Sandwich Party 2: Focaccia-cha-cha

Following the global success of last year’s Sandwich Party (my entry remains one of the most popular posts on my blog, attracting hundreds of people who Google for chip butty recipes), I couldn’t resist the call to take part again this year. However, I’m breaking with tradition (if you can call something I’ve so far only done once a “tradition”) in two ways.

Firstly, I’m going to concentrate more this time on the bread than the filling. Bread can be considered in the same way as the frame around a photo or a painting; an important ingredient but not necessarily the focus of attention. It’s the filling that makes a sandwich, more than the bread (ok, I’m sure many of you will disagree, but that’s my position).

Secondly, I can’t post any photos this time, or at least, not straight away. I need to go to Italy for that, and I won’t be going until the end of the month, and so the photos won’t be posted until mid-August. Why do I need to go to Italy to take a photo of a sandwich? Surely in these days of globalisation you can procure pretty much any product pretty much anywhere? Well, no. One of the inspirations behind this entry was a growing interest in regionality and cultural specificity. In other words, sometimes in order to find the good stuff, you have to go to the source.

The source in this case is the north-western Italian region of Liguria. The bread in question is, of course, focaccia. Believe it or not, heathen that I was I didn’t even try focaccia until I first visited Genoa in 1999. There was a first class focacceria a few hundred meters from my girlfriend’s (now wife) apartment, and in fact I’ve yet to find a better one.  The crisp exterior, the oil oozing over my tongue, the coarse salt sprinkled on top, the soft, doughy middle: it was love at first bite. Now technically focaccia is found in various regions around the Mediterranean, with variations in texture, thickness, and toppings (onion, tomato, rosemary, etc.), but the Ligurian version is the only one for me. The only rival for my affections is focaccia al formaggio, a speciality of Recco, a small town further along the coast, but whereas that is a wonderfully gloopy, salty treat, the original is the kind of thing I could (and do, whenever I’m in the area) eat every day for breakfast. It needs no topping, no adornment, no distractions. Along with pesto it’s come to symbolise everything I love about Liguria. I have to have some wherever I go back, and just the thought of it transports me there instantly, evoking memories of wandering the caruggi of the old town, hiking the Cinque Terre, riding along the coast road on a Vespa at sunset, the sea breeze in our hair…

But this is a Sandwich Party, right? Not a Piece-Of-Bread Party. Well at one point my girlfriend went to Brussels for a few months for an internship (which later led to a permanent job, which led to us settling there), leaving me alone in Genoa to fend for myself. My regular lunch/comfort food during this period was a focaccina – a round, burger bun-sized lump of focaccia – filled with slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella drizzled with my father-in-law’s olive oil and sprinkled with oregano. Not complicated, but then the best Italian food usually consists of very few basic but fresh and flavourful ingredients. At least, that’s my excuse…

Come back for photos in a few weeks’ time.