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In all of Italy it is the province of Liguria that is most famous for focaccia, the exquisitely delicious flat, oily bread.  In all of Liguria, the town of Recco is most famous for its focaccia.  And in Recco, one of the most famous places to find focaccia col formaggio is Ristorante Vitturin 1860.  Yes, the date at the end of the name is the date the restaurant was established.  As they proudly state on their business cards: ” ‘Il piu antico di Recco’, 150 anni e non sentirli” (the oldest in Recco, 150 years and we don’t feel it).

Before leaving  for the States we met our Genovese cousins at Vitturin to enjoy some seafood and some of the restaurant’s well-known focaccia col formaggio (quite unlike the more usual bready styles of focaccia).  Once inside the restaurant we were amazed to see the enormous paddle-wheel apparatus that delivers meals from the kitchens below to the diners above.

There are about eight of these trays mounted on the wheel; obviously they must stay horizontal as the wheel turns – it is a most ingenious system and must save a million steps a day for the wait staff.

Fish and focaccia are the main events at Vitturin; they give the merest nod in the direction of meat.  This big platter of fish would entice any diner.

Here is a close-up of my partly devoured focaccia col formaggio:

What was the highlight of the evening?  It was a long visit to the kitchens below the restaurant proper.  The Captain asked the Maitre D’ if we could see what the delivery wheel looked like down below, and he immediately escorted us to the nether regions.  There we saw the wheel looking much as it did above – plates of steaming food going up, empty plates coming down.

Over on one side of the kitchen we met Filippo, who makes, he proudly told us, about 120 focaccia col formaggio every evening.  He begins by mixing his dough in the early afternoon and letting it rest.  When he’s ready to make a focaccia he takes a big knob of dough and rolls it out.

When the dough is thin enough he picks it up in his hands and does the stretching maneuver we associate with pizza-makers.

He puts it on the large round focaccia pan and puts dabs of stracchino cheese on top, about 750 grams for a regular focaccia, up to 1500 grams for a large size (that’s more than a pound for the regular, and about 3 pounds for a large). (!)

(It’s pretty hard to see in the photo, but that’s the old wood-fired stove in the background.  The restaurant now uses an electric oven.)

Then Filippo rolls out another sheet of dough, just the way he did for the bottom of the focaccia, and puts it over the cheese.  With a quick, nipping movement he tears some holes in the top layer of dough over some of the cheese knobs.

The final ingredients are put on top – a sprinkling of salt and a nice drizzle of olive oil.

All that remains is to trim the excess dough and pop the whole thing in a very hot oven.

It was such a treat to be able to nose around the kitchen.  Everyone was clearly proud of the operation, and with good reason.  It was all orderly, clean and efficient.

Oh yum – a lobster!

They all move so fast; there were not a great many people down there, and they were putting out well over a hundred dinners.

As we were leaving the kitchen the dish-washer called us over and presented us with a little bowl of appetizers, and gave me a hearty handshake and a Buona Notte.  She was so cheerful, and so happy to see us.  We felt very welcome at Vitturin, both upstairs and down.