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Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: With two crusts and an onion filling, this focaccia-like "pizza" will broaden your understanding of Italy's most famous dish.
In Salento—the southernmost part of Puglia and the heel of Italy's boot, with the beautiful Baroque city Lecce as its capital—there are as many variations of this pizza rustica as there are households.
But it's not exactly pizza as you'd typically think of it. Pizza, actually, has many meanings depending on where you go in Italy, ranging from the pizza di pasqua—a tall, round panettone-like cake made at Easter—to the classic Neopolitan-style pizza. This pizza—or pitta as it is also called in Pugliese dialect—is more like a focaccia, made with two layers of dough encasing a generous filling of onions, tomatoes, and flavor-enhancing anchovies and black olives. There is just one rule with this pizza: No mozzarella.
It's a simple dish, a classic example of Puglia's peasant cuisine. The key is the onions, which are sautéed so gently that they don't ever color; during baking, they turn deliciously jammy and sweet. It's also common to see one of the following additional ingredients in the filling: yellow tomatoes (a local tomato that is orange-yellow, small, sweet, and smooth), oregano, capers, tinned tuna, blanched bitter greens, or perhaps a touch of chile. But when making your own, resist going overboard with the add-ins and choose only one (if any): The humble onions are still going to be the hero.
There are also many different types of dough. Focaccia ripiena holds a similar filling but yellow-fleshed mashed potatoes enrich the dough, making it richer and fluffier. You can also find a pitta di patate, or potato "pitta," in which the filling is simply sandwiched between two layers of mashed potatoes mixed with egg; the whole thing is baked until the top is crisp.
The recipe that I like best is from Ada Boni's Regional Italian Cooking, a retro Italian cookbook that was published in English in the 1980s. Ada Boni actually doesn't specify a recipe for the dough in her cookbook, instead calling for "a bread dough made of 3 cups of flour." You can use any easy bread or pizza dough that you prefer. The recipe I've provided here is a very basic dough, easy to whip up and have ready in an hour if you don't have the time to leave it overnight. But if you do have the time, try a slow-rise no-knead dough that you can make the night before and pop in the fridge. Instead of trying to roll out or stretch the dough, I recommend you spread it around with an offset spatula or similar tool.
Serves 6 to 8 as a snack
For the bread dough:
1 cup (250 milliliters) tepid water
1 3/4 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast, or 20 grams fresh yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
For the filling:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 medium yellow onions, peeled, cut in half, and thinly sliced
1 pinch salt
14 ounces (400 grams) canned peeled tomatoes
About 12 anchovy fillets in oil (30 grams), drained
1/2 cup good quality black olives, pitted
Photos by Emiko Davies