Written and Photographed by Danielle Oteri
I think it’s fair to say it’s been a tough winter for most. But here in New York friggin’ City, it feels like everyone has just about had it.
The city, which is all up in your face no matter what season it is, now has a grim display of what’s really happening here in the form of never-melting snow piles.
Remember those diagrams from your high school earth science class that showed sediment layers?
Our snow piles look like those, cross-sections of the nastiest bits of the city: the garbage, the black car exhaust, and lately, tiny, empty plastic bags which speak volumes about the recent spike in crime.
Therefore, I interrupt this absolutely miserable winter for a little of this:
I’m taking you out of the cold and across the Atlantic to the south of Italy (which, yes, has its fair share of problems with garbage) and the coastal town of Gaeta.
And here’s a new word for your culinary vocabulary: Tiella. Say it out loud like this: tyeh-la.
Isn’t it more fun to say than “wind chill”?
Elsewhere in Italy the word tiella means “pan,” but in Gaeta it conjures up a crisp pizza dough stuffed with the freshest seafood and salty olives.
You know how they say that the Eskimos have like a thousand different words for snow? In Southern Italy, a similar paradigm applies to pizza.
Its origins, like most things Italian, are straightforward—an on-the-job lunch for mariners who eat slices of tiella with their hands.
The traditional filling is octopus, tomatoes, and parsley, though you can also use baccala (salt cod), calamari, or anchovies. A traditional alternative to seafood is a stuffing of escarole and cheese.
No matter what the filling, a tiella must use a very good olive oil as locals will tell you that it’s absolutely crucial for hot oil to run down your arms after the first bite.
Lidia Bastianich started serving tiellas in her restaurants after being introduced to them by her son-in-law Lorenzo, whose Gaetana mother may make the world’s best tiella.
(In Lidia’s Italy, Lorenzo confirms the Proustian pleasure of the hot oil racing toward your elbows.)
This past year, a Neapolitan restaurant called Tiella that cooks appetizer-sized tiellas in a brick oven opened up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So maybe there’s a new food trend in the works.
In the past two years, I have brought a tiella to my family’s traditional Christmas Eve fish feast.
In doing so, I stumbled upon the most perfect way to cook calamari, so that its bite is softer than silk instead of the the too-often-served version of squid as nature’s own rubber band.
Though we have at least another month of winter to go, we can, in our kitchens at least, taste a preview of warmer days to come.
Below is my own tiella filling, for which you can use your favorite pizza dough recipe.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing onto the crust
- 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/3 cup gaeta olives, pitted (gaeta olives are fairly easy to find, but if not, any salty black olive will do)
- 1 batch pizza dough, at room temperature
- 2 pounds calamari cut into rings (I include the tentacles, but that's me)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil with the red pepper flakes and garlic until the garlic just starts to brown.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes and olives and simmer for 20 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, divide the pizza dough in half and roll out one piece into a 10-inch circle.
- Place on an oven-safe pan or skillet, letting the dough drape over the sides.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and throw in all your calamari rings. They will instantly plump up.
- Quickly stir the filling together and pour evenly onto the dough round. Cool for 15 minutes.
- While the filling is cooling, roll out the second piece of pizza dough into an 8-inch round.
- Let your mind think of the patterns of the sea as you place it on top of the filling and pinch the top and bottom crusts together.
- With a sharp knife, make 8-10 slits on the top of the tiella.
- Brush olive oil all over the top and the pinched crust, and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Bake for 45 minutes and cool for 1 hour before serving.
adapted from Lidia Bastianich's Nonna Lisa's Tiella
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 341Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 152mgSodium: 402mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 2gSugar: 1gProtein: 14g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.
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