FLATBREADS GO GLOBAL: You say pide, I say pizza. “Let’s call the whole thing off”.
Photo credit: Italo Vardaro. At the end of the bake.
"A Year's Supply": Matto, Previn,Vardaro.
So, who invented the pizza? There is no mystery here.
Though I can’t give you a name and an address, I’m pretty sure the clever woman who invented pizza came from Phoenicia a very long time ago.
In fact, the cuisines of the Mediterranean countries owe a great deal to the Phoenicians. Our so-called Western civilisation, in general, owes much to these ancient people. They inhabited the areas we now know as Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, parts of Syria and south-west Turkey. They were the greatest seafarers and traders of their time. Sometimes, we loosely refer to this area as the Levant, and while not strictly accurate, this area is the "crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, and northeast Africa". (Wikepedia) The populations of the area not only share the geographic position, but also cuisine, some customs, and a very long history.
Galata Bridge, Istanbul, in the rain. One side.
Galata Bridge, Instanbul. The other side.
Photo credit for Turkey: Stephen English - Tastes of the Mediterranean Tour. September/October 2008
History is palpable here. It has always been a very busy waterway. Along with trade and commerce; ideas, recipes, gossip and skills were, and are still, trafficked and shared.
The lower span of the bridge, underneath the relentless traffic, provides a whole row of fish restaurants. My favourite stall only provided a simple, grilled barbunya, a small, tasty red mullet, sandwiched in a crusty roll, downed with a beer or raki. On another evening, we ate tiny lufer, seasoned well with salt, marjoram and lemon juice which was then wrapped and tied in fig leaves and grilled. There are fancy restaurants along this stretch, but we sat outside facing the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus and watched the light change to dusk.
Ready for a big night....the Australians are coming.
Now all we need is a Turkish beer......
Make mine an Efes pilsener, please.
Before we turn our attention, as we must, to culinary matters, it’s worth remembering all the good things the Phoenicians bequeathed to us. Their title derives from the ancient Greek for "purple" or some say, "the land of the date palm". Their major export was the vivid purple dye made from the crushed Murex sea snail that they traded with the Greeks, along with wood, wine and glass and unhappily, slaves as well. Arguably even more important, was the alphabet that the Phoenician traders spread wherever they went for commerce. Their alphabet consisted of 22 consonants only but it was adopted by the Greeks who added letters to represent vowels. Their knowledge of the stars and navigation was also a legacy for future merchants and explorers.
The fact that the Phoenicians were the foremost sailors of their time is critical in understanding the birth of pizze, or at least, flatbreads as we know them. They traded in Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, the Iberian peninsula, Galicia, and the area we know as France. Later, they ventured to Africa – to Carthage, which we call Tunis, and Somalia. All of these places have a variety of flatbread based on both unleavened and more sophisticated yeasted doughs. Archaeologists have uncovered large mill stones to grind the wheat into flour and other wheels for pressing grapes and olives in those ancient areas.
Afghan Snowshoe bread made in a tandoor oven from Vatan, 384 Prospect Road, Prospect. Please check out YouTube: 'SALife, Rosa visits Vatan Supermarket to see the bread being made in the tandoor. (4 minutes)
Once nomadic people settled permanently in the fertile eastern Mediterranean, they began to grow and harvest crops in seasons and discovered the properties of wild yeasts. They were no longer content with porridge-like gruel or unleavened flatbreads. Pizza, yeasted flatbreads like Yufta, and raised breads were born the day these resourceful people were able to control a single cell micro-organism to make bread rise and alter its flavour and texture.
Gozleme - no yeast dough.
This patient woman in Cappadocia was bemused by our attention. Her hands were swift as she slapped the filled dough parcels expertly on her grill. She explained to our guide, Charlie, that gozleme is the Turkish word for eye. Such a poetic notion: as the dough blackened in little spots, the resemblance was striking. We "oohed" and "aahed", much to her delight. "What simple people, these travellers," she must have thought.
The most popular filling for our group was spinach, herbs and a salty, fetta-like cheese. But, in the end, the winner for me was the roasted eggplant.
