Focaccia is made all over Italy nowadays, and well beyond its borders too, but in Liguria “fugassa” as it is known in the local dialect (figassa in Genoese) is widely available and enjoyed as a snack, often with a coffee mid-morning. A thick, flatbread that is liberally dosed and doused with olive oil, it is most commonly served with an onion topping, thus resembling the French pissaladière. Elizabeth David, writing in her book Italian Food, refers to focaccia as the ‘Genoese pizza’ but normally focaccia recipes include more yeast than for pizza, making the cooked dough thicker.
In the seaside town of Recco, the delicious focaccia col formaggio (cheese focaccia) is made by sandwiching dollops of the local soft, melting cheese, Crescenza, between two sheets of dough and baking until the top is golden brown. Another popular version of the bread, focaccia col rosmarino, originally thought to have been created to attract the tourists, is studded with rosemary or other herbs, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and simply oozes with olive oil. You’ll find the recipe for this last focaccia below and I can promise you it’s a real crowd-pleaser and will have everyone eating more than they really ought to so here’s a useful tip: make plenty.
I like to serve the rosemary focaccia warm with a selection of charcuterie, artichokes in olive oil and a salad of ripe tomatoes. Or perhaps a ball of gooey Burrata cheese. If there is any left the next day (a rare sight in my house), try toasting it and serving simply with unsalted butter or a slug of olive oil and some chopped tomatoes. Given the thickness of the bread, it’s great for sandwiches – just slice it in two and fill with tapenade or pesto, sliced tomatoes and goat’s cheese.
If you happen to be in Recco on Sunday 1st June this year, look out for La Festa della Focaccia di Recco, a local festival celebrating this local culinary icon. More info here: www.focacciadirecco.it
(makes two loaves, each measuring roughly 12cm x 30cm)
500g strong white bread flour
10g fast-action yeast
120ml extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing the top of the bread
275ml warm water
10g fine salt
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
Mix the flour, yeast and salt then add the olive oil and water. Knead the mixture on a floured board for up to ten minutes by which time the dough should be smooth and elastic. You can also use a food processor with a dough hook for this. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour.
Form the dough into a ball and leave in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic film, for an hour until it has at least doubled in size.
Heat your oven to 220°C and oil two 12cm x 30cm baking trays. Take the dough from the bowl, cut into two pieces and mould both pieces into oval shapes to fit the baking trays. Use your knuckles or fingertips to make slight indentations all over the dough. Brush it with extra virgin olive oil and stud it with rosemary leaves (you can chop them finely first if you prefer), and press them into the dough. Sprinkle with the coarse sea salt and drizzle with more olive oil.
Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for half an hour then bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown – keep an eye on it as it can turn brown suddenly and will easily overcook and become too hard.
Take the bread from the oven and place on a wire rack for a few minutes. Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.