You Haven't Seen Pizza Like This Before

August 11, 2015

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. 

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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. 

Pizza Rustica (Focaccia Filled with Tomatoes, Onions, and Olives)

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Matt Libling
    Matt Libling
  • lapadia
  • Midge
  • boulangere
  • Emiko
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Matt L. August 12, 2015
Looks like a really interesting dough. Might have to try it with my favourite ratatouille inspired filling -
lapadia August 11, 2015
Maternal side of my family came from Apulia, Province of Bari, and growing up, it was a treat, always felt a special occasion when we had this…peasant cuisine at its best, so delicious!!
boulangere August 11, 2015
This has you written all over it, Linda
lapadia August 11, 2015
:) !!! BTW, Emiko your photos are mouthwatering.
Emiko August 14, 2015
Thanks! And I agree -- peasant cuisine at its best!
Midge August 11, 2015
So happy to see this recipe Emiko! I discovered it --filled with chicory -- on a visit to Salento, and ate it every chance I could. So much deliciousness in Puglia.
Emiko August 14, 2015
Oh wonderful! Chicory is a favourite of mine too, and a nice seasonal variation. Italy does good food all over, but for me Puglia is just food heaven!