The best food is struggle food — the dishes that were created in times of want, out of the simplest, least expensive ingredients, with the cooks using techniques that bring out every possible flavor. These dishes sometimes evolve, but sometimes they stay the same for centuries, using those same low-cost ingredients because they're just so delicious.
The northern parts of Italy, unlike the more impoverished southern regions, are not known for struggle food, blessed as they long have been by wealth, eggs and steak. But there is this one dish, a specialty of Recco, a township within the city of Genoa, that embodies the term. (Yeah, there's cheese in it. It's an Italian struggle.)
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Focaccina calda di Recco al formaggio, or just focaccina, apparently became popular during the time of the Crusades. At one point, the Saracens (a term contemporaneously used to describe Arab Muslims) had Recco surrounded, so residents ate what they could: bread, made of flour, olive oil, salt and water, stuffed with a soft, high-fat cheese called stracchino or crescenza.
Here in L.A., the dish is relatively hard to find, but downtown's Factory Kitchen has it on the menu. Chef Angelo Auriana is making three versions: traditional, topped with a bit of arugula; one with tomatoes, capers, anchovies and oregano; and a third with mushrooms, garlic and parsley.
Maybe they taste like history.
1300 Factory Place, downtown; (213) 996-6000, thefactorykitchen.com.