s made by extending a thin sheet of dough, dotting it with a creamy cheese, covering the cheese with a second sheet of dough, and baking everything. The result is wonderful, and in the days of carriages the people of Genova used to take day-trips to Recco to enjoy it.

A little history: Recco’s Ristorante Manuelina claims to have invented this cheesy focaccia about a century ago, though Alessandro Molinari Pradelli says it’s much older, dating to the times of the Saracen raiders: “…People would flee to safety in the mountains; since flour, oil and locally made cheeses were readily available in their hideouts, they’d make focaccia stuffed with cheese.”

Manuelina may not have invented Focaccia di Recco, but is responsible for its current renown, and Mr. Pradelli continues, saying the restaurant’s “menu still begins with the traditional focaccia al formaggio. And now, in Recco you’ll find it everywhere, from bakers to restaurants to diners, all who proclaim it their specialty.”

In short, Manuelina developed a masterpiece.

Focaccia di Recco: Spreading the Lower Sheet of Dough

Focaccia di Recco: Spreading the Lower Sheet of Dough

And to further promote Focaccia di Recco, the people of Recco have established the Consorzio Focaccia col Formaggio di Recco, which obtained IGP (a product of protected origin) status for their focaccia. This means that only establishments located  in Recco can call their focaccia Focaccia di Recco, and only if they follow the authentic recipe. This of course doesn’t prevent others from making Focaccia al Formaggio, and indeed I have had excellent focaccia al formaggio in other Ligurian towns. But it will prevent the food industry from making an ersatz frozen version and calling it “Focaccia di Recco.”

Focaccia di Recco: Putting Down Cheese

Focaccia di Recco: Putting Down Cheese

The Consorzio Focaccia Col Formaggio di Recco had a booth at the 2010 Salone del Gusto in Torino, and in addition to offering hot cheesy slices of focaccia — it was nippy and they were mobbed — the Consorzio was giving out the recipe:

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) 00 grade flour (this has slightly more gluten than American flour, but an unbleached all purpose flour will work)
  • About a pint (500 ml) of water
  • About 2/5 cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1 1/2 tablespoons (10-20 g) fine grained non-iodized salt, marine if possible
  • About 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) fresh crescenza cheese
  • A little olive oil
  • A little more salt
  • To begin, a note on the cheese: Crescenza is a very fresh, mild, slightly acidulous creamy cow’s milk cheese. You will want something mild and creamy that will also melt.
Focaccia di Recco: The Top Sheet

Focaccia di Recco: The Top Sheet

And now, the dough:

Make a mound of the flour on your work surface. Scoop a well into it, and pour in the olive oil, salt, and enough water to obtain a soft, smooth dough. Knead it well, cover it, and let it rest for a half hour at room temperature.

Once the dough has rested, divide it into an equal number of pieces (two per focaccia, and the size of the focacce will be dictated by the size of your baking pans and your oven).

Do not roll the dough out, but rather stretch it to make a sheet, working it from below with your hands as it thins, the way one works strudel dough, until it is quite thin — a millimeter, or less than a 16th of an inch. Be careful not to puncture the dough as you work it.

Lay the sheet on your baking sheet and dot it with cheese.

Focaccia di Recco: Laying Down the Top Sheet

Focaccia di Recco: Laying Down the Top Sheet

Lay the second sheet of dough over the first, and curl the edges, squeezing them tightly to make a seal.

Focaccia di Recco: Tamping Down the Top Sheet

Focaccia di Recco: Tamping Down the Top Sheet

Next, press the top sheet down around the cheese balls, and puncture the dough in a number of places to allow steam to escape as it cooks. Sprinkle the focaccia with a little olive oil, and lightly dust it with salt.

Focaccia di Recco: Ready for the Oven!

Focaccia di Recco: Ready for the Oven!

The focaccia is now ready for the oven. You will need a very hot oven; the Consorzio says between 270  and 320 C, which translates to 540 to 640 F – the sort of temperature a wood fired pizza oven will reach, and indeed if you have a pizza oven at home Focaccia di Recco could well become a staple.

The focaccia should bake between 4 and 8 minutes.

Focaccia di Recco: Baked...

Focaccia di Recco: Baked…

When the Focaccia emerges from the oven, it will be golden brown, with darker bubbles and striations. Carefully slide it onto a cutting board, ideally one with a raised lip to keep the cheese from running away.

Focaccia di Recco: Slicing It Up!

Focaccia di Recco: Slicing It Up!

Slice your focaccia immediately – it is best hot – and serve it forth. You’ll note from the photo that cheese will issue from the edges of the focaccia, and you may want to scoop it up with a spoon for those who want some additional melted cheese. Enjoy!

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Pasta Primavera followed by Fried Mozzarella

Pasta alla Primavera, which Italians often call greengrocer’s pasta (pasta all’ortolano) is extremely refreshing and very nice in the summer months. It’s also quite good over fried mozzarella, which is much lighter than you might think. In this case, if you want to enjoy everything at once, you’ll have to centrifuge your sliced mozzarella briefly, or slice it and leave it to drain in a strainer in the fridge for several hours.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

For the first course:

  • 2 meaty bell peppers of the color you prefer.
  • A large white onion
  • A clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • A salted anchovy, rinsed, boned, and diced
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) broccoli florets, broken up
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 12 ounces (320 g) mezze maniche or ziti
  • Freshly grated pecorino romano

For the second course:

  • 6 small (1 1/2 inch, or 4 cm diameter) mozzarella balls
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Oil for frying
  • Party sticks

Begin by slicing your mozzarella balls in half and setting them to drain in a strainer for 2 hours. If you don’t have 2 hours, use a salad centrifuge, giving the pieces a quick spin, turning them, and spinning them again. In either case, dredge the slices in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs, put them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and chill them in the freezer for a half hour.

In the meantime, set pasta water to boil.

Stem, seed, and rib the peppers and cut them into strips that will lie flat. Run them under the broiler, skin side up, until the skins have blistered; you may have to turn the strips to blister the skins evenly. When the skins have blistered and blackened, put the strips in a bowl and cover it to let the steam generated by the cooking further loosen the skins. After a few minutes remove the skins, running the strips under warm water to rinse them clean, pat them dry, and dice them.

Peel the onion, slice it finely, and sauté it with the garlic in the olive oil; when it’s translucent add the peppers and the anchovy and simmer over a low flame for about 15 minutes. By this time the pasta water should be boiling; salt it and blanch the broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes; remove them with a slotted spoon and add them to the pepper sauce.

Continue simmering the sauce while you cook the pasta, and set the oil in your deep fryer to heating. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and return it to the pot with about half the sauce; cook, stirring, over high heat for a minute and serve the sauced pasta with grated pecorino romano on the side.

When it comes time to clear the pasta bowls from the table, fry the mozzarella disks for about a minute in hot oil. Arrange them on a serving dish, stick a party stick into each, and distribute the remaining sauce over them. Serve with a tossed salad, crusty bread, and a brisk white wine, for example Gavi.