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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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La Bombetta Pugliese: Street Food at its Finest

Bombette Pugliesi: Enjoy!

Bombette Pugliesi: Enjoy!

La Bombetta Pugliese is a specialty of the Valle D’Itria, south of Bari, and the folks at the Bombetta Pugliese stand in the street foods section of Torino’s Salone del Gusto didn’t mince words: “It’s not healthy!” they cried, and indeed there isn’t much healthy in a well-seasoned pork braciola swapped around a piece of cheese and grilled.

“But it’s good!” they howled.

And come people did, drawn also by the chest-thumping music they were playing and the wonderful aromas rising from their grill: they couldn’t keep up with demand.

In short, Bombette are an ultimate street food, though this hasn’t always been the case: Historically bombette were a meaty dish enjoyed (rarely) by the poorest of the poor, sharecroppers who took the trimmings nobody else was interested in – if it was fatty, so much the better because fat = calories = energy – wrapped it around a little cheese, and cooked them in the communal ovens butchers kept lit for their poorer clients. Even their size is rooted in poverty: they are small because small cooks faster, requiring less fuel.

Now bombette are a fixture at country fairs in Puglia, and people cook them over the coals when they have friends over.

Bombette Pugliesi: Ready to Grill!

Bombette Pugliesi: Ready to Grill!

To make Bombette Pugliesi you will need nicely marbled pork shoulder butt; the butchers of the Valle D’Itria say the animal should weigh between 160 and 180 k (350-400 pounds) and not be the result of intensive farming, because the meat will be better marbled.

The cheese is up to personal taste; some prefer Parmigiano or Grana, others pecorino (Sardo, not Romano, which is sharper and saltier), and others still Fontina, which melts. The important thing is to use a cheese of good quality.

Bombette Pugliesi: Over the Coals

Bombette Pugliesi: Over the Coals

The preparation of bombette is straight forward. Assuming you have a pound of meat, you will want about 3/4 pound of cheese, as well as salt, pepper, finely chopped rosemary needles, minced parsley, and – it you want – a hint of red pepper.

Crumble or finely dice the cheese and put it in a bowl with salt, pepper, parsley and  rosemary (go easy on the rosemary because it is powerful; I would figure a scant teaspoon of freshly chopped needles for this volume) to taste. Mix well.

Finely slice the shoulder butt to make pork braciole. Put them between slices of oven parchment and pound them with a meat pounder or the flat of a knife to thin them, and season them to taste with salt and pepper.

Bombette Pugliesi: Almost Done...

Bombette Pugliesi: Almost Done…

Put an equal amount of filling on each slice and roll the bombette up, folding in the sides as well to obtain packets of meat that will contain the cheese when it has been  melted by the heat of the fire. As you seal up each packet, slip it onto a skewer or kebab.

Continue until all is used up.

While you are preparing the meat, heat coals in your grill. The custom in Puglia is to use hardwood, and if you can it will give best results. Set the meat over the coals, which shouldn’t be too searing, and cook, turning the spits, until all sides of the bombette are nicely browned — 10 minutes in all, or perhaps a little more.

If you are at a street fair you will be given a paper cone filled with bombette and a slice or two of bread, and also a skewer with which to spear and eat the bombette. And be very happy. If you are with friends in the back yard or the den, divvy them up onto plates.

A wine? I’d go with a zesty Negroamaro.

Giovanni Santarpia On Pizza!

Giovanni Santarpia, Master Pizzaiolo

Giovanni Santarpia, Master Pizzaiolo

There’s no getting around it; Pizza is a Neapolitan creation, and one who wants proof need only visit a Neapolitan pizzaiolo and see just how varied and inventive his or her creations are; much more than the pizzas you’ll find in other parts of Italy, and a great many with little or no tomato.

Of course it’s even nicer if the pizzaiolo will come to you, and this year Giovanni Santarpia, a Napoletano DOC who has moved to Florence, was the star at Ruffino’s annual journalist’s dinner, held on the winery’s Tenuta Poggio Casciano property, mid-way between the towns of Grassina and San Polo.

Giovanni Santarpia's Fried Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Fried Pizza

Ruffino being a winery, one of the goals of the dinner was to pair pizza with wine, and we began with Vermentino and pizza fritta, which had some tomato within the fried pizzas and more on top, garnished with basil too. This was the only tomato sauce we saw in the course of the evening.

Giovanni Santarpia's Prosciutto and Melon Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Prosciutto and Melon Pizza

We then sat down, and were treated with Pizza al Prosciutto e Melone, pizza – just a white disk – topped with freshly sliced melon and prosciutto; the combination, which is generally just served on a plate, worked quite well, with the salt on the pizza crust contributing nicely to the other ingredients.

The wine? A simple, eminently quaffable rosato.

Giovanni Santarpia's Stuffed Zucchini Blossom Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Stuffed Zucchini Blossom Pizza

Next came a high point, Pizza ai Fiori di Zucca Ripieni di Ricotta e Prosciutto Cotto, pizza topped with squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and ham, and with tomatoes and cheese.  Very delicate, and eye-openingly delicious.

