Ligurian Focaccia with Sage

Salty and oily. Focaccia di Liguria. This one comes with Sage leaves.
Salty and oily. Focaccia di Liguria. This one comes with sage leaves.

Focaccia is one of the culinary delights of Liguria and what better place to try a lovely green oily version than in the Cinque Terre. The five villages of this area, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, perch precariously along the edge of the Ligurian sea and at the base of steep terraced hills. These towns are connected by a wonderful little train which travels through tunnels carved into the mountains, with an occasional glimpse at the wild sea through gaps in the tunnels along the way. They are also connected by walking trails and by sea.

Left over pizza dough.
Left over pizza dough.

I first tried green oil drenched, salty focaccia in 1985 in one of these towns. Other Ligurian specialties from that era included spaghetti al pesto, spaghetti con vongole and a very young dry white wine that I can still taste. Above the five towns, with colourful houses that tumble down to the sea, a steep walk takes one to a rural district with spectacular views of the coast. In those days, the towns petered out quickly: rural life was still in full swing: steeply terraced vines were well-tended, the tall irregular trellises constructed of hand hewn wood. Vineyards then led to further terraces of olive groves above.

dough placed in rectangular baking dish
Dough is  placed in a well oiled rectangular baking dish. The thicker the better!

I haven’t returned to the Cinque Terre since then- I don’t wish to spoil good memories. The terraces are now, apparently, poorly maintained and the vines untended: there is more money in tourism than farming. The area was also severely damaged by floods and mudslides in 2011. It is very popular and heavily touristed in the Italian summer months. The Cinque Terre National Park and the towns are now a Unesco World Heritage Site: there are attempts to preserve the unique aspects of this area.

Second rise- the dough under a damp cloth.
Second rise- the dough  under a damp cloth for another 40 minutes.
Before baking in a hot ( 220c) oven, the dough is dimpled, then liberally dressed with EV olive oil.
Before baking in a hot (220c) oven, the dough is dimpled, then liberally dressed with EV olive oil.
Focaccia con Salvia
Focaccia con Salvia

I follow Carol Field’s recipe when making focaccia, however I tend to use left over pizza dough that has been rising for another day in the fridge.

  • After returning the once risen dough back to room temperature, I roll it into a rectangular shape to suit the size of my baking tin – in this case, a tin with sides, such as a old fashioned lamington tin.
  • The tin is well oiled, the dough is pressed in with fingers and left to rise again under a damp cloth. The damp cloth trick seems to produce the right moist texture that I recall from all those years ago. The cloth needs to be very well dampened but sit slightly above the dough so that it doesn’t stick.
  • After 40 minutes or so, the dough is dimpled by pressing indentations with your fingers. These will catch the oil. Very therapeutic and a good task for little ones.
  • Lots of Extra Virgin olive oil is applied, followed by salt crystals (coarsely ground sea salt or rock salt), then sage leaves are pressed onto the dough.
  • The focaccia is then baked in a preheated oven, 220c, for around 20 minutes or until it looks done.
  • Cool, remove from tin, and slice into rectangle pieces or slices. I guarantee that the bread will not have time to go stale. It doesn’t hang around for long.

The green olive version from Liguria is also rather nice.

This forms part of Leah’s The Cookbook Guru,  where we are spending a month or two looking at one of my favourite cookbooks, Carol Field’s The Italian Baker.

And I hope it brings back a few travel memories for my three children, who will always remember Signore Andrea P. Poggi, and that screaming cat below the sea wall at Vernazza!

25 thoughts on “Ligurian Focaccia with Sage”

  1. Wow, this looks amazing and much better than my foccacia attempt (post coming soon). I love your memories attached to a simple and delicious food. I’ll reblog for you tomorrow 🙂 Leah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I lived in Urbino there was a place that baked focaccia and I remember seeing the locals walking down the hill, as I was walking up, a piece of this very kind of focaccia in hand, with either sage or rosemary, munching away as they went off to work or school in the mornings. That was a long time ago, so you can tell it made a lasting impression on me! Looks delicious Francesca.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see it did, And any memory of that most beautiful of towns, home of the duke of Urbino with such a remarkable history, would be indelibly printed. I am wondering though, how long you lived there for. I am sure there’s a good story or two behind your focaccia memory.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was only there for a summer, at the Uni as a student of the language. A shame I’ve forgotten so much, but not much chance to practice it here in Alice! It was an amazing experience, def worth a blog post or two. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember the Cinqeterra well also from eons ago too, before it was over run with tourists. In my gluten eating days, I always added olives and rosemary to the foccaccia I made, I’m salivating at the memory. You foccaccia looks good enough to eat!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It went down very quickly! Faster than pizza and never any bits leftover for the latecomer.
      Green olive focaccia is very very Ligurian, and lashings of freshly pressed green oil.
      Your do very well as a gluten free foody.

      Like

  4. Have you been to Turkey? We are currently planing (subject to financial bloke Tuesday) a trip to cover Turkey, Italy and maybe somewhere else as well. I’d love to get some tips for ideas seeing as we obviously enjoy and appreciate similar things. I would prefer avoiding the high point tourist spots and really get to see local communities and their way of life. Beautiful focaccia! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Turkey is at the top of my list for next year. So the short answer is no- but everyone I know who has been there loves Turkey, especially Istanbul. I plan then to travel to parts of eastern Europe, places such as Bruges, Prague, Budapest – maybe Croatia, before going back to Italy for a time.
      I can offer suggestions only for Italy, north to south, Country France, Galicia in Spain, and Scotland and Ireland. Feel free to email me any time Marie/Fergie if you need some ideas about these places. And yes, we do like the same things. Bread, cooking, gardening and vino!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh that area is so fabulous. My husband and I did the walk and it was so lovely. One of my best meals ever was in Monterosso, where seafood was cooked inside a huge caldron in a fireplace, and poured into bowls, served with bread. Their wine was just so-so, but I still drank it! Your focaccia is lovely – I’m so glad you didn’t skimp on the olive oil!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Francesca has shared with us a fabulously regional foccacia as part of our book club collective, The Cookbook Guru. I can almost taste the olives and sage from here. Make sure you check out the post and Francesca’s wonderful memories of travelling in Italy.

    Happy Reading and Happy Baking,

    Leah

    Liked by 1 person

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