• Focaccia Pugliese (Jono Fleming)Source: Jono Fleming
Itay's hardest working bread is actually many loaves. From Liguria at the top to Sicily down south, focaccia is on the menu in its own special way.
By
Bron Maxabella

15 Apr 2021 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2021 - 10:00 AM

Focaccia is back, bambino! After featuring on just about every café table in the 1990s, Italian-style focaccia quietly slipped away from Australian menus. It's possible a dish has never been relegated to 'retro' status faster.

Fortunately, everything nineties is cool again, so focaccia is making its yeasty, fluffy, crusty, moreish way back into consciousness. Of course, for the Italians, focaccia never went anywhere. This staple bread has been made all over Italy since Etruscan times. Which only makes the nineties focaccia fad all the more bewildering.

Regionally-focused

The Latin root of the word focaccia is 'focus', which refers to the fireplace where families would gather (or focus) to bake bread over the ashes. Even in Roman times 'panis focacius', which means hearth bread, was made with roughly-milled flour, olive oil, water and yeast.

This staple bread has been made all over Italy since Etruscan times. Which only makes the nineties focaccia fad all the more bewildering.

From the 13th century on, focaccia's home town was Genova in Liguria, considered by most to be the birthplace of traditional Italian focaccia.

"Although it is possible to trace regional variants of focaccia throughout Italy, it is certainly Liguria that has established itself in the world gastronomic panorama for its version called, in Genoese dialect, fügassa ," Luciana Sampogna, founder of Sydney's Cucina Italiana Cooking School, tells SBS Food.

Baking traditional fügassa is time consuming, but not difficult.  Multiple risings result in a bread that is crispy on the outside with a soft, fluffy inside. Prodding oil into the dough with your fingers before baking helps to create the crustiness that makes focaccia so moreish. Not all focaccia recipes feature oil, however. 

"There is no universal recipe [for focaccia], it varies according to the regional types," says Sampogna. "But three ingredients always present are water, flour and salt."

Focaccia Genovese

Focaccia Ligure or Genovese is the type of bread most Australians would associate with focaccia. That is to say, it's made with flour, water and yeast, sprinkled with salt and brushed liberally with olive oil before baking to about two centimeters thick. Sometimes a little sugar is added to feed the yeast, but not always.

Poh Ling Yeow makes a version of focaccia Genovese that is sprinkled with rosemary. This is a common addition these days, but rosemary wasn't featured in traditional recipes.

Find Poh's easy recipe here.

Focaccia Genovese is an excellent focaccia for making retro 1990s dishes like ham and cheese focaccia and salami and tomato toasted focaccia...

Focaccia col formaggio del Recco

Just over 20 kilometres from Genova is the tiny town of Recco, where they take their focaccia very seriously indeed. It might be a mere half-an-hour's drive that separates these two towns, but it's a lifetime of cheese that is the deciding factor.

In Recco, the liquid, creamy cheese stracchino hides inside a light, crisp focaccia dough.

It might be a mere half-an-hour's drive that separates these two towns, but it's a lifetime of cheese that is the deciding factor.

"It’s an artisanal dish and one of the most appreciated dishes we have in Liguria,” says ReccoLab's Antonio Zamberelli, a native of Recco who takes pride in bringing his hometown's celebrated dish to Sydney's Rozelle.

“There is only one version of Foccacio Col Formaggio and it’s the original recipe," he says. "It’s two layers of incredibly thin dough filled with stracchino, which is a cow’s milk cheese."

Versions of focaccia col formaggio del Recco might include adding prosciutto or pesto to the focaccia, but never skimp on the stacchino.

"It’s so important to the production of the dish, we air freight it from Italy," confirms Zamberelli.

Focaccia col formaggio is the crisp cheesy bread your life has been missing
Two layers of incredibly thin, crisped-to-perfection dough filled with creamy, liquid stracchino cheese.

Focaccia frescia

It's not only Liguria that knows how to deliver a mean focaccia. The Le Marche region is famous for focaccia frescia. It's an onion-flavoured bread that is liberally oiled prior to baking. The onions are often caramellised down to a dark fluff before topping the focaccia prior to baking.

Focaccia Pugliese

Down Puglia way they serve focaccia much flatter than the Genovese style. The dough is left to rise only once, resulting in a flatbread dough that is more pizza-like than the traditional focaccia.

Silvia Colloca's version puts the onion firmly on top and it's every bit as delicious as it looks.

The result is extra crunchy and extra delicious. Toppings like stewed onion and olives are often baked calzone-style into the crust, which makes focaccia con cipolle especially perfect for picnics.