Giovanni Santarpia's Tripe Salad Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Tripe Salad Pizza

Giovanni then nodded to Tuscan tradition, serving up another simple pizza disk topped with a tripe salad simply seasoned with olive oil, parsley, and pepper. Delicate and also quite light.

The wine? Ruffino has recently introduced a Chianti Superiore that’s bottled in what one might call a variation on the traditional Tuscan fiasco, or wine flask. Light, fresh, and fruity, and it drank quite well with both the tripe and the lampredotto we next came to.

Giovanni Santarpia's Calzone With Lampredotto

Giovanni Santarpia’s Calzone With Lampredotto

Lampredotto indeed; since Tuscany also has other organ meat traditions, Giovanni then served us a Calzone (for want of a better term) stuffed with Lampredotto made by Luca Cai: Lampredotto is the second stomach of the cow, boiled for hours with a variety of vegetables, and though the vegetables are generally filtered out when the lampredotto is served up in a sandwich, Giovanni included them in the filling of the calzone, together with a little cheese on top, and those who liked lampredotto at our table – not all people do – enjoyed it very much.

The wine? Ruffino makes much more than Chianti, and at this point they broke out their 2007 Greppone Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino. Which one might have expected to be overkill with pizza, but instead paired nicely.

Giovanni Santarpia's Cream of Squash and Pancetta Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Cream of Squash and Pancetta Pizza

After the calzone Giovanni returned to pizza, again in bianco (tomatoless), treating us with a cream of squash and pancetta topping that was very very nice; the squash was delicate, with hints of sweetness that were beautifully balanced by the saltiness of the pancetta, and had there been an extra slice I’d have happily taken it.

Giovanni Santarpia's Certaldo Onion and Pecorino di Fossa Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Certaldo Onion and Pecorino di Fossa Pizza

The last of the savory pizzas was topped with stewed onions from Certaldo and pecorino di fossa, pecorino that is wrapped in burlap and buried in a fossa or ditch to age (in the past the burial also served to hide the cheese from thieves who would raid farms for provisions); during the time spent underground the cheese undergoes a number of chemical reactions, and gains a piquancy that many find addictive, and that nicely balanced the sweetness of the onions.

Giovanni Santarpia's Pistocchi Chocolate Cream Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Pistocchi Chocolate Cream Pizza

One might think this enough, but there was dessert also, and Giovanni first wowed us with a pizza topped with the chocolate cream from Mr. Pistocchi, one of Tuscany’s finest chocolatiers; the savory accents of the crust paired beautifully with the sweetness of the chocolate and people again wished there were extra slices available. And it went well with the Brunello!

Giovanni Santarpia's Blueberry and Vinsanto Sauce Pizza

Giovanni Santarpia’s Blueberry and Vinsanto Sauce Pizza

And as if that wasn’t enough, Giovanni then produced a masterful pizza topped with blueberries in a Vin Santo sauce. Stunning, and the perfect closure to a memorable meal.

Pizza Anyone? History, Recipes and More
How to bake Pizza in a Wood Fired Oven

Mixed Fried Fish, or Il Fritto Misto di Pesce: Quick and Easy

Fish Fry: Enjoy!

Fish Fry: Enjoy!

If you have a deep fat fryer, fried fish is one of the easiest and quickest dishes one could possibly imagine, and wonderfully refreshing in the summer months. But there are a few requirements.

The fish must be absolutely fresh: Since there are no sauces — merely a little lemon and some salt — the flavor comes from the fish. Also, the oil must be fresh: Fresh oil does not impart flavors or aromas, and has a higher smoke point than oil that has already been used.

Fish Fry: Flouring the Fish

Fish Fry: Flouring the Fish

In this photo Alfonso Borrelli is flouring a mixture of squid rings and slices of swordfish fillet, which may sound extravagant, but are what the Osteria L’Antica Quercia had  – he was preparing the dish before the daily delivery of fresh fish, which takes place in the afternoon, to have it as fresh as possible for the evening’s diners. As a general rule he also adds peeled deveined shrimp, and small fry, tiny whole fish.

The flouring process is simple: Put small handfuls of fish in a fairly coarse strainer, and pull the strainer up through a bowl of flour while gently shaking it from side to side; the flour will coat the pieces evenly and the excess will fall away.

Mixed Fried Fish, or Il Fritto Misto di Pesce: Quick and Easy

Fish Fry: Frying!

Fish Fry: Frying!

The next step is to fry the fish. Alfonso uses a restaurant-sized frier, which is capable of frying larger batches. But a home frier will work just as well; set the oil temperature for 380 F (190 C) and fry the fish in small batches, for about 4-5 minutes — you will learn precise timing with experience.