You will need to roast 1 eggplant over a lively fire until it is blackened. When it has cooled, peel it and squeeze out the juices. Chop it finely and add a handful of crumbled Turkish white cheese or fetta and lots of chopped flat leaved parsley, dill and mint. Bind it together with olive oil. Taste it and season with salt, if necessary, and pepper. I like to add a few chilli flakes as well.
Set it aside while you make the dough.
I start with ½ cup of warm water to which I add 1 tsp salt and stir to dissolve. Then, gradually, I add 1- 2 cups of flour, mixing with my hand all the while. When the mixture comes together, I use whatever flour remains to sprinkle on my bench and then, there is no way around it, I knead for about 15 minutes. At the end of the upper body workout, the dough should be very soft but not sticky. Wrap it well in a floured tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes. (You might need to lie down as well!)
Cut the dough in four and roll out each piece to a large circle of about 20 cm. Spread a quarter of the filling in the centre, then fold two sides to cover the filling and finish with the remaining two sides to make a square.
I am sure you have a non stick frypan to put on the heat until it is quite hot or do it outdoors on the barbeque. Cook the gozleme until small brown “eyes” appear. Turn it over and brush with unsalted butter. Do the same with the other side after it is cooked and eat it warm.
I know we can buy the dough at the many Lebanese and Arabic bakeries along Prospect Road and South Road, just out of the Adelaide CBD, but do try to make it, at least once, to appreciate the time and skill required.
Cappadocia - magical....
We spent a wonderful day in Cappodocia in the heartland of Turkey. It was wild, surreal. Above us, multi-coloured air balloons were the only break of colour in a monochrome palette of ochre. We drank freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, sometimes sweet, at other times lip smackingly astringent. It was a day in my life when I was humbled by the weight of humanity and antiquity. I felt, as I often do when I travel, that I have somehow been chosen to celebrate the continuity of our shared past. As the sun set, we sat on some rough hewn steps and ate gozleme, we listened to the strains of 18th century music from the Ottoman Empire and I cried.
Photo credit: wikipedia. You will find music from the Ottoman Empire on YouTube played by Istanbul Conservatory.
In Sardegna they make the same thin dough, but using yeast as they do with Turkish yufka and crisp simeat from Istanbul, which they cook to a flatbread. I have always known it by its beautifully poetic name, carta di musica. I like to think it is so called because the dry sheets of dough make a musical sound as they rub together in a basket. I must admit that I have found it tricky to perfect. It is made by taking baked flat bread which looks very similar to Turkish and Greek pitta bread and separating the puffed sheets in two and crisped again in the oven.
Pane Carasau - carta di musica
The bread was made for shepherds, who used to stay away from home for months at a time with their herds of sheep. It is now more commonly called 'pane carasau' and it can last for up to a year, as long as it is kept dry. It is then eaten like a crispbread with cheese or moistened with water, wine or sauces. The remains of the bread were found in archeological excavations of nuraghes, the traditional Sardinian stone buildings, so we know that it was already eaten on the island prior to 1000 BC.
Photo credit: Stephen English. Sardinia 2014 Tour. Romanzesu, Bitti
Lucia’s in the Adelaide Central Market sells both pane carasau and an even earlier version, pane guttiau which though similar is traditionally yeast free, though this packet version from Lucia's has flour, yeast, water and salt.
I was taught to make this simple bread by my dear friend and colleague, Brigita Turniski. Although she died some years ago, the folder of recipes she left with me at my cookery school lives on, as do the memories of her, always at the stove. I make Brigita's recipe for flat and filled pide with young students as it is so important to make connections between cultures. And, just as importantly, it is necessary to feel the dough between the fingers and marvel that food which is essentially so simple, is so good and so satisfying to share with our friends.
Recipe for Pide
Turn oven on to 210C
1 tsp dry yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
350gr strong white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 whole egg for brushing
Mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil in 1 cup warm water and stir until dissolved. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt and make a well in the middle. Pour in the yeast mixture and oil and mix with the flour. Add a little more water if necessary and knead for about 10 mins. Try to avoid adding too much flour, keep the dough as soft as possible by kneading quickly with limited amount of flour. Put into a cleaned, oiled bowl and cover. Allow to prove for at least 1 hour, depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen. The dough should double in volume.
