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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!


Risotto alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto

Risotto alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto

Risotto alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto

One of the nicest things about late spring and early summer in Italy is the tremendous abundance of strawberries that floods the markets. While they do make for wonderful desserts, one can also do other things with them. For example, make risotto:

  • 2 tablespoons minced onion (or shallot)
  • 3 tablespoons julienned celery
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (400 g) short-grained rice, along the lines of Carnaroli or Arborio
  • 1 cup (250 ml) good dry sparkling wine (it need not be Methode Champenoise)
  • Simmering broth, ideally vegetable, though chicken will do
  • 3/4 pound (350 g) firm strawberries, hulled and finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano

Sauté the onion and celery until well wilted in 2/3 of the butter, then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Stir the rice into the butter and cook over a moderate flame, stirring, for 5-7 minutes.

Stir the onion and celery back into the rice, stir to heat the mixture through, and add the bubbly. Continue stirring until the wine is completely evaporated, then begin adding broth a ladle at a time. The rice should be done in about 15 minutes; at this point stir in the strawberries, cook stirring gently for one more minute, turn off the flame, stir in the remaining butter and cheese, cover for a minute, and serve.

If you want to serve individual portions (they do look better) set aside the four prettiest strawberries, split them, and place them on top of the risotto in the bowls, garnishing with either mint or celery leaves. This recipe will serve four hefty eaters, or 6 more normal people. If you’re serving more, set aside more strawberries.

Risotto alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto

Risotto alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto

As a variation (use the proportions above)

  • 2 shallots, minced
  • Butter
  • Strawberries, quartered
  • Brown rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Mint leaves for garnish
  • Simmering broth
  • Grated Parmigiano (optional)

Sauté the shallot in the butter, and when they have turned golden remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and set it aside; stir the rice into the butter and cook, stirring, over a moderate flame for 5-7 minutes. Return the shallot to the pot, stir in the wine and cook until evaporated, then stir in half the strawberries and mix with a spoon until they come apart, forming a syrup. At this point finish cooking the risotto by adding broth a ladle at a time. When it’s done (brown rice will take longer than Arborio to cook, 20 minutes or probably more) stir in the remaining strawberries, a walnut-sized chunk of butter, and, if you want, a few tablespoons grated Parmigiano.

Cover for 2 minutes and serve, with the mint-leaf garnish.

With either of these risotti, I’d serve a zesty, unoaked white wine, for example a Fiano or a Lugana.


How to make risotto, Illustrated

Elisabetta’s Quick & Easy Stuffed Zucchini Recipe, Le Zucchine Ripene Dell’Elisabetta

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini

Cooking is in large part a matter of looking into the fridge or pantry, tacking stock of what’s there, and deciding what to do next. When Elisabetta found several round zucchini and some link sausages she decided to stuff the zucchini…

  • 8 round zucchini At the most 3 inches (5 cm) in diameter, with flat bottoms
  • 2 link sausages (we had sweet Italian sausages)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 slices white bread
  • A small bunch of parsley, minced
  • The leaves from a sprig of thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup bouillon (canned will be fine)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Begin by cutting the tops off the zucchini, and then hollow them out using a small sharp-bladed fairly flexible knife. You’ll want the walls of the hollowed out zucchini to be about a half inch (3/4 cm) thick, and be careful not to puncture the zucchini at the base.

Trim away the stems from the zucchini tops and put the tops in a blender, together with the chopped zucchini flesh and the parsley and thyme. Whir several times; you want the zucchini to be chopped but not liquid.

Transfer the chopped zucchini to a bowl. Remove the casings from the sausages and add them to the bowl, together with the eggs and the slices of bread. Mix well, until you have a uniform paste, which will likely be fairly liquid. Season it to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill the zucchini with the filling, adding enough filling to each that the tops of the zucchini are nicely rounded. Set the zucchini in an ovenproof saucepot and sprinkle the bouillon around them.

Bake the zucchini for about 35 minutes, by which point the top of the filling will have colored nicely, then remove them from the oven and simmer them over the stove until the cooking liquid is much reduced; if the zucchini look to be overcooking carefully remove them to a bowl and quickly cook the drippings down over fairly high heat.

Put the zucchini on 4 warmed plates, spoon the drippings over them, and serve them with crusty bread and the vegetable of choice. We had tomatoes and a tossed salad, and it was very nice.

The wine? Red, and we had Benaco Bresciano, a red from the shores of Lake Garda.

Yield: 4 servings Elisabetta’s stuffed zucchini

Focacce and Calzoni: More Wonders from the Pizza Oven!

A Calzone

A Calzone

There’s more to Italian neighborhood pizzerie than just pizza: focacce and calzoni are important parts of the picture too. The focaccia is a pizza crust, rolled out and baked; toppings are added when it emerges and tend to be fairly simple. The calzone, or large sock, is a pizza crust rolled out and topped with all the ingredients of a normal pizza except tomato, then folded over to a half-moon shape; the tomato sauce is sprinkled over it and it then goes into the oven, to be lightly drizzled with olive oil when it emerges.

This, at least, is what happens in Italy. I’ve seen fried calzoni in New York, though I’ve never worked up the courage to try one. In the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, there are also things called stromboli, which are similar to a calzone, but with the cheese outside rather than the tomato (at least the one I tried).

