My new favorite appetizer! Focaccia di Recco

A week or so ago I was in San Diego for a  work conference.  Trust me there are worse places to have to be for work!  The weather was absolutely perfect and I got to visit some great restaurants.

One evening we decided to walk to the Little Italy area.  It's not quite as cool as Little Italy in San Francisco, but fun nevertheless.  We found a cute restaurant called Davanti.  They had a back patio so we could sit outside and after perusing the menu posted there was definitely something we each thought we would like for dinner.

Davanti serves each meal as it's finished in the kitchen.  So if everyone orders their own meal, well, you're going to eat at different times!  I don't know if the kitchen was so tiny they couldn't get a table's worth of food out or if they were just too lazy to figure out how to do that, or if they just thought it was cool to serve whatever got finished whenever it got finished, no matter how many people were at the table.  But we were warned about this by our waitress and she suggested we get things to share if we wanted to all be able to eat at the same time.  So that's what we did.

The first thing we ordered was by far my favorite!  It was called Focaccia di Recco with honeycomb and it was amazing!  The description was a "Ligurian style baked focaccia with fresh soft cow cheese."  That didn't tell me much but our waitress said it was one of her favorites.  So you don't have to Google it too, Linguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy.

When I think of focaccia I think of a thicker bread topped with olive oil and herbs good for dunking in my favorite olive oil.  This was different.  It was a very thin, crispy bread with cheese in the middle.  We couldn't figure out how they got the cheese in the middle!  And we weren't really sure what the cheese was but it was really good, very creamy, slightly sweet, a bit like a goat or marscapone cheese.  The bread was lightly salted and served with a chunk of honeycomb.  It was a perfect combination of flavors and textures, crispy slightly salty bread with creamy slightly sweet cheese topped with honey.  I could have eaten the whole thing!

So, of course, when I got home I had to figure out what it was and how to make it.  I found this recipe complete with video.
Focaccia di Recco

The bread part is pretty easy.  The cheese, that was the trick.  According to this recipe (and several others I found) the cheese that is used in focaccia di recco is called Crescenza or Stracchino.  I figured I would have no trouble finding the cheese living so close to Cosetta and Buon Giorno.  I shouldn't be so cocky.  We started at Cosetta.  They carry it but were out.  It was a Sunday and Buon Giorno was closed.  We tried Morelli's market in St. Paul.  No luck.

So to Byerly's we went, hopeful but not confident we would find it there.  We are lucky we know the manager of the cheese area of our local Byerly's really well and she happened to be working, maybe our luck was turning?  I asked her about the cheese and she said they had just put in an order for their "holiday cheese" but they didn't have any on hand.  She offered to special order me some and I took her up on that!  In the meantime, I needed a substitute.

According to Google, there are several possible substitutes, one being Taleggio.  Byerly's had that.  If they didn't I was going to go with a goat or marscapone cheese.

I didn't get to making the focaccia on Sunday (the day we did all the running around) but I did make it the very next day!  I decided to just make half a batch since it was just the two of us.

The dough is easy, flour, water, olive oil, mix.  

The dough will appear too dry but keep mixing and a nice soft dough forms.

While the dough was resting I prepared the rest of our dinner.  After the hour rest the dough is cut in half.  The first half is rolled very thin, so thin you can almost see your hand through it.

The recipe says to put the dough in a 10" round pan that has been brushed with olive oil.  I don't have a 10" round pan so I just decided to put it on one of my baking stones.  This stone is at about 15" in diameter.  Half the dough, rolled thin, filled this stone.  I wondered... did I roll it too thin?  Is their 10" pan really bigger than that?  They do cut off some excess in the video, maybe that's where the extra dough went?  But I made a HALF batch.  It's a mystery.

I topped the first layer of dough with dollops of the cheese then rolled out the other piece and placed it on top.  I poked holes in it to let the steam out, brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with a little salt and it was ready to go in the oven.

The recipe said to bake it at 400-450, I opted for the 450 and it took almost 20 minutes to bake.  It came out beautifully browned and smelled delicious (I love baked cheese!).

I topped it with a little honeycomb I had picked up at The Golden Fig and a little basil then sliced it up.

Was it as good as what I had in San Diego?  Heck no!  How could you possibly beat sitting outside on a warm fall evening with good company, eating a focaccia di recco prepared by someone else, never mind the nice glass of red wine I had with it?

Was it good?  Heck yea!  My husband at three pieces!  The taleggio cheese was very good, though different from what was used at Davanti. It wasn't as creamy, or as sweet.  The bread was good but in all honesty I think I would like it thinner.  Which means a half batch is plenty!

So next time I'm going to change some things up.  I'm going to use the Stracchino cheese.  I'm going to roll the dough even thinner and I'm not going to pop so many holes in it (I don't remember there being holes in the one in SanDiego and I think there will be less "baking" and more "melting" of the cheese that way), I'm going to preheat my stone in the oven so it bakes faster and I'm going to bump the temperature up to 500.  I bake my pizzas at 500 and I get a nice, crispy crust that way.  So watch this space for my next attempt!  I'm patiently (not) waiting for that call that my cheese came in!

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