From the photograph above you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a pizza and it certainly has more in common with pizza than bread so calling it focaccia definitely gives the wrong impression to most people. But it’s much lighter than pizza and doesn’t need to be eaten hot, though warm is definitely better than cold. Unlike pizza there is no yeast added to the focaccia di Recco dough, only flour, water, olive oil and salt.
Recco is the next town north from Camogli along the Ligurian coastline and fortunately you don’t have to go to Recco to find it. It’s not an unpleasant town but it’s difficult to find any love when your neighbors are the more glamorous Camogli, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. The origins of focaccia di Recco are muddled though there are plenty of theories, one of which even goes back to the Crusades.
But whatever the actual history, this is a hugely popular type of street food all over the Riviera di Levante; it's absolutely delicious and now has its own IGT protection (but only when made in Recco itself) to prevent poor imitations and frozen versions. It’s also incredibly simple but not necessarily easy to make because stretching the two sheets of dough to one sixteenth of an inch without puncturing them is something that only comes with practice and the right type of flour. You use your knuckles as with pizza dough, but it needs to be stretched thinner for focaccia di Recco because the dollops of cheese that go inside have to melt quickly.
The cheese that is added between the sheets of dough is either crescenza or stracchino, both of which are soft fresh cheeses made from cow's milk and melt easily and are widely available in supermarkets throughout Italy as a spreadable lunch cheese.
On a recent trip to Sestri Levante we passed by the Focaccia D'Autore at lunchtime and if you're hungry it's impossible not to stop once you smell the aromas wafting out of one of these places.
Focaccia and Torta Salata
Liguria is famous for its focaccia and rightly so because there’s a whole range of delicious focaccia, torta salata and farinata that you will see when you enter a focacceria, especially if you’re anywhere near Genova. I’m struggling to think of a collective noun in English with which to describe all these things because they have various aspects in common with flatbreads and pizza, but also vegetable flans, tarts and quiche though they have very little in common with bread.
Italians have had centuries to come up with specific names for their traditional foods so it’s easier and more descriptive to use the local words as much as possible, especially when every region uses different words for similar foods.
Most people reading this will be familiar with conventional Ligurian focaccia, which generally looks something like the one in the photograph above, ie a type of dimply yeasted bread that is not too thick, crusty on the outside and soft in the middle, full of olive oil and quite salty usually with rosemary and sometimes studded with olives or something. This is always good in Liguria and I’d be happy munching it in the street fresh and warm from the focacceria but it’s now so widespread around Italy that there are other Ligurian specialities you should prioritize when you find yourself in Liguria.
We chose the torta salata with vegetables and the torta salata with potatoes (above photo) as well as the focaccia di Recco. You take them outside and find a bench and eat them still warm because this is street food that is both healthy and completely yummy. In a good focacceria there will always be a queue so don't hold people up by fussily trying to determine what's in all of them. There won't be any meat and they're always cheap so just buy a slice of everything.
If you google torta salata or torta di verdura there will be recipes and images for something completely different. You will mostly see thick pies with eggs and other ingredients that have nothing to do with what we are talking about here. Only for special occasions, like the Easter Torta Pasqualina, will you find a Ligurian torta salata that has eggs and other ingredients that make it much more substantial than the everyday ones above.
A couple of days later we were a little further up the coastline in Camogli and hungry again after finishing one of the hikes in the Portofino Regional Park when we passed the above focacceria. Soon after we joined the queue the owner came out and announced that the last focaccia di Recco was in the oven, then counted all the people in line who wanted to order it and everyone right behind us was out of luck and had to walk away disappointed. This is always a freshly made product so, thankfully, no Ligurian focacceria takes anything out of a freezer and sticks it in a microwave as would happen in most other countries. Local food traditions are taken seriously here. In Camogli the focaccia di Recco was rectangular rather than round but came with the Pope's blessing it would seem.
Rather than finishing this article with the simple recipe for Focaccia di Recco we found an entertaining video with English subtitles that was filmed at Federico Bisso's restaurant Da Ö Vittorio in Recco, an unimpeachable source for the true focaccia di Recco. The entertaining part is that he invited chef Ivano Ricchebono of a Michelin starred restaurant a few miles up the road in Genova to do the heavy lifting and it's always fun to see the head chef of a fancy restaurant get down in the trenches and see if he's still got what it takes. Of course Ricchebono made a good showing but it's probably been a while since he made focaccia di Recco whereas the continually smiling Federico Bisso makes it every day of the week.