March Cooking Hacks with Anthony Falco

March Cooking Hacks with Anthony Falco

The focaccia master (and secret weapon behind the cult favorite sourdough focaccia at Bay Area restaurant Il Parco) shares his tips and tricks... Hint: it starts with good EVOO!  

I was recently in San Francisco working on a project called Il Parco, located in the Presidio. I was lucky to work with Chef Daniel Cheo and to have the opportunity to work with the spectacular produce that SF offers. When you have some of the best produce in the world, all you need is some high quality olive oil and salt to make everything sing. Along with the really great west coast flour from Cairnspring Mills, good olive oil and salt is going to elevate your focaccia.

DIY Basil Oil

Basil can go bad quickly and turn black on hot pizza. A great way to extend its usability is to make basil oil. Blanch the basil quickly in boiling water, shock in an ice bath, pat dry, and squeeze the moisture out. Blend basil in a Vitamix at high speed with olive oil. I use 1 part basil to 2 parts olive oil, by weight. Strain through fine mesh or cheese cloth if you have it, and you’ll have beautiful bright green basil oil, which will last in the fridge for a couple weeks. I keep it in a small squeeze bottle and drizzle over pizza, meats, pastas and sandwiches.

Flour Your Focaccia

Focaccia dough is very wet. This is still something I’m experimenting with, but I’ve found that when I portion it out and shape it into a ball or rectangle before going in the pan, if I flour the ball really well before it goes in the oiled pan, it doesn’t stick as much and allows me to use less oil in the pan.

Marinate Your Onions

One of my favorite focaccia toppings is onion. White, yellow, red, they’re all good. I marinate the sliced onions with salt, olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar for about 30 minutes to a few hours. The vinegar enhances the sweetness with some acidity, and takes away some of the onion’s pungency.

Thinly Sliced Mortadella

Lately I’ve been obsessed with Mortazza, that Roman sandwich of thinly sliced mortadella sandwiched between two slices of fresh focaccia, or pizza bianca. I have a thing about the importance of mortadella slices being thin. It has to be very thin! Instead of laying it flat, I want the mortadella to be placed in loose bundles which will build some height. Crowding these bundles creates layers and great texture with every bite.

How to cut super thin mortadella with a deli slicer: set on the smallest setting and put little to no pressure when slicing, it will maintain an even round slice but will be paper thin.

Spring Garlic Ricotta

I was working on seasonal focaccia sandwiches with chef Daniel, and we wanted to create a standout vegetarian sandwich. We started with some spigarello, fresh from the market, which can be subbed with broccoli rabe. The spigarello is roasted with salt and olive oil and paired with spring garlic ricotta. Ricotta is delicious on its own but we wanted to sex it up. Spring garlic or spring onion can be used. The spring garlic is chopped very fine and sauteed on low with salt and olive oil until the garlic is soft. It’s then folded into the ricotta with the zest of two lemons. This mixture is piped onto the focaccia and topped with the roasted spigarello, making a super delicious panino.

You can download my Sicilian Grandma Dough recipe from my book, Pizza Czar: Recipes and Know-How from a World-Traveling Pizza Chef, at my website.