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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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Ligurian Chick Pea Farinata, Farinata Ligure

Chickpea Farinata

Chickpea Farinata

In much of Italy a farinata is a thick porridge made with vegetables, broth, and finely ground flour of one sort or another. Liguria’s farinata is a bit different: It’s made by combining chick pea flour with enough water to make a fairly liquid batter, which is then baked in the oven: What emerges is a very tasty chickpea flapjack (for want of a better term) that one slices up and serves. Expect it to go fast, and for people to demand more.

Before we get to the recipe, a little history:

Farinata is said to have been discovered after the battle of Meloria, between Pisa and Genova, when the victorious Genoese fleet was hit by a storm so violent the barrels of chickpea flour in the holds broke open and mixed with the seawater that was coming in. When the waters calmed the sailors scooped up the mess — they couldn’t throw it away because it was all they had — and spread it on the decks to dry. It was so good that when they got home they began baking it in the oven, calling it L’Oro di Pisa, Pisan gold.

The final thing to note is that though this chickpea farinata is considered Ligurian, you will also find it along the Tuscan coast, where it is called cecina or torta di ceci, in the French Costa Azzurra, where it is called socca, in Piemonte (introduced by genoese traders), where it is called belecauda, in the Genoese colonies of Sardinia, where it is called fainè, and in Gibraltar, where it is called calentita.

Having said all this, to make it you’ll need:

  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) chickpea flour
  • 1 2/3 quarts (1.6 liters) water
  • 1 cup (250 ml) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crumbled sausage (optional)
  • A soft cheese, along the lines of Crescenza or even creamy ricotta (optional)
  • Two broad shallow pans (about 15-inch, or 38 cm diameter, or 10 by 18-inches (25 by 45 cm) rectangular) with raised lips

 

Farinata with Cheese

Farinata with Cheese

Put the water in a bowl. Use a whisk to beat the chickpea flour into the water, stirring briskly to keep lumps from forming. Cover the bowl with plastic warp and let it rest for at least four hours in a warm but not hot place.

When the time is up, preheat your oven to 440 F (220 C).

Use a slotted spoon to remove the foam that will have formed on the surface of the batter, and then mix in half of the oil, using the other half to oil your pans.

Pour the batter into the pans — it should be between 5 and 10 mm, or between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Bake the farinata for 20 minutes, until it has firmed up and become golden. Slice it up and serve it hot, with salt and pepper to taste.

This is the basic recipe.

The town of La Spezia was serving farinata in the street foods section of the 2010 Salone del Gusto, and in addition to serving it plain (and very good it was), they were also serving it with sausages, casings removed and the meat crumbled over the farinata before putting it in the oven, and with creamy cheese, which was dotted over the hot farinata and melted wonderfully. Both mouthwatering options, though the plain farinata is very good too.

Another classic option the folks from La Spezia weren’t offering is ai cipollotti, with finely chopped onions, which are sprinkled over the farinata before putting it in the oven.

Trenette col Pesto, Trenette with Pesto Sauce

Trenette Al Pesto, With Potatoes and String Beans

Trenette Al Pesto, With Potatoes and String Beans

This is drawn from Slow Food’s collection of Ligurian restaurant and trattoria recipes; they in turn got it from Genova’s Trattoria da Maria, and before we go further I should say Trenette are similar to linguine, but a bit thinner — they look like flattened spaghetti.

Returning to the introduction, though the authors say that the practice of cooking vegetables and pasta together arose in the western part of Liguria and spread throughout the region, it also developed in other parts of Italy. Puglia’s orecchiette coi broccoletti come to mind.

To prepare this dish you will need, first of all, Pesto Sauce; while you can buy it ready made, it is not difficult to make at home and a good home-made pesto sauce is generally better than store-bought. We will therefore begin by making pesto sauce:

  • 45 leaves freshly picked basil (about a packed cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated aged pecorino (you will want Sardinian or Tuscan pecorino here, not pecorino romano, which is too sharp. If you cannot find Tuscan pecorino, increase the Parmigiano to 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2/3 cup the best olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (technically optional though almost everybody includes them)
  • 1/3 cup walnut meats (optional)
Pesto Alla Genovese in an Italian Market

Pesto Alla Genovese in an Italian Market

If you have a marble mortar and wish to use it (purists say neither brass nor wood mortars will work), put the salt, garlic, nutmeats and basil in it and grind the mixture, firmly crushing the ingredients against the sides of the mortar, rather than striking sharp blows with the pestle. When the mixture is ground, add the cheese, a bit at a time, continuing to grind, and when it is all worked in, add the oil in a slow stream, stirring with a wooden spatula. The resulting pesto should be smooth and creamy.

If you are using a food processor instead, chop the garlic, basil, nutmeats, and salt, being careful not to let the mixture liquefy, then transfer it to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese and the oil.

We now have the sauce. It will be very good simply over the pasta shape you most prefer, but I find the Ligurian custom of adding vegetables to the pot tremendously satisfying:

  • 3/4 pound dried trenette (or, if you prefer, another pasta; for example, whole wheat pasta works very well with pesto sauce)
  • 1/4 pound tender string beans
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup pesto sauce
  • More grated Parmigiano for dusting

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While it’s heating, peel and dice the potatoes, and wash and cut the string beans in two. When the water comes to a boil add the vegetables and cook until almost done, about 10 minutes. Add the pasta (trenette cook in 3-5 minutes — if you’re using spaghetti instead, which take 10-12 minutes, add them to the water that much sooner), and when it is still slightly al dente transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the pesto, which you will have diluted with a tablespoon or two of pasta water, dust with the grated Parmigiano, and serve. The wine? The bitter sea tang of a good Vermentino would offset the garlic perfectly.