While the fish is frying, Quarter several lemons, and lay sheets of absorbent paper – what’s called Carta Gialla, “yellow paper” in Italy, which is traditionally used to wrap foods – on the plates you’ll be serving the fish on (or your serving platter). The paper will look nice, absorb any oil still remaining on the fish, and also insulate the fish from the plate or platter, keeping it warmer.

Fish Fry: Turning Out the Fish

Fish Fry: Turning Out the Fish

When the time is up — 4-5 minutes — drain the fish well, turn it out onto the platter, lightly salt it, and enjoy!

The wine?  We had a Greco di Tufo from Mastroberardino, and it was perfect.

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara, Illustrated

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Enjoy!

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Enjoy!

Risotto alla Marinara is, as one might guess, a seafood risotto. Alfonso Borrelli, who cooks at the Osteria L’Antica Quercia in Barberino Valdelsa, uses clam broth and anchovies to add seafoody richness to his risotto alla marinara, while the main ingredients accompanying the rice are moscardini, a tiny variety of octopus, and radicchio rosso, a red radicchio from the Veneto, which confers pleasing bitter accents to the dish.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: What You'll Need

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: What You’ll Need

  • 320 g (A little more than 2 cups) Carnaroli rice — you could also use other short grained rices, e.g. Arborio
  • The leaves from a medium-sized head of radicchio, washed and dried
  • Clam broth — the broth from cooking clams for pasta sauce; he used 400 ml, or 1 3/5 cups
  • Half of a medium onion
  • 220 g (1/2 pound) Moscardini, which are tiny octopuses, simmered in lightly salted water until fork tender, about 30 minutes – you could also use tiny squid
  • Vegetable broth (see next picture; ingredients given below)
  • Parsley (not shown)
  • White wine
  • Olive oil
  • 4 canned anchovy fillets, rinsed
Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Making Vegetable Broth

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Making Vegetable Broth

Alfonso began by setting a pot with about 3 quarts of water to boil, adding to it a peeled onion, cut in half, a peeled carrot, and a washed and trimmed celery stick. The pot bubbled, and the water quickly became a pretty green. This sort of vegetable broth will work for almost any risotto, and will also be a nice addition to other dishes too.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: The Soffritto

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: The Soffritto

While the broth bubbled, Alfonso peeled the onion and chopped half of it. He used a red onion here, but his choice of onion varies with the season. He also chopped the anchovy fillets — he figures one fillet per person — and a bit less than a quarter cup of parsley. When he was done chopping, he heated about a third of a cup of olive oil in a broad skillet and sautéed the minced herbs, pressing down with the back of the spoon to break up the chopped anchovy, which disappears into the oil.

It is important, he says, to turn down the heat some (the flame was still fairly brisk) upon adding the onion, and to watch it carefully, because it burns easily.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Sautéing the Rice

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Sautéing the Rice

Alfonso then added the rice and toasted it over a brisk flame for about three minutes, shaking the pan deftly to shift it about and keep it from burning.

Next, a cup of dry white wine, with further deft shakes until it has evaporated.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Clam Broth

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Clam Broth

At this point Alfonso added the clam broth, which imparts the freshness of the sea, and said the risotto would be ready in 17-18 minutes.

He used the broth from fresh live clams that he then adds to fish-based pasta sauces, for example allo scoglio sauce, but you could also use the broth from frozen clams, setting them aside for another recipe that doesn’t call for clam broth, for example fried clams.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Chopping Moscardini

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Chopping Moscardini

While the risotto was simmering, Alfonso finely julienned the radicchio leaves, setting aside some for garnishing, and then looked over the moscardini, selected four pretty ones and set them aside, and chopped the rest.

While he was doing this, he kept an eye on the risotto, and when the clam broth had been mostly absorbed (the risotto becomes a creamy yellow thanks to the clam broth, oil, and anchovies), added a large brimming ladle of vegetable broth, giving the pan a deft shake to stir it in.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Moscardini

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Moscardini

When the rice had absorbed most of the liquid Alfonso stirred in the chopped Moscardini.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Radicchio

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Adding Radicchio

Alfonso then added most of the Radicchio — he decided all was too much, and says to go by eye — and stirred again, tasting the rice and adding another ladle of broth.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Simmer...

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Simmer…

“When the final ladle is absorbed,” Alfonso says, “the risotto will be about done, and you should check seasoning.”

He didn’t add salt, because there was salt from the anchovies, and also a little from the moscardini, or pepper, but did add a little minced parsley to provide flavor and color.

At this point he sprinkled a little olive oil over the risotto, and cooked it for two minutes more.

While doing this, he also put the four moscardini he had set aside to warm in a bowl of hot water.

Alfonso's Risotto alla Marinara: Enjoy!

Alfonso’s Risotto alla Marinara: Enjoy!

Next comes the plating: Alfonso divvied the risotto onto four plates, garnished it with a little radicchio, set one of the reserved moscardini atop each mound of risotto, drizzled a little olive oil over each, and his risotto alla marinara was ready.

And good, too. We drank a Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo with it, and the combination was very fine.

This recipe on a shorter page

How to make Risotto, Illustrated