It all begins with our blogging buddy Chicago John’s Spianata. (He’s no stranger to many of you. But if somehow life has passed you by and you’ve never visited his warm Italian home kitchen, come in out of the cold, take off your coat, pull up a chair, smell what’s steaming on the stove and get ready for something like love at first sight.)
For the Spianata dough…if you follow the link above, it’ll take you right there, and John’s background on a dish is always nearly as savory and delightful as the dish itself. But I’ll also provide the recipe here so you don’t have to continually flip back and forth. It’s much like a focaccia, thick, dimpled, moist, pungently olivey. It develops its flavor slowly, with the yeasty “sponge” left overnight, and the dough finished the following day. The way I chose to make this dish is to bake the herb-scattered dough in a hot oven, adding the toppings when it comes out, still steamy hot – the sweet caramelized onions, the roasted small tomatoes, the leaves of baby spinach, the Kalamata olives, the shavings of Feta, and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. Drizzled with a bit (more) olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic – it’s sweet and savory and devastatingly delicious!
For the sponge
- 1 cup flour (5 ounces)
- 1 cup warm water (approx. 110°F)
- 1 tsp active yeast
For the finished dough
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups flour (10 ounces)
- 1 teaspoons dried mint
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
Pour water into a small-medium bowl and add the yeast; allow yeast to dissolve and for a bubbles to begin forming on the surface. Add the flour to make the sponge, mix well, cover, and set aside at room temperature. The sponge should be allowed to rise for at least 8 hours but no more than 20. 12 to 16 hours is usually best. When you ‘re ready to proceed, the sponge’s surface should be mottled with bubbles and it should have a strong yeast scent. (yum!)
To the sponge, add the flour, ¼ cup of the olive oil and the salt. Knead dough for 5 to 7 minutes. The consistency of the dough should be neither sticky nor dry…the “test” I use is to grab hold of the dough with an open hand, hold it firmly for a few seconds…if when you remove your hand the dough almost wants to cling to it but releases without actually sticking, it’s about perfect. If not this, then add water by the drop-ful or flour by the teaspoonful. It’s been kneaded enough when the dough is soft and supple, smooth and elastic, and when you press it with a knuckle the dough springs right back at you.)
Place the finished dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow it to rise until doubled – depending on the warmth of your kitchen and a couple other factors, this will take from 1 to 2 hours. While the dough is rising, prepare all the other ingredients, for which you’ll find instructions below.
Punch the dough down, turn it out onto a floured work surface and cover with a towel. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes. This rest relaxes the dough, making it more pliable.
Pour the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil into a 9 x 12-inch pan, covering the entire bottom of the pan.
After the resting period, place dough onto the pan and, using your fingers, begin stretching it to fit the pan. When it covers about 2/3 of the pan, flip the dough over and continue stretching until the entire pan is covered and there’s enough dough to create a ridge around the pan’s edge. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled again, about 1 hour. 20 Minutes before it’s ready, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoons dried mint and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Place it in the preheated oven on the middle rack and back for about 25 minutes. It should be lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top immediately with the toppings in the following order.
Baby Spinach Leaves
Kalamata Olives (allow to come to room temp. or gently heated)
Feta Cheese (thinly sliced or crumbled)
a small handful of whole parsley leaves
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
A drizzle more Olive Oil
You’ll want approximately 1 cup each of the spinach leaves, olives, and feta. Instructions for the caramelized onions and tomatoes follow.
“Sun”-dried or Roasted Tomatoes
- ½ pound to 1 full pound cherry tomatoes (1 pound will leave you quite a few extra to use as you like. They’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week.)
- coarse sea salt
- freshly-ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon (or more) dried mint leaves
- olive oil (about 2 teaspoons per pound tomatoes)
- balsamic vinegar (about 2 teaspoons for 1 pound tomatoes)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mint. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic over top.
Bake until edges have begun to brown and juices have started to caramelize beneath them. (About 30 to 40 minutes.)
Caramelized Onions (& Garlic)
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 (or 2) cloves garlic, minced