Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Daviesis taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: The thinnest focaccia you'll ever see has a surprise hidden inside: oozy melted cheese.
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The people of Liguria -- a region along Italy's western Riviera -- know a thing or two about how to produce a decent focaccia. The region's best known iteration, focaccia Genovese, is fluffy in the middle with a crisp crust doused in olive oil and salt flakes. It's a favorite for breakfast (dipped into cappuccino) or as a snack (often washed down with a glass of local white wine).
But Ligurian focaccia doesn't stop at one type: Towns all over Liguria produce their own focaccia. The town of Recco, known as Liguria's gastronomic capital, produces one that is a revered delicacy -- so much so that in 2012 it received IGP (protected geographical indication) status by the EU. So technically, like Champagne is only from Champagne, you can only get Focaccia di Recco in Recco.
This focaccia is rather simple: a paper-thin crust sandwiching oozy fresh cheese. As legend has it, when the citizens of Recco where in hiding during the Crusades, they created this focaccia with what little they had (flour, water, olive oil, and some cheese). Today you can find it in every bakery, pizzeria, and restaurant in town.
Like many regional specialties, the rules behind how the focaccia di Recco is produced are strictly traditional. It can be round or rectangular, but the important thing is the dough must be as thin as possible. It must be pulled and stretched by hand until you can read the newspaper through the other side. Bread flour gives the dough great elasticity, which means it's easier to stretch the dough without breaking it. You can do it with all-purpose flour, but you may need to handle it more delicately. Once the dough is less than 1 millimeter thick, it is placed on a baking sheet or pizza tray and dotted with creamy, super fresh cheese.
The cheese is important. It should be good quality, super fresh Crescenza or stracchino cheese. The “official” website of the focaccia di Recco uses double the amount of cheese I do -- so feel free to get cheesy on this one.
Then, another thin layer of dough is placed on top and little holes are cut to let steam escape. That top layer is brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt before hitting the oven until crisp and golden and the cheese has melted. It's a pure joy to eat.
3 cups (400 grams) bread flour 3/4 cup (200 milliliters) water 1/2 cup (100 milliliters) olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling 2 teaspoons (10 grams) salt, plus more for sprinkling 1 pound (500 grams) stracchino or Crescenza cheese
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.