Knock down and break the dough in half. Shape by dangling each half from your hand, until they drop into two long oval shapes. If you are leaving them unfilled, dimple the dough with your fingers, then brush with egg and sprinkle with both white sesame and black nigella seeds.
Bake in a hot oven for 12-15 minutes until golden.
If, on the other hand, you are filling them, then pile the filling down the centre of each long oval (fetta and mint is my favourite, but there are many others). Take up the edges and crimp them together with your fingers. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds. Bake at 210C until golden. Don't be disappointed if, despite all your efforts, the closing does not hold. We saw many in Turkey that had come apart in the cooking. I think it adds to the charm.
FETTA AND MINT
200 g crumbled fetta
1/2 cup mint, some torn into pieces, some left whole
1 egg beaten (reserve about 1/2 for brushing over the top)
salt and pepper
Combine the fetta, mint,1/2 egg, salt and pepper. Put down the middle of each long oval. With your fingers, crimp the edges together. Brush with the reserved egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake at 210C for about 15 minutes.
My students from St Ignatius College prepared a morning tea fundraiser for Timor-Leste: here, pide with fetta and mint, others with spiced minced lamb.
As continuing evidence of the link between the sea faring merchants of the eastern Mediterranean and southern Italy, I often make Frusta Sorrentina. Adults with a southern Italian background may remember, as I do, running around the garden being chased by their mothers with a frusta, a stick, ready to smack our legs if we'd been naughty. In fact, the culinary frusta is shaped like a stick and is just like the filled pide we can easily make following my recipe or buy at Turkish bakeries. The Italian version, mine at least, is filled with ricotta, cooked ham, parmesan, an egg, and chopped parsley. We don't garnish with the seeds on top but otherwise they look identical.
Needless to say, it is not just Italy that was influenced by the eastern Mediterranean culture and cuisine. Once, when we travelled to India with Ragini Dey, Ragini's Spice, 210 Hutt Street, Adelaide, we were astonished by the similarities between eastern Mediterranean music, dance and breads with those we found in northern India. The influences are not surprising when we remember the incursions by Alexander the Great and later the Moghuls from Central Asia who brought Islam, lamb dishes, the tandoor and flatbreads to the northern regions where cereals are grown.
Photo credit: Tony Lewis for SALife. Recipe by Rosa Matto for SALife. Flaky naan with cauliflower pickle and yoghurt.
Choose your friends wisely. Here, at the Adelaide Hills property of our friends, Polly and Jules, we wait 'not so patiently' for pizza, expertly made by the builder of the oven himself. What a treat.
And so, as we began, we return to pizza in Italy. Throughout Italy, flatbreads are made. Let's travel from North to South, in a list which is certainly not conclusive. Crescentina is the flatbread from Emilia, closer to the coast in Romagna, its sister region, is Piadina. Modena is famous for its Tigella (those playing the game in South Australia, can try this flatbread at Rusco and Brusco Tigelleria Bar, 377 Magill Road, St Morris). If we move to the west to Genoa and Liguria we can enjoy focaccia, while in Tuscany they make, amongst other varieties of schiacciate, a sweet pizza for the grape harvest called Schiacciata all'Uva. No more than a few hundred kilometres away in the region of Umbria, they make Torta al Testo on a special flat hotplate. As we know, in the deep south we have various styles of pizza, the thinnest possible sheets in Rome to the thicker, more bread-like in Campania and Calabria. In Sicily, while they also make the more conventional pizza, they sometimes make the splendid sfinciuni with two layers of dough and a rich filling between.
Schiacciata all'Uva - a pizza made in Tuscany for la vendemmia, vintage, in grape growing areas.
Everywhere, these flatbreads are much the same in technique and methodology and basically they exist for the same purpose - to tame the fire of the wood oven. I know that here in Australia, we think nothing of lighting our wood fired pizza oven when guests are coming. We let the wood burn to the right temperature, cook our 6 "gourmet" pizze and let the fire die. Che peccato! How sinful! In a rural, self sustaining existence, such a waste of fuel would be unthinkable. The wood oven exists to bake bread, primarily. Everything else is a bonus and an homage to our fuel source, the forests and the trees.