Variation:

You can also make trenette coi fagiolini, trenette with string beans, by following the instructions given above but increasing the pasta to 1 1/4 pounds and the string beans to 3/4 pound, and omitting the potato (if you decide to include it, reduce the string beans by a proportionate amount). In this case use about 1/3 cup of pesto sauce (diluted with a tablespoon or two of the pasta water), and dust the pasta with abundant freshly grated Parmigiano before serving. This would work nicely with a zesty, light red wine, for example Rossese di Dolceacqua or Valpolicella Classico.

How To Salt Anchovies The Ligurian Way

Fresh Anchovies, Perfect for Salting

Fresh Anchovies, Perfect for Salting

The spring and summer anchovy harvest was vital to Ligurian fishermen, who salted much of the catch to carry them through less abundant times. Here is how they salted (and salt) their anchovies. It’s not difficult, and the results are superb.

Why Salt Anchovies?

Liguria boasts some of the most rugged topography in Italy, a steady succession of high mountains plunging to the sea, and as a result the population lived (and lives) mostly in the valley mouths, drawing some substance from the flatter parts of the valley floors, and the remainder from the sea. One of the most important seasonal catches was the anchovy: For most of the year anchovies are pelagic fish that live far out to sea in deep water.

However, during the mating season (summer) they move closer to shore, and school, especially at night, and Ligurian fishermen discovered that though they are drawn to the light of the moon, they will also come to a lantern. At Monterosso, one of the Cinque Terre, the catch was especially important: they would set out in several rowboats, and while the small ones with lights brought the fish together, another would row around the school, dropping a net with floats above and weights below that formed a circular curtain as it were, which could be drawn tight from beneath to form a fish-filled bowl.

The fishermen would scoop their catch, which they called Pan do Ma (bread from the sea), into barrels, and bring it home.

Salting Anchovies: Behead Them

Salting Anchovies: Behead Them

The anchovies thus caught were used in all sorts of ways, with a significant fraction of the catch being salted and packed away for less fruitful times.

“The salting must begin as soon as possible after the boats reach shore, and not more than 12 hours from the time the fish were caught,” said Simone Bava, professor of Marine Fishing Biology, who also works with the Osservatorio Ligure Pesca e Ambiente (and did the research that led to the Acciuga Sotto Sale del Mar Ligure’s obtaining IGP status), when he demonstrated the technique at Slowfood’s Salone del Gusto.

The anchovies to be salted should be fairly large, a bit less than an ounce, and Simone said the custom is to count them — 50 to a kilo, or about 22 to a pound. The fishing families salt anchovies by the barrel. You will likely not have this many, but you will want at least 5 and possibly 10 pounds.

In addition to fresh anchovies you will need coarse-grained pickling salt (which is not iodized), and a container (wood, glass, or a terracotta pickling crock).

Take your first fish, grip it at the level of the eyes, and bend its head back.

Salting Anchovies: The Gill Arch

Salting Anchovies: The Gill Arch

The head will snap off, bringing the intestines with it. Do not worry if something is left behind, because the salt will sterilize everything in any case.

If you have beheaded the fish correctly, the mandibular arch will remain, as shown here, forming a smooth curved surface. Do not twist the head side-to-side or forward, because doing so will tear away part of the fish. Wipe the anchovy clean (or rinse it and pat it dry) and put it in the salting vessel, on its side.

Salting Anchovies: Anchovies Interlayered with Salt

Salting Anchovies: Anchovies Interlayered with Salt

Behead your next anchovy and put it next to the first, oriented the same way, leaving just a little space between fish. When you have finished with the first layer (if your container is broad you will also have rows, nose to tail), sprinkle enough salt over them to cover them partially — you want to be able to see the fish through the salt.

Arrange the next layer of anchovies perpendicular to the first, sprinkle salt over them too, and continue until the jar is full. Set a weight (for example a weighted plate) over the fish; the weight will keep the fish from expanding, and will also keep them submerged by the brine that will form as the salt draws moisture from their flesh. In alternative to a weight, if you are using a small container of the size pictured here you can use one of the plastic depressors that go between lid and food, and serve to keep the food submerged.

In terms of how much salt, it is difficult to give exact quantities, but Dr. Bava said an egg should float in the brine.

Salted Anchovies, Ready to Eat

Salted Anchovies, Ready to Eat

The fish should cure for at least 40 days, if it’s warm – but not too hot – and for about 60 if it’s cooler, and Dr. Bava says that in really warm weather they’re best kept in the fridge. Once cured they will keep for a year.

And how to enjoy them?

Rinse them off, bone them to obtain anchovy fillets, sprinkle good extravirgin olive oil over them, and serve them at the beginning of the meal. Or, serve them on toast.

A tasty antipasto or party food!

A Last Note: This technique is not exclusive to Liguria. Catanians do something very similar with the anchovies they catch in the Golfo di Catania (though they sometimes season theirs with pepper in addition to salt), and I think one could also salt sardines or other small blue fish using this technique.