Several years ago, while in Lecce in the Apulian region of Italy, tasted Frisella in an inconspicuous road-side eatery. It is one of my preferred foods to consume when in a hurry, or on a beach day.
My favorite breadman, Cosimo Della Torre from Venda on Federal Hill in Providence’s Little Italy, bakes them weekly, and I truly appreciate the taste he delivers. He also offers them to general consumers at the store. But you probably wonder what it is.
A relatively thick slice of bread made of white or integral flour, oval-shaped and dry thanks to a second passage in the oven: this is the short description of one of the most common bread Apulia locals and visitors love, the “Frisella.”
No fat, no sugar, flour, water, and yeast cooked and moisturize before eating.
The ships were leaving for faraway lands and envisaging months on the sea with scarce or no direct access to fresh food used to embark a high quantity of “Frisella.” Paradoxically sailors had the best opportunity to taste the “Frisella” at the peak of its flavor: they dipped the “Frisella” in a cup of seawater to wet it and have it soaked. A Sea snack created.
Back at home, the sailors’ wives used to moisturize it with saltwater, pulp broth, or even the water used to rehydrate dried beans. The tradition says a baker overcooked some bread, and instead of throwing it away, he brought it home, moisturized it, and added some tomato juice and oil. The result was so tasty that the mistake turned into a great delicacy. The little oval bread has become so popular that it has overcome the Apulia limits and can be found all through the southern part of Italy. Of course, the toppings are several, and your creativity can be limitless.
Through the years, I have used goat cheese, fresh ricotta, or fresh mozzarella. You may also make a complete vegetable style Frisella by adding a topping of cooked zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, fresh oregano, and some roasted eggplant. Frisella meant to be served as a snack or as a light antipasto paired with a fresh green salad of choice.
Prep Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes / Cook Time: 1 hour
Makes two large friselle
Ingredients for friselle
3 1/3 cups (400 g) durum wheat flour
3/4 ounce (20 g) live yeast cake or powder
A pinch of Kosher salt
Thin wire for cutting, or serrated knife
In a large mixing bowl, assemble the ingredients listed above. Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water, and then combine it with the flour and a pinch of salt to obtain bread dough. Shape the dough into 8-inch diameter rings and let them rise for a half-hour, then bake them in a preheated 400 F-degree oven. When they’re half done (firm but not hard), remove them from the oven and cut them in half horizontally with a wire, then return them to the oven to let them finish baking. When done, they should be quite dry. Keep them in a plastic bag, sealed. They will conserve well for 21 days.
Ingredients for the topping:
Four large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
One large Vidalia or Spanish white onion, thinly sliced
Bunch of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Bowl of cold water
Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
In a medium-size bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, basil, hot pepper flakes, and olive oil. Blend well, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Take a Frisella and dip it in the bowl of cold water, holding it for about 6 seconds before putting it on your plate. Slather it with the chopped tomatoes topping. Enjoy it! Eat it with your hands paired with a hearty, rustic white wine.
Eat safe and wear a mask! Ciao Chef W
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