Silvia Colloca's version puts the onion firmly on top and it's every bit as delicious as it looks.

Focaccia Pugliese

Find Siliva's recipe here.

Focaccia Barese

The Puglian city of Bari has it's own unique style of focaccia. Unlike focaccia con cipolle, focaccia Barese is a 'fluffy', yeasty style of bread, studded with tomatoes and olives. It's traditional eaten as a street snack, bought fresh from local forno, or bakery.

Making focaccia Barese even more unique is the addition of mashed potatoes in the dough. Like when cooking gnocchi, potato adds a lightness to focaccia that is highly addictive.

"I love the one from Bari," says Sampogna. "It really has the southern flavours."

Focaccia Bari-style (focaccia Barese)

 Try Paola Bacchia's focaccia Barese here.

Focaccia Matera

Similar to focaccia Barese, the province of Matera in Basilicata makes focaccia with a spread of tomato sauce, instead of fresh tomatoes.

This is where pizza and focaccia dreams are made.

It's topped with the olives and oregano of Bari's version. This is where pizza and focaccia dreams are made.

How to make focaccia while you sleep
There’s no need to knead, just make a sticky dough and let time do all the work.

Schiacciata

In Tuscany focaccia is widely known as schiacciata, which means 'squashed'. It's traditionally made during the summer to autumn grape harvest, so it's no surprise that it is topped with halved grapes. The result is a bread that is both sweet and savoury. It's a natural accompaniment to a good vintage cheese, served with a glass of vino after a long day harvesting grapes.

Try schiacciata all’uva here.

Gluten-free schiacciata

Resembling a focaccia, these yoghurt flatbreads are topped with vine tomatoes, chilli and ricotta on one loaf and potato and anchovy on the other.

Focaccia Messina

Way down south they typically add oil straight into their focaccia dough. Sicilians are also partial to adding an anchovy or two to their bread and Tuma cheese is also a must.

Tuma or Toma cheese is an immature Peccorino cheese. It's like fresh Pecorino, before the salt is added and maturation begun. It has a mild flavour that doesn't compete with the anchovies, endive and tomatoes that are essential to a focaccia Messina.

Sicilians are also partial to adding an anchovy or two to their bread and Tuma cheese is also a must.

Scacce Ragusane

Another rift on tradition, Sicily's scacce - Sicialian for focaccia - is a rustic version that is folded and filled with toppings like onion, tomato, ricotta and eggplant.

Get Michael Bonacini's recipe here.

“There are different ways to fold them," explains Carmel Ruggeri of Sydney's Sicilian Food Tours. "It depends on which region [in Sicily] you're from.

"Whatever was in season, to make it go further for the family, they would put it inside bread, to make it a full meal.”

Making a meal go further is surely the beauty of bread. Especially when it's a standalone meal like the many regional variations of Italy's focaccia.

FRESH FOCACCIA FAD
Focaccia meets art: Instagram's latest obsession
Some of these slabs of bread look like they should be hanging in a gallery rather than sitting on the kitchen bench.
Matthew Evans' olive and rosemary focaccia

Fresh rosemary, pitted olives, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt - freshly baked focaccia made easy.

Paul West's focaccia

Focaccia is such a flavour-packed and versatile bread to bake.

Smoked garlic focaccia

This hearty, simple version of focaccia allies the beloved bulb with homemade veg and supreme balsamic vinegar. 

Olive and rosemary focaccia

Predecessor to the modern pizza, focaccia is a simple Italian flatbread that was associated with Christmas Eve and Epiphany for many centuries. This savoury version, studded with fragrant rosemary and mixed olives, makes a fabulous accompaniment to a cheese board, picnic spread or soup.

Roasted tomato and marjoram focaccia with pickled green tomatoes

A hot summer’s afternoon is perfect for a picnic with nothing else to do but sit in the sun, tear off some of this bread and eat some pickles. You’ll need to begin this the night before your picnic.

Grape and rosemary focaccia

Grapes and wheat have been part of our lives since the dawn of human civilisation. This focaccia is incredibly simple to make, and the sweetness of the grapes against salty Parmigiano Reggiano is a fantastic combination.

Tomato and rosemary focaccia with basil oil

The vibrant colours in this focaccia are so Italian, bellissimo!

Lemon focaccia (focaccia al limone)

While this Italian flatbread originates from Liguria, there are variations all over Italy including versions with cheese, tomato, potato and capsicum. Meyer lemons suit this recipe because they're not as acidic as the more common Lisbon and Eureka varieties. If using Meyer lemons, reduce the cooking time by 10 minutes.