TRADITIONAL CHEESE FOCACCIA
Focaccia con il formaggio (Cheese focaccia) | Genoa Serves 4
In recent years, certain commercial pizza companies have come up with the notion of the ‘cheese-stuffed crust’. They’d probably be surprised to learn that it was first described 2200 years ago in a book called De Re Rustica (‘About Rustic Things’) by a Roman writer known as Cato The Elder. He referred to a dish called scribilita thus: ‘Enclose between sheets of dough slices of cheese.’
This scribilita was next mentioned in the records of the Abbey of San Fruttuoso (near Portofino, just east of Genoa) in the year 1189. Apparently a bunch of knights on the way to the crusades were served ‘a focaccia of wheat flour and curds and whey’. The document was used as evidence by the Gastronomic Consortium of the town of Recco, just east of Genoa, in 2010, when they were seeking an EU special trademark for the local speciality.
The dish is at its best in a restaurant called Manuelina, and this is our version of their recipe. The cheese they use is stracchino, but you can substitute any creamy soft cheese — ideally Italian, and not brie or camembert, which tend to have ammonia in the skin.
250 g (9 oz/12/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) olive oil
350 g (12 oz) soft creamy cheese, ideally stracchino
You will need a shallow metal pizza tray or large paella pan to make this dish.
1. Place the flour, a pinch of salt and half the olive oil in a bowl and mix well, adding a few drops of water from a wet hand. Place the dough on a clean, flat, lightly floured surface and knead with your hands for about 10 minutes, until you have a smooth soft dough, adding a little water if it seems too dry. Shape into a ball, cover with a cloth and rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
3. Knead the dough again for about 3 minutes, then split into two even portions. Roll out each ball of dough into a paper-thin circular sheet about the size of your pizza tray or paella pan.
4. Lightly oil the pan and place one sheet of the dough on it. Break the cheese into small pieces and dot them all over the sheet of dough. Cover with the second sheet of dough, pressing down gently on the edges. Cut off any excess that overlaps the edges.
5. Sprinkle a little more olive oil over the surface of the dough, spreading it with your hands. Sprinkle on a little salt and tear a few holes in the top to allow the steam to escape. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the focaccia becomes golden.
6. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
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