To make a calzone or focaccia the first step is preparing the dough. You can use a prepared mix (some are quite good), but starting from scratch isn’t that difficult. For 2 12-inch crusts:

  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups warm (105-115 F, or 42-45 C) water
  • 3 1/2 -3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A healthy pinch of salt

Begin by dissolving the yeast in the water, in a large mixing bowl; let it stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with a mixer set to low speed, until the ingredients are blended. Now hand-knead the dough or mix it with a dough hook setting the speed to low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Coat the insides of another bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in it to coat it too, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in volume.

For the baking, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, fire it up. If you are instead using your kitchen oven, preheat it to 475 F (250 C); if you are using a baking stone it should heat for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise grease and dust two flat baking tins with corn meal. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then shape them into disks, stretching them out from the center on a floured surface. Do not roll them, because rolling toughens the dough.

If you’re using a baking stone and have a baker’s peel (a thin pizza-sized metal disk with a handle), lightly flour it, slide the focaccia or calzone onto it, and transfer it to the stone with a deft yank — the flour will keep the dough from sticking. If you don’t have a peel, use a flat cookie sheet instead, lightly flouring it, to transfer the food from the work surface to the stone.

If you’re using a metal baking pan you should bake your calzone or focaccia towards the bottom of the oven. In a recent post to Rec.Foods.Cooking Karen suggested baking on the bottom rack for about 4 minutes, or until the food is firm enough to slide off the pan, and then slide it from the pan straight onto the rack to finish cooking.

The focaccia will in any case be done when the crust is browned; this takes 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven and about 10 or more minutes in a conventional home oven. A calzone will take about 15 minutes to bake; don’t be surprised if it swells like a foodball; children in Italian pizzerie take perverse delight in puncturing each others’ calzoni to let the steam escape.

Focaccia toppings are generally quite simple. Perhaps the most common one is sliced fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced prosciutto (the raw variety, not cooked ham), and shredded arugola (rucola in Tuscany). The color combination is quite pretty, and the flavors meld very well. Other common toppings include straight prosciutto (not ham), just tomatoes, or tomatoes and thinly sliced mozzarella. Olive oil is served at the table so the diner can drizzle some to taste.

There’s a bit more variety to calzone fillings.

Basic Calzone:
2-3 ounces finely sliced cooked ham, shredded, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the shredded ham and cheese over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.
As a variation, you can add 1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms. Or, you can make a calzone Bismarck by cracking an egg into the calzone before you fold over the crust.

Calzone Farcito: Everything in the house.
Farcito means stuffed, which this calzone certainly is. It’s the equivalent of the Pizza Capricciosa, and every pizzaiolo has his version. This is based on the Pizzaria Giancarlo, outside Florence’s Porta San Frediano. 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1 finely sliced hot dog, 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 2 inches long), skinned and shredded, 8 thin slices salamino piccante (pepperoni in the anglo-saxon world) 2 ounces thinly sliced ham, shredded, 2 canned artichoke hearts, quartered, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.

Calzone ai Quattro Formaggi: A Cheesy Wonder!
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1/3 cup (each) shredded pecorino, gorgonzola, groviera (Swiss Cheese), and fontina or asiago, one black olive, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.

As is the case with pizza toppings, the sky is the limit when it comes to fillings. Feel free to experiment (for example, a few salted capers, rinsed, tossed into the basic calzone), though you should keep in mind that too many ingredients can interfere with each other.

Winding down, a variation on the theme that’s popular in the Sabina area during Carnival, Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta: A sheet of dough, covered with sausage and pancetta, rolled up, coiled, and baked: Who could ask for more?

To drink? A light zesty red wine, for example a Chianti d’annata, or a Valpolicella Classico, or something even zestier, for example Lambrusco, or beer.

Pizza, Anyone? Pizza history, dough, toppings and more.
How to use a wood-fired pizza oven.

Aunt Emma’s Gnocchi alla Romana Lite

Gnocchi alla Romana: Enjoy!

Gnocchi alla Romana: Enjoy!

Gnocchi alla Romana are tremendously satisfying, but they are also rich enough that dietitians would frown on one’s making them too often. This variation Elisabetta’s Aunt Emma learned while living in Rome many years ago is much lighter: It doesn’t have any eggs, and reduces the milk as well. You’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups (250 g) semolina
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pint (500 ml) skim milk
  • 1 pint (500 ml) water
  • 3/4 cup (about 40 g) freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Combine the water, milk, and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the semolina in a steady stream, whisking all the while, and then half the butter. Continue stirring; the mixture will thicken quickly, to the point that you will want to switch to a wooden spoon.

Continue cooking the semolina over a moderate flame, stirring constantly, until it peels easily away from the sides of the pot, about 20 minutes. By this time the semolina will be quite thick.

Spread the mixture out on your work surface in a 3/4 inch ( layer and let it cool. Use a moistened glass to cut out rounds, and arrange them in a baking dish, partially overlapping them. Either distribute the cuttings in the spaces between the rounds, or save them for a less elegant batch of gnocchi.

Sprinkle the cheese over the gnocchi and dot them with butter. Bake them in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through and browned, and serve, either as a first course, or with a roast or stew. A wine, if you’re serving them alone? White, for example Orvieto Bianco, or Est! Est! Est!

This recipe, illustrated.

Artusi’s Gnocchi alla Romana Recipe
Livio Jannattoni’s Gnocchi alla Romana
A Gnocchi alla Romana variation with leeks and speck