When we were kids, we knew that, by this time of the year, our favorite activity – which was swimming and splashing into our filthy but joyful pool of water that is the Adriatic, would be hindered by one of the most important days of the Italian year.
Every year, on August 15th, there were water bombs and People from the North.
Every year, swarms of frustrated tourists from northern Italy, overly stressed by a whole 365 days of hectic city life and frenetic driving filled with NSFW expressions, flooded the beaches of the Romagna coast and set their kids free to celebrate ‘Summer’s new year’, as the 15th of August is also called. Said kids would throw water by the bucketfuls at each other, run around like hens with their heads cut off and wreak havoc amongst the innocent people who’d have to clean up the beach the day after. They’d stuff their faces with ice cream, bomboloni and pizza at some point in the afternoon, and then they’d start all over again. This ritual started at 9 AM and continued restlessly until well after 8, when frustrated beach owners would start making a point to their customers that they have a life as well and the beach really, really needed to be cleaned before dark.
When the night falls, there are parties, fishermen grill sardines and seafood at the harbor and people eat and dance on the street, while waiting for the fireworks to begin at 11 PM.
Yes, being in Romagna during the summer has its perks.
Two days ago I was in Milan, and I never saw an emptier city than Milan in August. See, August is a major vacation month for all of Italy, as the 15th is a Church holiday and every business goes on vacation around this time. I am amongst the luckiest and I have 3 weeks off from work, but most people will have at least 2.
I met two American tourists at Eataly, and they were shocked to see every shop closed and such an empty city.
So, if you come to Italy in August, be warned that most cities will be empty and most beaches and camping spots will be flooded.
But, in spite of the heat, I need to celebrate. So today, I am making pie!
I thought I’d make cake, but there is too much going on food-wise these days, and I have cake planned soon anyway, so I made pie instead. Savory pie.
I am sharing one of my favorite things ever, which involved a container stuffed with tons of veggies. Italians usually celebrate the 15th of August with a large lunch, and this would be a great addition to an august 15th spread.
here’s why I was in Milan and why I need to celebrate: I was in Milan to have a chat with the Italian national paper, Corriere della Sera. they want to start a new vegetarian food column in September, and they want me to be the columnist! I am obviously very excited, and I am happy to announce that the column will be both in Italian and in English.
My hope is to be a good example for Italy, as everybody here is still too stuck on the idea that vegetarianism and veganism means a life spent eating leaves and plain tofu. I also hope to bring some alternative breakfast examples, as Italy consumes way too much junk like cookies and pastries in the morning. All in all, I just hope whoever reads that column enjoys the recipes and the photos.
So here is my veggie pie! The crust is very, very similar to pizza, so you could also use the dough to make pizza, or make the same recipe in the form of pizza instead of pie. Whatever you do, it’s Italy’s summer produce at its best: zucchini, tomatoes, onions and eggplants are abundant in our garden. It only seemed natural to use them and let them shine.
A thing I ought to mention: A few days ago, a company called Molini Pivetti kindly sent me some of their flour. They produce it in Ferrara, which is in Emilia, so technically very close to where I am (Emilia-Romagna make one big region). I tried their Kamut flour to make this and a batch of bread, and it was the softest, best baked pizza/bread thing I have made so far. The consistency was just fluffy and perfect. So yes, I loved their flour! Check out their products and, if you stumble across them, definitely get a hold of them!
A thing I want to mention: I am experimenting with more backgrounds, backdrops and sets, so that I can finally vary my pictures a bit. The next post will be another thing! I can’t wait to share!
SUMMER VEGETABLE STUFFED PIE
For the Pizza Crust
100g Spelt flour
100g Whole wheat flour
50g Strong bread flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp natural yeast, plus a drop of honey, barley malt or a pinch of sugar
120 to 150 ml lukewarm water
Combine the flours, salt and oil in a bowl, and stir. Dissolve the yeast in half the water with the sweetener, and add to the flour. Mix well, and add the rest of the water a little by little, until you see the dough comes together. Knead it for 5 minutes in a robot if you have one, or just knead by hand, pulling and stretching vigorously. If you are kneading by hand, make a ball of dough and slam it on the bowl at regular intervals. This helps develop the gluten. Let it raise, well covered and in a current-free environment, for 2 hours or until abundantly doubled in size. Keep it in a place where the temperature keeps constant, possibly at 80F˚/25 C˚.
