What makes la focaccia?
What makes 'la focaccia'?
It's just bread, isn't it?
Someone somewhere, at some time, was bound to go heavy on the olive oil and salt and call it delicious... but considering the focaccia as a fundamental part of Italy's extensive bread culture, it's surprising there's no legend surrounding it!
Most of the country's culinary delights have a dreamy tale to support their history - take the love-struck youth who left his cheese out overnight and turned it into gorgonzola, or baker couple Giuseppe and Osolina from the small village of Saronno who made a humble biscuit for the Grand Cardinal and created the famous Amaretto!
Focaccia has been mentioned in documents since the 14th century but is said to have been around since the 11th. In Ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked beside the fire and named as such after the Latin word for hearth - focus. Some say it was Etruscan.
As one of Liguria's most noted of foodie specialities, our thoughts skip straight to rocky coastlines and green terraces as features of The Cinque Terre because here la focaccia genovese is 'Queen'. Saying that, every baker in every region of Italy makes their own version of the fluffy bread with toppings and adaptations so what then makes focaccia different from pizza?
The difference is in the proof! After proving for a number of hours, the focaccia must rise in a baking tray before going in the oven whereas the pizza is stretched and cooked almost immediately.
Proving times will differ from place to place; most focacce are made the same day and prove for 2 hours at least before a final resting phase in the tray. But there's always one bread which breaks the rules and in this case, the rules are strict: Focaccia Barese from Bari in Puglia must prove for hours, stretched and instantly baked so that it doesn't rise higher than 1.5cm, as stated by the Consortium of Focaccia Barese (but more on that later).
Starting with most recognisable:
Focaccia Genovese (Fügassa)
Our classic, golden bumpy bread with coarse sea salt and finger pools of gorgeous Ligurian olive oil (ombrisalli in Genova dialect) is loved as street food, at snack time and even for breakfast dipped into a cappuccino! The Ligurians feel they own this bread yet it isn't protected geographically due to multiple variants within the region itself. Typically doused in local olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary, there is also a white onion version which is equally delicious - focaccia con la cipolla.
Another famously-moreish Ligurian focaccia is Focaccia di Recco (PDO) which is stretched paper-thin and stuffed with soft stracchino cheese. Found in the pretty, coastal town of Recco within the Ligurian region, this is very much a local thing with stracchino from the area a tutti costi - at all costs.
Skip across to foodie capital Bologna and we find La Crescente Bolognese - Bologna's thick focaccia made with lard and little blocks of prosciutto. The Bolognesi are picky about their recipes and this one, just like mortadella, tortellini and Ragu alla Bolognese is kept equally safe in the Chamber of Commerce where no one can touch it. Have a read of our post 'The Best of Bologna' for more on Italy's gastronomic capital.
Focaccia alla Messinese is another of Sicily's great, flavour-packed street foods made with semolina flour in the dough and topped with scarola (endive/chicory), cherry tomatoes, anchovies and the island's authentic tuma cheese.
Focaccia Dolce - sweet focaccia, is sprinkled in sugar and water and served as street food in Alessandria, Piemonte. Baked with raisins or honey as a variant and adored straight from bakery ovens whilst still warm and sticky.
Focaccia Veneta is typically baked at Easter around Venice as a tall, fluffy cake similar to panettone but without the candied fruits, it's sprinkled in candied sugar instead. For more of Venice's beautiful foods, see our post 'What to Order in Venice'.
And finally our old favourite Focaccia Barese (Fcazz)
This is the focaccia we bake at MangiaMangia because we love the juicy nature of the dough which uses mashed potato to keep it moist. We pick up the potatoes straight from the nearby farm, Pipe Place Potatoes, who've now become our farm, foodie friends! When we need a new bag we simply do a swop - lasagne and focacce for spuds.
'Every dough takes its time' says our blog post on Italian bread making but according to Giovanni di Serio, president of the Focaccia Barese Consortium, this regional delicacy from the capital city of Bari in Puglia must prove uncovered for 8 to 12 hours at room temperature. To test whether the dough is ready, it should bounce back when lightly pressed before being stretched onto a circular metal pan covered in olive oil. Go ahead and break the sun-ripened Pugliese tomatoes with your hands so tomato juice spills over the dough, drizzle abundantly with local olive oil, scatter Bari olives, sea salt and dried origano and bake at the highest temperature your oven can handle for 20-25 minutes.
The focaccia will appear golden with a crunchy crust and soft, bubbled inside. The tomato juice will have caramelised, marrying acidity with sweet, add the saltiness from the olives and it becomes something quite extraordinarily divine.
So, maybe it's not just bread.
If you can hold off, slice it up and take it to school (or work) for lunch like they do in Puglia but otherwise eat it warm, like us.
We bake focaccia fresh every Friday afternoon so yours will most likely still be warm when we deliver it to you.
Buona focaccia amici.