I don't know where I first had the classic cheese-stuffed bread that is Focaccia di Recco but I know for sure it wasn't in Recco (or the nearby Camogli) where the focaccia originated. What I do know is that it was love at first bite. The idea of sandwiching cheese in a focaccia was mind blowing and only made better when I tried it's variations like topped with curls of prosciutto or with pesto as I've done here.
But let's back up a bit. To situate you, let's start with the geography. Recco is a seaside town on the Ligurian Riviera (home to some of my all-time favorite seaside towns!) and though it's a short jaunt from Genoa, the focaccia that comes from these two towns couldn't be more different.
While Genoa is known for the classic focaccia bread that's light and airy, about 1-inch high, dimpled, and doused in olive oil and flaky sea salt, the focaccia that hails from Recco is unleavened (yup, no yeast!) and made by sandwiching melty cheese between an olive oil dough.
The story goes that around the time of the third crusades (that's about 1100 AD for reference), there were pirates and attacks along the coast stretching from Genoa south and the people of the town of Recco were down to their last few ingredients. They ended up making this unleaved focaccia and, fast forward almost 1,000 years (!) and it's the classic recipe for which the town is best known!
The cheese makes this focaccia and the classic cheese to make it with is crescenza or stracchino. They can be hard to find in the United States so you can use mozzarella in a pinch. However, it's worth it to hunt down the classic cheeses at least once because the end result is delicious!
I up the ante by topping it with pesto! Okay, truth is I didn't come up with this but I was served it at one of the restaurants I visited last time I was in Genoa and it was addictive. To make it, I use the Classic Creamy Pesto recipe that I'm known for but you could use any quality pesto you want.
This focaccia would be a good starter or side along with this tuna salad, our green minestrone, or with a roast chicken. But, if you make the Focaccia Di Recco with the pesto, I recommend you serve it with a simple salad and a glass of great white wine (like a Vermentino from Liguria!).
plus more for finshing the focaccia
or semolina flour, plus more for rolling the dough
or, if you can find it, crescenza or stracchino cheeses
for garnish, optional
To Make The Focaccia Dough: Combine the water, olive oil, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted a dough hook. Turn the mixer on low speed, add the pouring shield if you have it (otherwise, turn the mixer on and off as needed so you don't have flour fly everywhere) and add the flour to the mixer a spoonful at a time.
Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix until the dough is smooth and does not stick to the sides of the bowl, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove the dough to a very lightly floured surface and bring it together in a ball. Divide the dough into two pieces (each piece will make 1 focaccia) and place each in a resealable storage container. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before continuing.
You can make the dough through this point up to two days ahead and then store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it. Just make sure to bring the dough to room temperature before you continue.
To Shape The Focaccia Dough: Once the dough has rested, prepare the bottom piece of a 9-inch springform pan by brushing it with olive oil. Heat the oven to 500°F, arrange a rack in the middle, and, place a baking stone, pizza stone, or two nested baking sheets on the rack (these will help make the bottom crust nice and golden brown!).
Place one of the dough pieces onto a very lightly floured clean countertop and divide it in two. Take ones of the pieces of dough, and, using flour sparingly, roll the dough into an 11-inch circle.
Drape the piece of dough over the prepared pan. Pinch the cheese and tear it into bite-sized pieces then scatter the cheese across the dough (you don't need the whole bottom covered with cheese and scattering it a bit haphazardly makes for a focaccia with different parts that have more cheese!).
Roll the second piece of dough into an 11-inch circle and drape it on top of the cheese-covered piece of dough. Don't pull the top piece of dough taut but rather let it be loose enough that it can drape a bit between the bits of cheese (it shouldn't fold over on itself though).
Use scissors or a sharp knife to snip or cut slits (about 1-inch in length) above each piece of cheese to allow steam to escape then gently press down on the dough to remove any air and have it deflate.
To Bake The Focaccia Bread: Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and add a large pinch of flaky salt. Place the focaccia in the oven on the baking stone or baking sheets, reduce the oven temperature to 475°F, and bake 15 minutes, turning halfway through baking, until it is bubbled, golden, and has a few browned bits.
If you're making two focaccia, you'll want to bake them one by one FYI.
To Finish The Focaccia Bread: Remove the focaccia from the oven, and immediately transfer it to a serving platter. Top it with a few spoonfuls of the pesto and spread it all over the top. Drizzle a bit more olive oil on top, add a pinch of flaky salt and a few fresh basil leaves (if using). Serve immdiately!
The classic way to serve Focaccia Di Recco is without the pesto but I like this addition. If you don't add the pesto, you can eat the focaccia warm or at room temperature. However, if you top it with pesto, plan to eat it immediately as it tastes best warm.
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