Liguria, the northwest Italian coastal region known for its pesto and Pixar children’s sea creatures, is synonymous with focaccia. The most common focaccia is the focaccia genovese, which is from the region’s capital. It is a soft, yeasted dough that has been brushed in fragrant olive oil and sea salt before baking to a beautiful brown colour. However, there are several other regional focaccia varieties that are deserving of praise and consideration. The focaccia col formaggio, or focaccia with cheese, from the town of Recco, a few miles south of Genoa, is one of the best examples.
Focaccia di Recco is a thin, crispy, gooey, cheese-filled, unleavened form of focaccia from the town of Recco in the Liguria area of northwest Italy. It is often referred to as focaccia col Formaggio, or focaccia with cheese. The dough used for it is quite similar to that used for tortilla masa. After being stretched into two paper-thin sheets, the dough is draped over a sizable round metal baking tray with dollops of creamy Stracchino cheese sandwiched in between. Olive oil and salt are then applied. A fast bake in a hot oven produces a crisp exterior that nevertheless has a soft chew and a bubbling cheese center.
How to make the dough
Making the dough for focaccia di Recco is quite easy. To begin, I make a shaggy dough by mixing bread flour, salt, a little sugar, water, and a lot of olive oil. I also add a little sugar to aid browning when baking. I place the dough on the counter and use my hands to knead it until it is largely smooth. I then divide the dough into four portions to make two focacce. The dough relaxes after a lengthy rest at room temperature, making it simpler to stretch and roll out.
The dough is typically stretched over circular copper baking plates with a diameter of two feet, much like the ones used to make farinata, another Ligurian delicacy. This is obviously not a piece of kitchenware for the average home, so I created this recipe to work with reasonably priced round metal pizza trays and a conventional rimmed baking sheet. I stretched the first portion of dough over the baking tray by setting it on a sturdy elevated surface, such as a sizable mixing bowl. For the purpose of being able to be stretched and rolled a little bit thicker, the bottom half of the dough is a little bit larger than the top crust. Now that the bottom dough has been covered, it’s time to add the cheese.
For the cheese, I decided to go with Stracchino, often called Stracchino di Crescenza. It is a mild, slender, cow’s milk cheese from the adjacent Lombardy region, with a creamy, tangy flavour. Just in case you can’t get Stracchino, a perfect alternative would be Taleggio.
Making the top crust
Whatever type of cheese you decide to use, generously spread it on the dough’s surface. Afterward, stretch and roll out the second, smaller portion of dough. Before stretching the top crust over the dough with the Stracchino topping, the objective is to make it as thin as possible. Roll your rolling pin along the edge of the baking sheet to remove any dough that is protruding. The focaccia should be topped with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and placed in a hot oven, ideally on a baking stone or steel for optimum bottom crust browning. Bake the focaccia until it is well browned, and the cheese pops through the vents made earlier. Cut into squares and serve as snacks.
- 500g (3 ¼ cups) bread flour, plus more for rolling
- 15g (1 tablespoon) sugar
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 400g Stracchino cheese (a.k.a. Crescenza), divided
- Coarse sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
- Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Place a baking steel or stone on it and heat the oven to its maximum setting, 500° to 550°F (260° to 290°C).
- Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until well blended. A shaggy dough will form after about two minutes of stirring with a wooden spoon after adding water and olive oil. If necessary, combine the dough with your hands. To bring the dough together, you may need to knead it with your hands. Allow the dough to rest for five minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for two to four minutes, or until it is largely smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands. As you knead the dough, add extra flour as needed to the work surface, dough, and hands. When you weigh the dough, it should come to about 900g. Divide into four parts, two of which will weigh 250g and two of which will weigh 200g.
- Working with one portion at a time, cup the dough between your palms and work it in circular motions to form a smooth ball. Continue with the remaining dough. For at least 45 minutes and up to an hour, the dough should rest at room temperature covered with a clean kitchen towel, turned upside down in the bowl it was made in, or transferred to a container with a lid. As an alternative, move dough balls to an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Place a 15-inch circular pizza pan or rimmed baking sheet on top of a big bowl after lightly oiling it. Dust the work surface. Working with a single 250g portion of dough, flour the surface and roll it into a 12-inch circle if you’re using a round pizza pan or a 12- by 9-inch rectangle if you’re using a rimmed baking sheet. In order to prevent sticking while rolling, rotate and lift the dough occasionally. If necessary, add more flour. Stretch dough gently over knuckles to form a 16 to 17-inch circular or an 18 by 13-inch rectangle that is 1/16 of an inch thick. Stretch the dough as you transfer it to the prepared pizza tray, leaving a consistent 1- to 2-inch overhang. Next, gently press the dough into the pan until it is flush.
- Half of the Stracchino (200g) should be distributed over the dough in 1 tablespoon (15g) portions using clean hands or two spoons.
- Roll out a second 200g dough portion using a rolling pin in the same manner as the first. Wrap dough around knuckles and gently stretch into a circle or rectangle (it should be thinner than the previous part). Stretch the dough to cover the entire surface with a 1-inch overhang on all sides, then place it directly on top of the dough with Stracchino on it.
- Make small, gentle slits in the dough’s top layer around the Stracchino pieces using your fingertips. Working around the Stracchino pieces, gently press down on the top section of dough until it hits the bottom portion of dough. To trim off the overhanging dough, place the rolling pin flush against the edge of the pizza tray while holding it at an angle. Extra dough can either be discarded or used to make more focaccia. Olive oil and sea salt should be lightly sprinkled over the dough’s surface.
- Place the tray in the oven on top of the baking stone or steel. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking, or until the dough is a deep golden brown and the cheese is melted. After taking it out of the oven, place the focaccia on a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. The focaccia should be moved to a cutting board, sliced, and served right away after cooling for at least 30 seconds.
- Wipe the tray or baking sheet clean with a paper towel after it is cold enough to handle. With the remaining sections of dough and Stracchino, repeat steps 5 through 9 as necessary.