So, the wood in the oven is lit and it burns hot and fierce. Too hot, certainly, to cook bread which would burn on the outside but stay raw in the middle. We need to bring the temperature down quickly but without wasting the heat generated in the oven. We throw in our pizze. Immediately, the temperature drops. This is why, traditionally, pizza has little in the way of toppings. Our precious layerings of prosciutto, salami, salmon (god forbid!), anchovies, would all burn to a crisp.
Photo credit: taken at Rezz Hotel at a demonstration for my students from St Ignatius College. Pizza is put into the oven at 500 degrees F/ 260C.
After cooking our pizze, the temperature may have dropped to the proper baking temperature for our breads. Now they go in. Soon after, the smaller breads and the panini will be baked. The temperature is still high, certainly high enough to roast our chickens, shoulders of lamb and root vegetables. The temperature drops some more. Now it is time to bake our tarts, pies, biscuit loaves and cakes. But, it is not over yet. At this point, we can roast our peppers, eggplants, onions, our fennel and celery gratinate. Now would be a good time to cook fish and uova in purgatorio.
Photo credits for the following three photos: Radio Italiana 531 AM. Outside broadcast with Massimiliano Corradini:
"Rosa e Massi in Cucina".
Whole fish with cherry tomatoes, onion and basil - 20 minutes. A little charred on the extremities but delicious.
Uova in purgatorio
Sliced vegetables for flashing quickly in the oven, which by now is at a moderate temperature of, say, 180C.
One would think, one would hope, that we could stop now. While there is useful heat in the oven, we cannot.
Next come the biscotti, the cantuccini, the friselle - all those things that need drying out rather than cooking. And then to bed? Not yet. Overnight, in the last residual heat of the dying oven, we toast our hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and dry off the almond bread.
Then, in the morning, we are done.
We clean out the ash, mop down the floor of the oven and we are satisfied that our oven has been utilised to the maximum, the precious trees, cut down for our benefit, have been honoured and we have at least a week's supply of nourishment.
When we asked our mothers to make pizza, they would groan. We had no idea.
It is why, few houses in Italian and Mediterranean villages had their own wood oven. It was a question of utilising the fuel efficiently, of effectively making the most of a day's work. So, most villages had several forni - large ovens where people brought their chickens to be roasted, their lasagne cooked for Sunday lunch and, of course, they would buy the breads, biscuits and tarts for special days.
In Matera, I bought a bread stamp. In the day, I would have taken my raw dough to the forno, stamped my initial in it and then taken the correct loaf home.
The bread stamp, Matera tour 2016. My initial 'R' is reversed.
In Uzbekistan they had the same idea, but the Chekich with its sharp pins is purely a decorative embellishment for the non bread of the region.
Photo credit for these two photos: 'Gastro Obscura'
Uzbekistan's non bread. Glazed with beaten egg, it is burnished gold.
I have, from Morocco, a special dough tray, where a family would take their dough, already risen to the baker. Clearly, I don't need it for that purpose. I think it makes a rather fetching fruit bowl.
Moroccan dough tray for 8 loaves of bread. Now a fruit bowl.
And the name pizza? Well, here's my theory. The Phoenicians started the ball rolling (excuse the pun). The Turks took their pide to Greece in the course of their trading. Here the name was corrupted to pitta. The Greeks then colonised the south of Italy. More carelessness with words followed and pitta slipped into pizze. Certainly, there are parts of Calabria where they still call various pies and breads pitta - pitta di San Martino, for instance.
The cuisine of the Mediterranean - bound by some 20 countries and two islands, separated by religion, history, wars, language and customs - is vast, diverse and varied. And yet, the story of bread and the skill required for utilising the oven, unifies the people and the land.
The last line of Howard's End , by the writer, E.M. Forster, is so poignant that it has become my life's motto: "Only connect..."
Of course, there's a whole other story for raised bread. But that's for another time.