A few summers ago, on the way back from a morning on the beach in southern Sicily, we stopped to get pizza for lunch. I remember this for several reasons. Because as I got out of the car, the Y strap pulled out of the base of my blue flip-flop – a little thing with an enormous effect. Because, while I was waiting in front of the pizza cabinet still thinking about my foot, a tray of just-baked things the shape of Cornish pasties was brought out and put on a crate near the door to cool. But mostly I remember because, as we drove home and I pulled one in half so we could share it, a bit of green and cheese dropped in my lap. And, despite talcum and stain remover, it left a faint but unmissable mark on a useful dress. A grease souvenir from Sicily.
You find small members of the extensive stuffed bread family all over southern Italy: hot bread around a soft and tasty filling. As well as the cheese and greens on that day, there was sausage and broccoli, and another slightly bigger version filled with tomato and olives. During the same trip, we would return to the same place, Le Signorine Spasciamaronna (so-called because their brother, who owns the shop next door, also unwraps the Madonna for the annual procession and is known as spasciamaronna). Often, we would buy the individual ones, other times a large filled bread pie to share, or slices of deep Sicilian pizza with anchovy, tomato and breadcrumbs. Then, along with a car full of sand, we brought the recipe home and made it our own.
The bread part of the recipe is similar to focaccia and is similarly accommodating. I suggest plain and strong flour, but feel free to replace some of either with semolina flour, if you like. While I am superstitiously attached to activating both dried and fresh yeast by mixing it with a bit of the water, flour and little sugar first, I am told this is entirely unnecessary, so have left it out of this recipe. The key is to evaporate (or pour away) all the liquid extruded by the greens as they wilt.
The most important recipe instruction, however, is to make the filling as tasty as possible: taste, taste again and season enthusiastically, adding more chilli, cheese, capers or bits of sausage, if you like. Serve and eat while the filled bread moons are still warm, with a cold beer and a bag of crisps.
Sicilian-inspired filled bread with greens and cheese
Prep 25 min
Rest/Rise 2 hr
Cook 20 min
200g plain flour
200g strong bread flour
1 tsp (7 g) fast-action dry yeast (or 15g fresh)
10g fine salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
12 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
800g mixed greens – spinach, chard, escarole, borage
100g pitted olives
50g parmesan, grated
1 egg, beaten, for brushing
Put the flours, yeast and salt in a bowl and swirl together. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and 300ml warm water. Plunge one hand in and use it like the dough hook of a stand mixer until all the flour has been incorporated. Pat the mix into a shaggy mass, cover and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Don’t worry if the dough feels sticky – it will be fine.
Rub olive oil on a work surface and plop the dough on top. Flatten it out gently, then fold the dough from the edges towards the centre. Do this few times, then cover with the upturned bowl and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Repeat the folding, then return the dough to the bowl and put in a warm spot for an hour, until it has doubled in size.
In a big pan, fry the spring onions in olive oil until soft, then add the greens, bit by bit if necessary, and tame them until they wilt. Press down with a spoon to release any water and leave that to evaporate away. Tip into a bowl, chop with scissors, then add a little more oil, the red chilli, olives and cheese.
Cut the dough into 80g pieces and, on a floured surface, pat into saucer-sized circles. Put a plum-sized amount of greens in the centre of each one, then fold into half-moons, pinching them closed. Lift on to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, leave to rest for another 30 minutes, then brush with egg and bake for 20 minutes.