Last updated on November 18th, 2016
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.
Tiella with Calamari and Gaeta Olives
(Adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s Nonna Lisa’s Tiella)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Makes 8 servings
- 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-oz. 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)
- 2 pounds calamari cut into rings (I include the tentacles, but that’s me)
- 1 batch pizza dough, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
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 one hour before serving.