Ciaccino, or the food that gives you comfort when you make it
My recipe for a ham and mozzarella stuffed thin focaccia from Siena
In the past letters, we explored all foods that give me comfort when I eat them, even better if there’s someone cooking them for me (well, except my pappa al pomodoro, I’m very hard to please when it comes to it).
Then, there’s the food that gives me comfort in the moment when I’m in the kitchen preparing it, chopping, mixing, kneading, or baking. And this is the theme of today’s letter.
Sometimes this comfort is given by the tactile sensations I feel when I make it. Kneading bread is one example, especially when the dough is soft, well risen, and I’m shaping it with delicate but firm movements.
The same can be said for the hypnotical stirring of a risotto, where the comfort comes from a multitude of factors: the smell of onion gently frying in butter, the mechanical stirring that frees your mind, the creamy texture of risotto, when every single grain of rice swells, soaking up the stock. I find more pleasure in preparing one of these foods than in eating them because it’s the gestures, more than the food, that bring me comfort.
This reminds me of a quote from the movie Julie and Julia, when Julie Powell says to her husband:
You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.
Isn’t this the best reason to consider food a comfort?
Ciaccino ripieno di prosciutto e mozzarella – Ham and mozzarella stuffed ciaccino
Today’s recipe is ciaccino. Every Italian region, even every town, has its own name for focaccia. In Siena and in the surrounding towns focaccia is often referred to as ciaccino. It can be plain, a ciaccino all’olio, more or less thick, chewy, or crunchy, and it can be stuffed.
The ciaccino I’m sharing today is thin, quite soft, stuffed with prosciutto cotto and mozzarella. I’m talking about a very specific ciaccino, that you can get at Poppi.
This pizza-by-the-slice establishment located on via Banchi di Sotto was my go-to spot during my uni days. After an exam or a long afternoon spent studying in the library, that was my reward. Still today I’m unable to resist its call when I pass by, especially the ciaccino.
Together with their Margherita pizza, Pizzeria Poppi owes its fame to this version of ciaccino. It’s best enjoyed while piping hot, wrapped in paper so you don’t drip gooey cheese all over yourself.
See this ciaccino how many boxes is ticking in the best comfort food competition? :)
It is related to good memories, it is salty, greasy, cheesy, a carb feast, and it’s a joy to knead it!
As at the moment we’re not going to Siena often, I decided to make it at home. It took several attempts - some of which didn't quite work out -, to get to this ciaccino, which is almost like the one you can get at Poppi, soft, crispy at the edges, full of mozzarella and prosciutto. Since then, this is now on constant rotation in our weekly menu. Check the recipe below.