The Saucy Tomato Bread I've Thought About Every Day for 16 Years

Inspired by Liguria Bakery in San Francisco.

October  5, 2018
Photo by Julia Gartland

The best bakery in San Francisco sells only one thing: focaccia.

Olive oil–drenched sheets of it, in 10 flavors (11 on Saturdays). Place your order—hurry; there's a line out the door—and Liguria Bakery's proprietors will wrap your stack tightly in white butcher paper and truss it with bakery twine so quickly, it'll be like watching a surgeon deploy emergency stitches.

It’s near-impossible to pick a favorite type. The raisin variety is perfectly, subtly sweet; the jalapeño-cheese kind implores you to eat it at the speed of light, before anyone notices you brought it home; I could live off of the plain.

But it’s the “pizza” focaccia— topped with tomato sauce and chopped green onions, and despite its name, lacking cheese of any kind—that’s always held my attention. The thin layer of jammy tomato sauce across its top lends it an almost doughy texture that, when coupled with the crunch of the crisp bottom and the uniquely tight, yet light crumb of the interior, makes for the world's most perfect bite. The heavy-handed scallion application infuses it with an indispensable savoriness that's at once gentle and intense. It's impossible for me to see bakery twine and not crave it.

Photo by Julia Gartland

The shop opened in 1911 as a corner bakery before evolving to offer only focaccia, as a means to outpace a commercial bakery boom. It’s a family-run operation occupying a postage stamp–sized storefront in North Beach, from which you can just barely get a glimpse of the kitchen, where the proprietors begin baking at the crack of dawn, and close down once the last sheet of bread's been sold.

The heavy-handed scallion application infuses it with an indispensable savoriness that's at once gentle and intense. It's impossible for me to see bakery twine and not crave it.

I first entered Liguria Bakery on a Saturday morning in August 2002. We’d just moved across the country, and everything felt like a fever dream—a sensation that was only exacerbated by the chilly weather of San Francisco’s "summer." Some family member somehow had found out about this place, a few blocks down from an apartment that felt so new and disorienting to me. We all shuffled over, like zombies. And then, the next day, we shuffled back again. And again.

You can add as much green onion as you like—the more, the better if you ask me. Photo by Julia Gartland

Who could blame us? The stuff was dead-perfect. I wish I could say the Liguria Bakery focaccia became our everyday, all-purpose bread-of-choice (Use it for sandwiches! Broil cheese on top! Pair it with a scrambled egg!) but the truth is, it never lasted more than an hour. We’d eat it bare, while it was somehow still vaguely warm despite the 10-minute walk home, standing around the kitchen counter. Most of the time, we wouldn’t even bother with utensils or plates.

When I moved to New York nine years ago, I felt its loss keenly, thinking of it sometimes twice a day. Every slice of focaccia—of any tomato sauce-slathered bread, really—I've had since has made me long for the one I love. Finally, I had to do something about it. If I couldn't have the real thing, I had to give making my own a shot. It’d have to be different, of course—not only was I not able to get the original recipe, but I also didn't have an oven that's capable of 1,500° F heat. I scoured message boards and Yelp comments. I maniacally quizzed my family members about what they remembered of the crumb. I researched the unique aspects of Ligurian-style focaccia, and during a recent visit to Italy, convinced a chef who knew the traditional Genovese method to tell me what I was doing wrong. I kneaded and kneaded, tweaked water proportions, and tried out all sorts of sauce toppings.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“They were from a bakery in Buffalo, N. Y. I still dream about them. ”
— Fran M.

This is where I landed—it might not be quite Liguria Bakery status, but it hits the spot.

What's your best childhood food memory? Let us know in the comments.


Fran M. October 22, 2018
My favorite childhood memory was a poppy seed roll that was like a cinnamon roll. I think they were Russian. They were from a bakery in Buffalo, N. Y. I still dream about them.
Amanda M. October 13, 2018
my grandparents, my parents, and I love this focaccia! my favorite pieces are from the doughy soft center. i'm so excited to try your recipe!
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 13, 2018
Thanks Amanda, I hope you like it! Agreed, re: doughy center pieces... I want to eat 100, just thinking about them.
Vanitha October 7, 2018
Can I use regular flour instead of bread flour? By the way, looks so, so awesome and delicious!
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 7, 2018
Hi Vanitha,<br /><br />Yes, you can definitely use regular flour. It won't be quite as chewy/dense as if you'd used bread flour (which is why I prefer bread here), but it'll be close. Let me know how it goes!<br /><br />Ella
Brinda A. October 5, 2018
I've only known about your take on this bread for, like, 16 days, but I've thought about it maybe as many times. NEED IT NOW.
Author Comment
Ella Q. October 5, 2018
Thanks Brinda! :) Next batch has your name on it.