why it works
- A high proportion of olive oil in the dough provides extensibility, making it easy to stretch, while bread flour gives enough strength to prevent it from tearing.
- Giving the dough plenty of time to rest ensures it’s easy to handle and roll.
- A small amount of sugar in the dough promotes browning that would otherwise be difficult to achieve with the low temperatures of a home oven.
- Tearing small holes in the top of the dough allows steam to escape while baking, which helps keep the crust crispy and tender.
Focaccia is synonymous with Liguria, the coastal region of northwest Italy also famous for its Pesto and Pixar’s child sea monsters. If you were to ask someone to describe the Platonic ideal of focaccia, they would most likely describe a sumptuous, leavened dough, browned in the oven, soaked in fragrant olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. It’s focaccia genovese, from the capital of the region, and it’s fantastic. But there are many other local styles of focaccia worthy of admiration and attention, the main one being focaccia col formaggio, or cheese focaccia, from the town of Recco, a few miles south of Genoa.
What is Focaccia di Recco?
Focaccia di Recco is the ultimate focaccia zag that most of us are familiar with. Instead of a soft, open-crumbed bread, it’s a thin, crunchy, gooey, cheese-filled snack made with an unleavened dough closer to Paratha dough or flour tortilla masa that the kind of high hydration dough typically used for yeast focaccia. The dough is stretched into two paper-thin sheets which are draped over a large round metal baking tray, with dollops of creamy Stracchino cheese sandwiched between them, before being drizzled with olive oil and ‘a pinch of salt. Quick baking in a hot oven results in a crispy crust that still has a tender chew, with a bubbling cheesy center.
Make the dough
With no fermentation and rising times to monitor, making the dough for focaccia di Recco is a snap. I start by mixing bread flour, salt and a pinch of sugar with water and a generous amount of olive oil to form a shaggy dough. Sugar is not usually added to this dough, but to compensate for the lower temperatures of home ovens compared to those used in focaccerie and sciamadde (casual Ligurian restaurants), I add a little to help browning. I turn the dough out on the counter, knead it by hand until it’s almost smooth, then divide it into four portions to make two focaccia. A long rest at room temperature gives the dough time to relax, making it easier to spread and stretch.
The high proportion of olive oil in the dough – ten percent for those who use the baker’s percentages – also helps to facilitate the work by limiting the formation of gluten and giving it extensibility. The high protein content of bread flour gives the dough enough strength to allow it to be stretched thinly without tearing.
Typically, the dough is stretched on round copper baking sheets two feet in diameter, similar to those used for making plain flour, another Ligurian specialty. This is obviously not home cooking equipment, so I developed this recipe to work with affordable round metal pizza trays and a traditional rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on a stable raised surface, such as a large mixing bowl, before rolling out the first portion of dough on it. This lower part of the dough is slightly larger than the upper crust, so it can be rolled out and stretched a little thicker. Once the bottom dough is supported, it’s time to drop in a dollop of cheese.
Selection of cheese
Stracchino, also known as Crescenza or Stracchino di Crescenza, is a creamy, mild cow’s milk cheese from the neighboring region of Lombardy, with a mild, slightly tart flavor. The inclusion of this ‘imported’ cheese in focaccia col formaggio makes it a bit of an extravagance compared to the humbler olive oil or onion versions found in other parts of the country. Liguria. These days, you can find Stracchino at many cheese shops and Italian specialty markets like Eataly, and like most things, it’s also available online. If you can’t find Stracchino, I tested with Taleggio, a funkier, more aged washed rind cheese from the same region, and a camembert-style cheese, and they both made decent substitutes. Keep in mind that these cheeses are more matured, so they have a more assertive flavor and a firmer texture than Stracchino.
Preparing the top crust
Whatever you end up using, spread it over the surface of the dough and don’t be shy with the cheese. Next, roll out and stretch the second, smaller portion of dough. The goal here is to make the top crust as thin as possible, before stretching it over the Stracchino-covered dough. I then tear small holes in this top covering of dough, which allow steam to escape while baking so the focaccia can crisp evenly.
Remove any excess dough by rolling your rolling pin around the edge of the baking sheet; raising the tray over a bowl gives you the right angle to remove it (you can also just use a small paring knife or scissors). Add a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then put the focaccia in an oven at full blast, ideally on a baking steel or stone for maximum browning of the bottom crust, and bake until until the top crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling through the vented holes. Cut it into squares and serve this focaccia di Recco as the ultimate appetizer snack.