Spinach and mozzarella pie (Tiella di spinaci)

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
FILLING:
  • 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
METHOD:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
NOTE: It is probably a better idea to spread the cheese at the bottom and at the top to keep the dough dry and crisp once baking.
NOTE: To get in touch with Nicola Tarallo  and his wonderful tiellas, click here.
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17 Comments

  1. Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Scrumptious! A pie that must taste wonderful.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know about tiellas, but I’m glad to have learned. Your spinach version looks fantastic! Potato and stilton sounds great too. I’d love to try making one.

  3. Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I had something similar to this but made with broccoli at a Sicilian restaurant a few years ago and have been looking for a recipe ever since. I’m definitely going to try this. Potato and Stilton sounds fantastic as well. Thanks for this!

  4. Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    wowow great job! Brava bella ! viva la tiella of Gaeta….http://www.ladolcegaeta.com
    Nicola

  5. Posted November 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    It looks delicious. Try it soon.
    I’ll see Nico’s web. Love all mediterranean food.
    See you.

  6. Posted November 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Cant resist to this fantastic pie,loving it.

  7. Posted November 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    This is right up my alley! Love spinach in pastries and your pie looks so tempting! Must try it soon!

  8. Posted November 30, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    You welcome Josè Antonio you can find the spanish version too…http://ladolcegaeta.com/mangia-tiella-2/
    Nicola Tarallo

  9. Posted November 30, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    I live in Italy and had never heard of these! Talk about regional and local specialties.

  10. Posted December 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve been wanting to try one of these shallower types of pie for a while: my go-to one for the moment has been Joe Pastry’s recipe for torta di bietole, which I normally fill with whatever’s lying around the fridge! Chard, mortadella, prosciutto, sieved cottage cheese or ricotta, provolone… definitely not strictly Italian but completely delicious…

  11. Posted December 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely pie! Both the crust and filling look absolutely delicious.

  12. Posted December 2, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Elle est très réussie et donne très envie

  13. Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Superbe tiella verde….

  14. Kathy
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Hi, I will take his word for the fact that they call this tiella in Gaeta. Tiella to my family was a vegetable casserole and what you have pictured we call calzone. Basically tiella is eggplant, zucchini, potato, tomato, olive oil, bread crumbs and is similar to the french ratatouille. Calzone is done like a pie with a simple yeast crust and can be filled with anything you could think of. I like my calzone filled with ricotta, mozzarella and capicola or ham and spinach, a little sprinkle of parmigiana. Just thought you would like to know that tiella is different in other areas of Italy.

  15. Joumana
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    @Kathy: I understand; it is the same in Lebanon where we call a dish one name and it means something else in another Middle-Eastern country.

  16. Posted December 31, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  17. Posted December 31, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    La Tiella is the most famous and distinctive dish in the city of Gaeta. It consists of two thin layers of dough crimped around the edges to enclose a filling of seafood or vegetables. Its name comes from the pan in which it is baked. In Gaeta, the local dialect uses the word ‘tiella’ to refer to a pan with low sides which flare out. Therefore, the dish created in this pan is also called tiella.

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