01 March, 2010

La tiella gaetana

One of my favorite Italian foods is one that I've never found in the States. Essentially it consists of some kind of filling baked between two circles of pizza dough which have been pressed together along the edge. My family and friends said that the tiella was devised by fishermen's wives so that their husbands could take with them something that would last for the several days that they were out at sea.*

Fillings vary quite a bit. My favorite consists of spinach and olives; I also like escarole filling and egg and ricotta.
tiella a uova e formaggioSince Gaeta is a seaside town, there are several varieties filled with seafood, most of which I can't even stand the thought of: small octopus, for example. You can also fill it with eggplant and onion, but that's another one of those concoctions that Italians love and I don't.

I've never found tiella offered in any of the Italian restaurants in the states. You can find pizza, pasta, and all kinds of foods in Italian restaurants here, but you can't find the stuff I actually ate when I was in Gaeta. I reckon immigrants from Gaeta don't open restaurants, not around the places where I've lived at least. So I asked my mom once, and she gave me a recipe, the result of which you can see above. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. I'll describe how I make my variant after the break.

  • Dough
    Be advised that I make my dough in a nonstandard way. For some reason the standard way doesn't work very well for me (a cone of flour with a hole in the middle, that looks something like volcano).
    • 1.5 cups water
    • 2-3 tsp of yeast
    • 1-2 tsp salt
    • 2-3 tsp sugar
    • 2-3 tsp olive oil
    • an undetermined amount of flour
    • Mix dry ingredients (not flour) in bowl. Heat water: not too hot, not too cold. Pour over dry ingredients and mix. Let sit 5-15 minutes, depending on how busy you are with other things.
    • Stir in olive oil.
    • Add flour, a fistful at a time, say, mixing reasonably well, until your dough attains a nice consistency. If it starts to feel like a heavy slab, you did something wrong, probably mixing in too much flour. You should be okay anyway. (Yeah, I do this on occasion.) Once it's good and doughy, let it sit a while. Punch it down every hour or two.
  • Filling for egg and ricotta (the spinach and olive filling shouldn't need explanation, honestly)
    • In a separate bowl, beat 4 eggs thoroughly.
    • Add one 15 oz. tub of quality ricotta, having allowed any excess water to drain. Whisk vigorously. The resulting consistency should be something akin to goo, or at least cake batter.
    • Mix in some salt.
      Don't ask me how much; I don't think I have the yeast/salt/sugar amounts above correct, either. I just kind of eyeball it and hope I don't screw anything up. I think I use 2-3 tsp.
  • Preheat oven to 450o.
  • Cut dough into two pieces, one a little larger then the other. Roll each into a circle, oval, rectangle, or whatever you feel like and/or are able to get the dough to agree to.
  • Lay the larger circle out on an oiled pizza pan (or a seasoned baking stone).
  • Spread a thin layer of oil over the top of the dough, leaving a dry ring at the edge. This will protect the dough from excess water in whatever filling you use.
    (This trick works for protecting pizza dough from tomato sauce, too. My dad taught it to me; I think he said that Nonna taught him.)
  • With great care, spread filling over oiled dough. Don't let it get onto the dry parts.
  • Carefully lay the second circle over the filling. Fold the lower circle over, pressing it down onto the upper circle. Use a fork to press down and seal the two.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 10-20 minutes until the crust turns golden.
  • If my directions aren't as bad as I think they are, you will enjoy a tasty, authentic, rustic Italian food. Doesn't look like I'll be writing any recipe books anytime soon, though.

*Variants of this exist in the regions around my mother's hometown. In Ponza they called it a ripiena; in Gaeta they called it a tiella. The ripiena isn't quite the same as the tiella; the one I bought was smaller actually.


Clemens said...

Do the kids like it?

jack perry said...

They do! I'm rather surprised that the daughters like it, since I figured something this complicated wouldn't be acceptable, but they eat it.

Anonymous said...

Try to make the dough without sugar and olive oil. And fill with some ham in addition to eggs and ricotta, and yes, you need olive oil here, in the filling. The original recipe is like this ;)
This is a traditional recipe from gaeta, there is not tiella anywhere else in italy. I think this is the reason because you can't find it in any italian restaurant in united states.

jack perry said...

Thanks, anonymous. I'll pass on the ham, but I tried it w/out sugar & olive oil in the dough and it turned out alright.

This is a traditional recipe from gaeta, there is not tiella anywhere else in italy.

True, but there are similar things around Gaeta: Ponza has something called a ripiena which is quite similar, and I'll bet other places have something similar.

But I guess it shouldn't surprise me, since I can't find the paste dolci of Naples anywhere either, although they're abundant around southern Italy.