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Caldarroste, Bombette, Focaccia… Italy boasts a glorious tradition of street foods both sweet and savory, foods to bring warmth to a walk or happiness to a gathering.

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!

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.

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.