I was not aware of the existence of tiellas until I struck up a Facebook friendship with Nicola Tarallo, a native of Gaeta, Italy; apparently tiellas are a specialty of Gaeta, a picturesque fisherman’s town close to Naples. Nicola himself has lived in the US here and there (including a stint in Dallas) and is back in his hometown, promoting Gaeta and its famous tiellas. He has put together an e-cookbook (that I downloaded), which is specifically about tiellas and all their versions (calamari, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, etc) including short videos covering technique.
Tiella is a savory pie made up of bread dough (flour, water, yeast) shaped into a pie with a variety of fillings; since I had frozen spinach languishing in the freezer and fresh mozzarella, the choice of filling was a no-brainer. The dough itself is chewy and rather soft and lends itself to any kind of filling (next time, I am using potatoes and Stilton, I think!).
INGREDIENTS: Makes one pie or 6 servings
I used an 11-inch (28 cm) quiche plate with removeable bottom for this pie.
- 2 1/2 cups of flour (All-purpose or bread)
- 1 1/2 tsp of dry instant yeast
- 1 tsp of sugar
- 1 cup of lukewarm water
- 1 tsp of salt
- 2 pkgs of frozen spinach (prefer whole-leaf) for a total of 1 pound or so.
- 1 large onion
- olive oil, as needed (extra-virgin)
- salt, black pepper, to taste
- dash of nutmeg (optional) or sumac (optional)
- 1 lb of fresh mozzarella (if possible, otherwise use shredded in a package)
- 1/4 cup of parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
- Make the dough: First, proof the yeast; pour 1/2 cup of warm water in a jug, add the sugar and yeast and stir to dissolve; place in a warm place away from drafts and wait 5 minutes or so for the yeast to bubble up; meanwhile, place the flour in a mixing bowl and add the salt, combining it with the flour; when the yeast is ready, add it to the flour along with 1/2 cup of warm water; mix until the dough is smooth, about 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a bowl, sprinkle with flour and cover with a cloth and place in an enclosed space like a cupboard or a microwave oven; let it rise for one hour or two until doubled in bulk.
- Meanwhile, prepare the filling: chop the onion and fry in a few tablespoons of olive oil; add the spinach and keep flipping it until it defrosts; add some spices and cook it for 10 minutes over medium-high heat until most of the water has evaporated; transfer the spinach mixture to a colander and drain it of its extra water, pressing on it with a spoon to extract as much water as possible.
- When the dough has risen, transfer it to a countertop and press on it to de-gas it; grease a 10 or 11″ deep-dish pizza pan (I used a quiche pan with a removable bottom); cut the dough in half; roll the first half, sprinkling flour on it if it is sticky. Pick it up and place it on the pie plate; sprinkle the parmesan cheese on the bottom then spread the spinach mixture over the cheese; finally, cut the mozzarella and place it all over the spinach. Roll out the other half of the dough and place it over the spinach mixture; cut any extra dough with scissors (save for a mini-pizza later) and pinch the pie all around to seal it tightly.
- Prick the top of the pie with a fork at several spots and pour a few tablespoons of olive oil on the surface; spread it all around with a brush or your fingers. Bake the tiella in a 375F oven for 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and puffed up. Serve warm or at room temperature.