I’m still on deadline for my Italian cookbook project. But after spending the last week writing about Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta, regions in Italy’s northwest corner, I needed a break from the north and decided to cook up something from the south.
Specifically, from Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot. Northern Italy is wonderful, but in my mind its food is more suited to fall and winter than to summer. Calabrese cooking means chiles, olive oil, and vegetables. Lots of vegetables. Exactly the kind of fuel my brain needed.
While flipping through My Calabria, a cookbook written by Calabrese cooking instructor Rosetta Costantino and cookbook author Janet Fletcher, I came across pitta con verdura, a sort of calzone filled with vegetables. It instantly piqued my curiosity. (Sara Remington‘s photos helped, too.) Pitta, the headnote explained, is a Calabrian stuffed pizza. In the recipe, pizza dough was folded over braising greens like a big English pasty. But here was the draw: the braising greens weren’t cooked first. Instead, chopped chard and scallions marinated in salt. After about 30 minutes, they had lost so much water that they almost looked cooked. I had to try it myself.
First, I mixed the pizza dough. Leftover bread dough works just as well. I used the recipe that Rosetta and Janet supplied for the book, but other pizza dough recipes will work as well. You’ll need a recipe that uses approximately 600 grams/4 1/2 cups of flour. Or you can buy pizza dough. Regardless, the dough should weigh somewhere between 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds. For specific instructions on making Rosetta’s pizza dough, you could pick up a copy of the book, too.
Next, I prepared the vegetables: take 1 pound of Swiss chard and give it a good wash. I tore the ribs out and then sliced the leaves and the ribs into smallish pieces. I also took one bunch of scallions, washed them well, and sliced them into 1-inch batons. Then I sliced the batons in half. Finished.
I mixed in 3 tablespoons of kosher salt (this sounds like a lot, but you will be rinsing some of it off) and let the greens sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the dough had gone through its first rise and and was ready to be shaped into a ball for the second rise. When it’s ready to be made into pitta, it will look like this:
I gave the greens a rinse, sampling the greens occasionally to see if they still tasted salty. I ended up having to rinse the greens for a good while to remove excess salt. I squeezed the greens dry and put them back in the bowl. (Next time, I’d be curious to try using 2 1/2 tablespoons salt instead. It may cut down the rinsing time.) The recipe called for fresh dill, but I left it out. I did add a few pinches of dried chile flakes and a drizzle of olive oil. Then it was time to flatten and fill the dough.
I preheated the oven to 475F and oiled a half-sheet pan. I pushed the dough into the corners of the pan, then spread the filling on half of the dough, leaving the rim free of filling. I picked up the side opposite the filled side, draped it over the filling, then pinched the sides together to seal.
Next came the easiest part: I popped it in the oven and baked it for 30 minutes, rotating the pan once. It was getting pretty brown, but it never burned. I left it on the counter for about an hour before slicing in, giving a chance for the greens to absorb their juices. The result: a complete hit. Perfect to make for people who are vegetarians or who can’t eat cheese. But also perfect for meat eaters. I’d love to pack some olive oil-marinated tuna into the greens and eat this on a picnic. Brain food, indeed.