Gulf Coast Cooking

Fantastic flatbreads: Be creative with the toppings

Bread is a central part of our diets and has been around for thousands of years. The first breads made were unleavened, meaning there was no yeast or other leavening agent in the recipe.

Flatbreads, leavened and unleavened, are still found in many countries throughout the world, in many different guises. In Mexico it is the tortilla; in America it is the johnnycake; the Jewish have matzo; the Indian naan; and Middle Easterners have pita.

Bread requires the cultivation of seed and cooperation of people to grow, harvest and bake it, and an almost scientific understanding of the baking process to make it work properly. The deceptively simple seeming bread has a complex history.

You can find interesting flat breads in most grocery stores these days, but it is not too complicated to make your own. A flat bread can be enjoyed with nothing more than some good olive oil, cheese, and a glass of wine, or you can make it as complicated as you like.

Flat bread and pizza are pretty much the same thing, as both are a stretched flat dough, baked with toppings of some sort. That opens up the possibilities, doesn't it?

Make your own, buy it at a bakery or at the big box store, but give this food idea some thought and see what innovative ideas you can come up with.

BASIC LEAVENED FLATBREAD

All bread is delicious fresh out of the oven, but a hot flatbread just seems to demand to

be torn by hand and shared. It is the very definition of breaking bread, and that is just what friends are for. Share!

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

5 cups all-purpose flour

2- 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons salt, kosher is best

1/2 cup sour cream

Dissolve the yeast in 3 cups warm water from the tap. Combine the flour and mix with the yeast until you have a bowl of sticky dough. Cover and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Add the salt and sour cream and combine well, it should take about 5 minutes to get a nice firm ball of dough. Again cover the bowl and let it rest for another 3 hours. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 equal portions, form into1/4-inch flat cakes and bake in a hot oven until well-browned.

SIMPLE FLATBREAD TOPPING

1 flatbread per person

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 bunch Fresh basil, cilantro or oregano

Salt to taste

This is one of the simplest and most delicious uses of a good flatbread, but it is critical that you use the best quality ingredients. If you use low-grade olive oil (it only takes a drizzle, so that expensive bottle will last a long time) it will just not be the same. Warm the flatbreads or take them fresh baked from the oven. Drizzle with oil, add a few leaves of fresh herb, add a pinch of salt and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve with a good, cold bottle of white wine, like a Gruner Veltliner or a dry Riesling.

PESTO FLATBREAD

Pesto has Roman roots, and has been popular in Northern Italy for generations. It is great on pasta or as a topping for a freshly baked flat bread. Serve with a stout Sauvignon Blanc, a lesser wine would be overpowered.

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup pecans

3-4 tablespoons garlic

4-5 cups fresh basil (or spinach)

Salt and pepper

1-2 cups olive oil

Parmigiano-Reggiano

This is a simple recipe. Use a blender to make a coarse chop of the dry ingredients. Don't make it too fine; you want good body. Now pour the oil in as the machine turns slowly. Adjust the amount of oil you want by the thickness of the pesto that you are trying to achieve. Too much oil, and it is ruined. Slather the pesto on the still-warm flatbread and serve at once. Pesto will last a week in the refrigerator and up to three months if frozen.

FLATBREAD WITH A MEDITERRANEAN SALAD

Prepare this salad with the proportion of ingredients that appeals to you.

Flatbread fresh out of the oven

Whole leaf spinach

Pepperoncini

Cucumber

Black olives

Fresh red tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Thin sliced onion

Feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil

Do not chop the spinach, serve it whole leaf. Slice the pepperoncini and remove the seeds, if you must, but serving whole is just fine. Cut the cucumber into 1-inch rounds, then cut in half. Chop the tomatoes into big, but bite-size pieces, but leave the olives whole. Break the feta into big chunks, unless you are low on funds, then crumble as small as you must. Combine the salad, don't forget the onions, sprinkled with good quality olive oil, and then lightly salted. Serve family style or plate a flatbread, and anoint with as much of the salad as you like.

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