Schiacciatine & the last edition of Italian Table Talk
Today is bittersweet. It’s the last edition of Italian Table Talk, which, if you have been following over the past two years, is a monthly discussion on an aspect of Italian culinary culture that I’ve shared with fellow bloggers, Jasmine, Giulia and Valeria. It’s been an inspiring exchange, one that I’m honoured to have been part of. But after two years of emailing, brainstorming and recipe swapping, we’ve decided to finish Italian Table Talk with the theme of books. It is fitting, really, as we’re passing on our references and we’re going to share with you some of our favourite, most inspiring books on Italian food culture.
Valeria delves into the books one of my personal heroes, Elizabeth David. Jasmine talks about Jewish cooking with a recipe for zucca sfranta (stewed pumpkin) from Edda Servi Machlin’s The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, while Giulia turns to Claudia Roden for a recipe for roast chicken with vin santo.
I have a constant, permanent stack of cookbooks in a rather inconvenient corner of the kitchen. It’s inconvenient as the books are in the way, but the thing is, I refer to them all the time. To put them away on a bookshelf in another room would be even more inconvenient. So they’re there. A pile of them.
To pick just one to mention today was tricky to say the least. There’s my most recent purchase, a second hand copy of Ada Boni‘s Regional Italian Cooking. A classic, after her Talisman cookbook. There’s my beloved Artusi – Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well – a constant. There are a number of Elizabeth David books. And there are lesser known ones but equally valid. I am rather in love with Florentine artist Guido Peyron’s Note sulla cucina ed altre cose (notes on cooking and other things), which I have in large format so that his scribbly drawings can be seen nice and big on the page.
But the one that’s been getting quite a workout lately is Carol Field’s The Italian Baker (1985). It’s been my go-to book for regional Italian cookies, bread and pastries of late. I tackled my first cornetti (Italian croissants) recipe with her. I’ve baked her pandiramerino (raisin and rosemary buns) and her pane toscano (which reminds me of one of my favourite Italian Table Talk posts, on bread) all with great results – spot on in terms of flavour and authenticity. Her recipes are easy to follow and despite there not being photographs, there are handy little drawings and diagrams that help for even the more complicated processes such as the cornetti.
The recipe I thought must absolutely be shared with everyone is for the schiacciatine. Any Florentine bakery worth its salt has these little round discs of schiacciata (like a sort of Tuscan focaccia), sometimes as large as your hand, sometimes slightly larger, sometimes mini versions. They can be baked plain, but more often than not they’re baked with a simple, single vegetable topping – sweet onions, thinly sliced tomato or maybe some sweet red pepper strips, zucchini or even zucchini flowers, if the season permits.
Crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy inside, they make excellent snacks on the run, are loved by kids and adults alike and are just the right size for little afternoon something. Pack a bunch of them into your next lunchbox or picnic basket. Baking them fresh at home is easy and you can vary the toppings as you please – just note that this type of bread is best on the day it is made, so make a batch and spread the freshly baked love to your friends and family.
You can also use this same recipe to make one large schiacciata rather than these little individual ones, if you prefer, a bit like this similar cherry tomato focaccia according to Gabriele Bonci’s recipe.
Below is an ever so slightly adapted version of Carol Field’s recipe for what she calls Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (Florentine schiacciata, or as she likes to describe it, flatbread from Florence). I’m going to avoid calling it that as it is too easily confused with a well known Florentine cake (this one) of the same name.
A few notes: Field indicates that this makes 6 six-inch schiacciate but I like them a little smaller to make 8 (even 10), a size that fits nicely in your hand. All the resting in the shaping process is to enable the dough to relax while you stretch it to its right size. Don’t worry, be patient. Also, don’t be afraid to use lard; it is more traditional as an ingredient and imparts the most delightful crispness to the schiacciata that butter just doesn’t give.
For the dough:
- 7 grams (1 small packet) active dry yeast or 18 grams fresh yeast
- 375 ml warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 30 grams lard or butter, at room temperature
- 500 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons (8 grams) salt, plus extra salt flakes for sprinkling
- Olive oil for brushing tops
For the toppings:
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tomato, thinly sliced
- handful of fresh basil or thyme leaves
For the dough:
Stir the yeast into the water in a large bowl and allow to stand 10 minutes until dissolved. Add the oil and lard. Combine the flour and salt in a wide bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the liquid mixture into the well and stirring from the centre, gradually incorporate the wet and dry ingredients until you have a dough. Knead until smooth and soft, about 8-10 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise, covered, until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
Flatten the dough slightly on a floured surface and cut into 8 even portions, rolled into balls. Let rest under a tea towel 15 minutes. Dimple the balls with your fingers, flattening into a disc and rest another 15 minutes, covered. Dimple again, stretching further. Brush discs with olive oil, sprinkle with some salt and place on baking trays lined with baking paper. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size, covered with a tea towel.
Dimple the dough once more, brush again with olive oil and top with your selected toppings. Bake at 220ºC for about 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten on the day they are made.
For the toppings:
You could use any vegetables you like really — thin strips of zucchini lightly sauteed with a little garlic; some leftover peperonata; fresh zucchini blossoms. The important thing to remember is to only gently cook the vegetable toppings (tomato and zucchini flowers don’t even need any pre-cooking), do not brown them, they’ll get a blast of heat in the oven that will take them a little too far otherwise.
For onion topping, gently sweat the onion slices in a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil with a pinch of salt and some fresh thyme leaves. Don’t let the onions colour, just cook gently until they are completely soft, sweet and translucent.
For the tomato topping, simply place fresh slices of tomato on the dough, sprinkle with salt and torn basil.