Note that the proofing time may vary depending on the yeast you use and the temperature. It’s hot here right now, so by just sitting on the counter the dough has risen beautifully and more than doubled in size.
For the Cherry tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
350g cherry tomatoes (2 packed cups when quartered)
6-7 basil leaves
A big pinch of salt
A generous sprinkling of white pepper
For the filling
1 round eggplant
1 large onion, possibly yellow or red
50g Grated Parmigiano*
Extra: Some grated mozzarella.
*TO MAKE IT VEGAN: Use some vegan pesto instead, or some vegan tapenade.
Wash and quarter the cherry tomatoes, and finely mince the garlic and basil. Add everything to a pan with the oil, salt and pepper, and cook on medium low. Give everything a good stir, and cook for about 10 minutes. The tomatoes will release water at first, which you will have to let dry out. You should be left with a creamy, chunky cherry tomato sauce. Keep an eye on it! You can make a bigger batch and use the leftover as a delicious pasta condiment.
Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices and sprinkle with some salt. Let them purge for some 10-20 minutes. Some people find this step unnecessary, so you will have to be the one to determine wether your eggplants need purging or not. Organic, homegrown eggplants might need it. If you do, quickly rinse the salt off and pat them dry.
Slice the onion very thinly, possibly with a mandolin, and cook with a scant tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Let it sweat on low heat for 10 minutes, and add some water if it threatens to stick. Keep cooking for 10 more minutes, until soft and golden.
Slice the zucchini about the same thickness of the eggplant.
While the eggplants are purging and the onions are cooking, Heat a grill (or a nonstick pan if you don’t have a grill) over high heat, and let it get very hot. Grill your eggplant and zucchini slices until soft, about 1 minute per side. Once you grilled everything, toss with some chopped parsley, some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Get all your cooked veggies and the sauce ready for the assembly.
Take the proofed dough and re-knead it for a couple of minutes. If it sticks a bit, and you want to keep it really soft, oil your hands a little bit rather than adding flour.
Divide the dough in 2 balls, one larger than the other. Roll them out into two disks, using two pieces of parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 250 C˚/ 480 F˚.
Line a round baking dish, or a skillet, with baking paper, or oil it lightly if using cast-iron. Stretch the larger ball of dough into a disk, and try to stretch is so that it covers part of the sides of the baking vessel. Start by spreading half of the cherry tomato sauce on the bottom, then proceed with half the eggplants, zucchini, onions, half the Parmigiano and the mozzarella if using. Repeat with the other halves in the same order.
Reverse the smaller disk over the pie and seal the edges. Use some water to help with the sealing, and pinch the edges close firmly. Cut some holes on the top to let the steam escape.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning down the oven to 230 C˚/450 F˚ 5 minutes after the start. When it gets golden brown on top, it should be ready. If you touch the top, it should have crisped up a bit, but it shouldn’t be too hard.
Wait for it to cool a bit, about 5 minutes, before slicing. I love it enjoyed warm, but it is also great at room temperature and fits perfectly on a buffet/brunch spread!
I love how fluffy and soft this pie is, and it’s one of those addictive things that you really have to control yourself to avoid finishing in one sitting. The fact that it kinda tastes like eggplant parmigiana enclosed in pizza doesn’t help at all. It makes for a perfect picnic pie, too.
IF YOU WANT TO SAVE SOME CALORIES: Skip the mozzarella and use a little less Parmigiano, and be very sparing in dressing the grilled vegetables. After all, it is mostly vegetables, so compared to other savory pies it is not that bad.
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A WINTER VERSION: Sub the grilled veggies with a mix of mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic and parsley. Double the onion, skip the tomato sauce and maybe add some truffle oil! But wait, this is entirely another recipe. Will make something like this in october/november.