Thursday, 12 March 2009

Italian Flatbread

I’m assuming that as a well-seasoned traveller and committed gastronome, you’ve been to Rome. Please forgive me if this is not the case but play along anyway. It’ll be fun. Promise.

My first time was about five years ago. Just me and my Dad exploring the Italian capital and imbibing Peroni, pasta, pizza and football in equal measure.

But the best meal we ate was a hastily bought picnic of bread, cheese, tomatoes and cured ham eaten on the steps of a backstreet church close to the Campo de’Fiori. A couple of chilled beers completed the feast nicely.

Campo de’Fiori, the city’s old flower market, is now home to a daily food market where visuals, smells and flavours meld together in luscious Technicolor with the intensity of a thousand ristretti.

Cafés and bars line the exterior of the diminutive square, encircling a generous selection of stalls around a central statue of Geordano Bruno, a 16th century philosopher who was executed as a heretic in 1600.

In the southwestern corner is a bakery from where smells waft over the square and jostle for prominence against the rich coffee scents coming from the various cafés. Their large rectangles of salted flatbread are a firm favourite with the city’s residents and we barely managed to secure ourselves a large slab when we were there.

But we did. And it was amazing – thinner than a focaccia, more substantial than a pizza base and tastier than pitta bread. Just something unique, special and incredibly tasty.

Since then I’ve been meaning to recreate this delicious bread, liberally drizzled with olive oil and a scattering of sea salt and this morning I finally got round to it.

The dough I now use is an amended version of Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois’ Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.

Initially I really struggled with getting the consistency right (perhaps something to do with English measurements) but I’ve gradually made a few changes and now have something that bubbles away nicely in the fridge like a cartoon swamp.

The other change is that I treat it as a sourdough – whenever I take some of the dough out, I replace it with extra flour and water, give it a stir, cover it and leave it in the fridge.

Firstly it means not having to make a master dough every few days and secondly it means you start to get some real character in your loaves as it ages and becomes more complex.

For the flatbread just grab a handful of the dough and spread it out over a well-oiled tray using your fingers so that it covers the area. Brush the top with more oil and scatter with sea salt.

Bake in a hot (seriously hot – about 250 degrees) for ten minutes, or until the bread starts to brown.

It tastes best fresh from the oven and needs no adornments to aid the Italian experience.

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saltychickenfiend said...

oh my GOODNESS! This has made my mouth go crazy - I'm going to need to make this bread as soon as I get home. MMmmm...

Amazing post! :D

Anikó said...

I was in Rome, h god yes, ten years ago with my class. It´s besides Copenhagen and Budapest my favourite city in Europe! Cute Italian boys, crazy people, great architecture, great art, amazing history, all I need on one place plus the Italian food! Why was I born into a German-Hungarian family ;-)
Anyway! I really like those flat breads and yours looks absolutely great! My mind starts spinning immediately what else to do with some bread like this :-)

Jennifer said...

That flatbread looks awesome!

I love making my own breads, its so satisfying!

Sam said...

i am also a big fan of the artisan bread in five 'let it stew in the fridge for a week' method. However, I don't get quite the bubbling you seem to. I've experimented with sourdough starter recipes but nothing has worked. Can you specify exactly how you've tweaked the recipe? do you add any yeast or salt with the flour/water? How long should I wait to use the dough once I've added the flour and water? Also, any recommendations on a vessel to contain all of this?

a big fan.

A World in a PAN said...

Your flat bread looks great (and of course, as everything else, bread tastes MUCH better when fresh - that's why we go to the bakery everytday to pick our baguette!)

Anonymous said...

That looks great! I would love to make that. There is a restaurant chain called Cosi that uses bread like that for their sandwiches. It's really good.

Kevin said...

That flat bread looks nice and golden grown and good!

Anonymous said...

I was reading your post and wanted to clarify the baking temp Bake in a hot (seriously hot – about 250 degrees)Im asumming 485 or 500 F.

Just Cook It said...

saltychickenfiend - Thanks. If you do make it, let me know how you get on, I'd be glad to hear. Good luck!

Aniko - Lovely little story. There are so many things you can do with this bread or dough - so versatile. It would make a wonderful pizza base.

Jennifer - I totally agree. It's such a great feeling.

Sam - Thank you so much for the kind words. I'll whizz you over an email to explain the method I use.

A World in a Pan - I'm so jealous about that. One thing I really noticed in Paris was the great number of bakeries and people picking up fresh bread at all hours of the day. Wonderful.

Anon - Thanks, you should give it a go. Cosi, is that in New York?

Thanks Kevin - it tasted pretty good too!

Cookitalian - thanks for the comment. You're absolutely right - About 485F.

Dazy said...

I'm trying this today. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture!

chubbysgirl said...

HI - I've been trying to find a good flat bread recipes - and your picture looks like what I want to make - could you please send me the recipe as to HOW to make this - I would LOVe to have a recipe that ACTUALLY works!!! THANKs -

Samantha said...

hi there!

could you please email me the recipe for this flatbread??

i tried some today, amazing, looking forward to trying to real thing in rome later in the year.