Summer Feast – Italian, Middle Eastern Style
Yeah, I said it. Italian AND Middle Eastern. Take a gander:
Homemade Italian flatbread with ricotta dip, salt-cured tomatoes, and cucumbers with black plums for dessert. It was shockingly delicious, and it derived from two recipes I wanted to try: the flatbreads (crescente)from Loukie Werle’s Italian Country Cooking: The Secrets of Cucina Povera; and salt-cured veggies from Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. I also knew that since I wasn’t making any meat, and I wanted a dip for the flatbread, I threw together a dip made of ricotta thinned with a little heavy cream and seasoned with Italian spices. I made the flatbread dough and the dip and cut up the tomato I had on hand and salted the pieces (which I spread out on a plate) and then Chad came home from work and we went to go run errands. Which was just fine, as the flatbread dough needed to chill in the fridge for an hour, the tomato needed time to “cure,” and the ricotta dip needed time for the flavors to mingle.
When we got home, I started frying flatbread. It was time consuming, but not overly difficult. Although using extra virgin olive oil did make for some hazy smoke (but smelled heavenly when fresh olive oil hit the hot pan – it really does smell like fruit!). And the first few didn’t turn out so hot (they were too thick). But once I had them all fried up I set the table, cut up a couple of plums and a kirby cucumber (which I should have salted lightly). And then we sat down for a lovely, cold, meat-free meal. Perfect on a not too hot, not too cold evening.
Here are the recipes. The flatbread is easier than you might think.
Loukie Werle’s Crescente
1 pound (3 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups milk
extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
Combine all ingredients (I whisked the dry ingredients to blend before adding the milk) in a large bowl and knead until smooth. Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface into a smooth ball, then wrap in a clean dish towel and refrigerate for 1 hour. (Note: “knead until smooth” took a while and some muscle. You want to the dough to be elastic and smooth, not floury, but not sticky.)
Tear off pieces and roll with your hands into walnut-sized balls, then roll the balls out on a lightly floured surface into 4- to 5-inch disks. (I skipped the flour on the surface and also used quite a bit of muscle to roll these out. Because they are elastic, the rounds will shrink after rolling them out, but if you let them rest for a bit, you can easily stretch them thinner – which is good for cooking them.)
Add a tablespoon of oil to a non-stick frying pan and fry over moderate heat, one at a time, until golden and bubbly on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add more oil as necessary. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately, or allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container. (I used a little less oil, since it was a nonstick pan, and I had the heat up to medium, which was kind of high. The flatbreads got nice browned/burnt spots on them, much like pita).
Italian Ricotta Dip
8 oz. whole milk ricotta
a few tablespoons of heavy cream
a tablespoon of dried basil (or finely chopped fresh – but use less)
a half teaspoon or so of granulated garlic
a tablespoon or so of lemon juice
Mix all ingredients thoroughly to combine. Taste for salt, then chill in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors mingle.
1 large beefsteak tomato, quartered and sliced
coarse kosher salt
Lay pieces of tomatoes on a plate, sprinkle generously with salt, then let stand for 20 minutes or more. Serve room temperature.
Salt-cured tomatoes are more like a pickle than regular raw tomatoes. Mine were quite salty, which was not so great on its own, but matched perfectly with the bland flatbread and the garlicky herbed ricotta.
The best way to eat these three is to take a piece of flatbread, spread some of the ricotta dip on it, add a slice of tomato, and enjoy. You can add a stick of cucumber (or slices) if you want, too. Delicious! And best of all? None of it was hot. Yes, cooking the flatbread was a little hot (and a little smoky), but not nearly as hot as turning on the oven to make regular bread.
If you want to serve these flatbreads for a party, I would double the recipe (which makes about two dozen 5-6 inch rounds) and make ahead, then warm in the oven when serving time came. Olives, salt-cured cucumbers, salt-cured tomatoes, and salt-cured or pickled onions would all be wonderful additions to this meal. Ditto a fresh green salad. As would fresh figs, fresh or dried apricots, and/or a little chocolate to finish.
Stuff like flatbread was always totally intimidating to make at home, but once you try it, it’s not so bad! I would totally make them again.
Have you ever made flatbread? Salt-cured anything?