“Is that not the best pizza you have EVER eaten?” he said with a smile. The glint in his eye said to me that he was really, really proud of the manaeesh (Palestinian flatbread) he had just baked in his tabun, a clay oven shaped like a truncated cone with an opening at the bottom from which to stoke the fire. Tabuns like his have historically been used by Arab and Jewish ethnic communities to bake these traditional flatbreads across the Middle East for centuries. I was on the Gaza Strip in Palestine that day, a small self-governing territory on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt and Israel. As you can tell I’ve been around a bit and the various bread-making processes that I’ve experienced throughout my travels are endlessly fascinating to me. Bread is, after all, a staple of pretty much all diets and, therefore, speaks volumes about regional cultures. I’ve used a Greek-inspired simple yoghurt-based dough here that I fermented at room temperature for half a day and then in the fridge for two days. That may sound like a long-winded process but I always think ahead with a view to keeping things simple on the day and this delivers a beautiful moist dough with a tangy edge in minutes.
350g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp of baking powder
350 Greek yoghurt
125g Cypriot halloumi, grated
3 tbsp za’atar
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
How I make it
Mix together the za’atar and olive oil and set aside (this makes a great dip for bread by the way).
In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and yoghurt.
Tip everything out onto a board and gently knead the dough for a couple of minutes just to bring everything together. If you are making griddled flatbreads you can use the dough right away, or cover and leave it to ferment in the fridge for up to two days.
When you’re ready to bake, heat an oven to 275C (that’s the hottest setting for my oven).
Roll half the dough out into a round the size of a dinner plate. Place it on a pizza stone or a perforated metal pizza pan, brush with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle over the halloumi.
Bake for around five minutes, until the edge of the pizza starts to turn golden. Remove it from the oven and brush over with the za’atar mixture. Bake for a further three minutes, until the dough is golden and the topping is sizzling (baking times may vary according to how hot your oven gets).
This recipe makes enough dough for two flatbreads so I topped the other one with mozzarella, wilted spinach and an egg to make my classic Fiorentina.