Picture this: You’re strolling the streets of Recco, a hilly beach town on the Ligurian coast, when you see a crowd queued at a food stall. A baker is stretching a ball of dough impossibly thin using nothing but their knuckles and gravity, easing it into a metal pan and neatly tucking it along the edge. They grab a block of creamy cheese, rip off clumps, and drop them all over the surface. Then another diaphanous sheet of dough descends over the cheese, and the baker lashes the top with olive oil and sprinkles on flake salt. They slip the pan into a ripping-hot oven and pull it out minutes later to reveal a topography as stunning as the local landscape: peaks of bubbly, blistered bread surrounded by softer, chewier valleys and puddles of bright-white molten cheese. After making a few swift cuts, the baker doles out slabs to the waiting patrons, who hunch over to take a bite as the creamy filling drips.
Italy’s Best-Kept Secret is Focaccia di Recco
Published Dec. 5, 2022.
Real-Deal Focaccia di Recco is Hyper-regional
To say that focaccia di Recco is a point of local pride doesn’t really cut it. The cheese-stuffed flatbread, which many sources date to the 12th century, enjoys Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) status, meaning that only batches made within particular geographic borders can technically bear the “di Recco” name. There’s even a consortium that upholds its reputation and quality standards (scroll the official Instagram account, @focacciadirecco_igp, to see the genuine article in all its crackly-crisp, gooey, glistening glory), a coin-size blue and yellow logo that gets placed on each flatbread for serving, and an annual festival in Recco where slabs are handed out for free.
This is focaccia di Recco: the focaccia-by-name, pizza-by-feel flatbread that’s barely known outside of Liguria, and so locally cherished that the European Union recognizes it as a product of the region’s tiny footprint. One bite of the hearth-flashed dough and milky, tangy cheese, made even more sublime with crunchy salt and the oil’s peppery glow, can elicit a visceral response.
“You could eat a tray this big, and you just can’t stop,” said Laurel Evans, the Milan-based author of Liguria: The Cookbook: Recipes from the Italian Riviera (2021), stretching her hands wide.
No Stracchino? No problem.
Stracchino, also called Crescenza, is a young northern Italian cheese with a luscious milky tang—the iconic choice for stuffing into Recco’s cheese pie–like focaccia. It’s not widely available in the United States, but there are alternatives that get at its creamy, oozy appeal. Robiola, a soft-ripened slab made from varying combinations of cow, sheep, and goat milks, works nicely, as does a mixture of cream cheese and fontina.
I wasn’t many tests into my own recipe when I realized that dough extensibility would be crucial; without it, the thin-stretched sheets would simply tear. So I mixed up a strong, supple batch with King Arthur Bread Flour (its high protein content closely approximates the Manitoba flour, made from strong Canadian wheat that’s widely grown in Italy, that Recco bakers use), water, salt, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. The food processor made fast work of spinning the components into a satiny, sticky ball, at which point I let it rest so that the gluten would relax (focaccia di Recco dough isn’t leavened, so it didn’t require proofing).
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While the dough sat, I set a baking stone in the oven, cranked the heat to 525 degrees, and rigged up a pair of rimmed baking sheets for stretching the dough, as I’d seen Recco bakers do in YouTube videos: one for baking the focaccia, which I greased with olive oil, and the other as a “pedestal” for elevating the first pan so that it had ground clearance. I draped the dough over my downturned wrists, letting gravity extend it into a rough rectangle; then I centered the dough on the oiled pan and, rotating the pan as needed, gently pulled the sides so that they draped over the edge by a couple inches. Once that bottom layer was smooth and flush against the edges, it was time for the cheese.
How to Assemble Focaccia di Recco
On lightly floured counter, roll 1 dough ball into 8 by-12-inch rectangle.
Brush with pastry brush to remove excess flour. Lift dough, drape over your knuckles, and gently stretch into 16 by 12-inch rectangle.
Center dough over prepared pan and lower onto pan. Gently stretch dough, rotating pan as needed, until it hangs 2 inches over all sides.
Working with 1 side at a time, gently lift dough, let it contract slightly and then relax into pan so just 1 inch remains draped over rim and dough lines bottom of pan.
Dollop generous tablespoons of stracchino evenly over surface of dough, leaving 1-inch border from edge of pan.
Repeat rolling and stretching second dough ball into 16 by 12-inch rectangle. Place dough directly on top of dollops of cheese. Gently stretch dough (making sure not to disturb cheese) until it hangs 1 inch over all sides of pan.
Run rolling pin along outside edge of pan rim to cut away overhanging dough.
Using kitchen shears, cut 2-inch hole just to side of each dollop of cheese.
Using your fingertips, roll dough edges down into pan to create border.
Press to seal. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
Fake It Till You Make It
There’s nothing quite like stracchino (also called Crescenza), a young, solid but spreadable cow’s milk cheese made in various styles around northern Italy that delivers delicate tang and salt, pulls apart into creamy clumps, and melts beautifully. Those qualities make it worth seeking out—and tricky to approximate.
Evans graciously helped me brainstorm ways to replicate it with more widely available alternatives. Talleggio was too funky and mascarpone too loose. Dense, creamy Robiola turned out to be the best single-cheese stand-in, though a combination of Italian fontina and cream cheese was respectable and more economical. I evenly spaced 12 ounces over the first dough sheet and then covered it with another that I’d stretched just as thin. After sealing the two sheets with my fingertips, I snipped air vents alongside each cheese clump so that the top sheet wouldn’t balloon during baking. Then I drizzled the surface with more olive oil and sprinkled it with crumbled flake sea salt.
Less than 10 minutes later, the focaccia emerged from the oven in a blaze of crispy, chewy, molten glory—and in even less time, it was gone.