Driving north from Naples to Rome, you are bound to come to Gaeta and you should make a point of sampling some tiella there. Every time I am in that vicinity I stop by and enjoy some tiella with Nonna Lisa Corrado, my son-in-law’s maternal grandmother. According to him, she makes the best tiella in all of Italy.
Tiella is made in Naples and throughout Italy, but it is a specialty in Gaeta, a beautiful seaside town on the border of Campania (Naples) and Lazio (Rome).
So what is tiella? It is a thin-crusted deep dish pizza, stuffed with different combinations of vegetables, fish, escarole, broccoli rabe, octopus and olives, ricotta and Swiss chard, artichokes and any vegetable that is in season. It is topped and sealed with the same dough and baked until golden.
Every time I stop for a piece of tiella, Nonna Lisa teaches me another filling. I take notes and then I enjoy. I now make them at the restaurants and at home in New York, for my son-in-law. He enjoys them with a touch of nostalgia and here are two for you to enjoy.
For the tiella dough
2 teaspoons dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for handling the dough
1½ cups semolina flour
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
¾ cup cool water, plus more if needed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
Tiella Filling of Escarole, Olives, and Capers
2 pounds or more escarole
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons chopped garlic
⅓ cup small capers, drained
⅓ cup Gaeta olives, pitted
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
A heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet;
Trim off the base of the escarole, separate the leaves and discard any that are wilted or blemished. Rinse and drain the leaves and chop them into shreds, about an inch wide.
Pour ¼ cup of the olive oil in the big skillet, set it over medium-high heat and stir in the garlic. Cook for a minute or so until sizzling then pile in all the escarole and tumble the shreds over and over with tongs, over high heat. Scatter the capers and olives on top, season with the salt and peperoncino and toss. Pour ½ cup water into the pan and cover tightly.
Steam the escarole for about 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring frequently, until all the moisture has been cooked off and the filling is condensed and fairly dry, about 20 minutes more. Near the end of cooking, drizzle over another 2 tablespoon olive oil and toss.
Cool the filling before assembling the tiella.
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup warm water and let it sit for several minutes to and start to bubble.
Put the flours, salt, and sugar in the bowl of the food processor and run the machine for a few seconds to blend the dry ingredients.
Stir the active yeast together with the cool water and three tablespoons of the olive oil in a spouted measuring cup. With the food processor running, pour all the liquid into the flours and continue processing for 30 seconds or so. A soft dough should gather on the blade and clean the sides of the bowl. If the sides are not clear, incorporate more flour, a tablespoon at a time, to stiffen the dough. If the dough is very stiff, work in more water in small amounts. (You can also use a heavy duty electric mixer to form the dough or do it by hand.)
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand briefly to form a smooth round. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour. For extended rising, deflate the dough when doubled, knead it briefly, and return to the bowl for a second rise. If you like, refrigerate the dough, sealed airtight, for up to a day (deflate and knead it whenever it doubles).
When your filling is prepared and you are ready to bake the tiella, heat the oven to 375°. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven with the baking stone, if using. Brush the bottom and sides of the skillet or baking pan lightly with olive oil.
Deflate the dough, knead it briefly to form a round again and cut off 1/3 of the dough for the top crust of the tiella. The larger, 2/3 piece will be the bottom crust. Let the dough relax (especially if it has been chilled) before rolling.
On a floured surface, roll out the big piece of dough to a 14-inch round. Transfer the round to the skillet or baking pan, centered and lying flat on the bottom and sides. Trim the top edge of the dough neatly so it is an even height, about 1-1/2 inches, up the sides all around.
Scrape the cooled escarole or octopus filling in the bottom crust and spread it in an even layer, slightly compressed. The escarole filling makes a thinner layer than the octopus, but with either, the bottom crust should extend at least ½ inch above the filling all around.
Roll out the smaller piece of dough to a 12-inch round and trim it into a neat circle that is a bit larger than the layer of filling—use a ruler to get the right dimensions. Center the circle and lay it on top of the filling. Pinch together the overlapping edges of the bottom and top crusts all around. Fold this wide flap of dough inward and press it down and against the pan sides all around. Make uniform indentations with your fingertips, to seal the tiella tightly and create a decorative rim of dough at the same time.
With the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the top crust all over with a dozen or so small slits. Finally, brush extra-virgin olive oil all over the tiella, including the border of crust.
Bake the tiella, on the heated stone if you have one, for about 45 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. Cool it on a rack for at least an hour in the skillet. Invert and remove the tiella if you want or leave it in the pan for serving. Cut wedges and serve slightly warm or room temperature.