Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen:
The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen

This week’s guest blogger is the formidable Chester Hastings – trained chef, cheesemonger, and writer. His first cookbook The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen has recently been called out by the Chicago Tribune as one of the best of 2011.

Here’s a holiday-appropriate recipe taken from the book that sounds divine. Do you use cheese as an ingredient when cooking? Do you have an absolute favorite cheese on hand at all times for repeated culinary use (besides Parmigiano-Reggiano)? Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win a copy we’ll reward to a randomly selected winner (giveaway eligible to readers in the US and Canada only).


My four-year-old son loves focaccia. Well, actually he loves it when daddy makes focaccia, because inevitably a small pinch of the dough gets flattened, formed into a ring, and quickly fried in some good olive oil until it blows up into a golden doughnut. A quick toss in the sugar bowl and perhaps a dollop of homemade black cherry jam, and we’re both in heaven. He’ll be doubly excited this New Years Eve, when I plan on making my favorite focaccia, the famous Ligurian focaccia col formaggio.

It’s one of those recipes that, like homemade pasta, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be looking for any excuse to make. This hot-from-the-oven cracker bread houses the ooey gooey melted Stracchino cheese which is made from ‘tired’ cow’s milk, when the morning milking is skipped to increase the butterfat of the evening milk (hence the exhausted bovines). Also like homemade pasta, the use of a good pasta machine can make up for any lack of rolling pin skills you may have, especially as the dough is rolled so thin you can watch the Times Square ball drop on television through it!

Focaccia di Recco – Ligurian Cracker Bread with Stracchino

More like two sheets of paper-thin crackers sandwiching one the greatest soft cheeses of all time, fresh Stracchino, this is not the typical Italian olive oil bread.

Crescenza is a good version of the Stracchino cheese, with a texture like ripe Tallegio and a sweet buttermilk tang. This is one of those dishes best made with friends standing nearby, as it should be devoured straight from the oven. Those of you with wood burning ovens that can reach higher temperatures, you are in for a treat!

2 1/2 cups/600 ml all-purpose flour
3/4 cup/180 ml tepid water
1/2 cup/120 ml extra virgin olive oil
8 oz/225 g Stracchino or Crescenza cheese
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, water and 3 tbsp of the olive oil. Knead by hand until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Shape the dough into a ball, set it back into the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow dough to rest at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 500° F/260°C/gas 10.

When dough is rested, divide into two pieces. Roll each piece out separately on a lightly floured surface until dough is paper thin, so that the color of your hand can be seen through it. The masters work the dough like a traditional pizza, using the knuckles of both hands to move the dough in circles off of the table. Conversely, a pasta machine can be used to make rectangle versions, which is actually quite practical for parties.

Grease a large round pizza tray (or rectangular baking sheet) with 2 tbsp of the remaining olive oil. Place one sheet of dough onto the pan.

Tear the cheese into golf ball sized pieces and scatter evenly over the surface of the dough. Place the other sheet of dough on top to flatten slightly the mounds formed by the cheese using the palm of your hand. Gently rub the surface with the remaining oil and create a few holes in the top sheet of dough by pinching and tearing here and there. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the surface and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crispy and golden, with a few burn spots being perfectly desirable and pools of melted cheese forming around the tears.

Cut into squares and serve immediately.

Wine parings
white wine: Pigato from Liguria
red wine: Aglianico

Purchase: The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen: Celebrating Cheese in 90 Recipes.

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