Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pan-Fried Flat Bread and Other Delights


It was a cold, rainy day and I had a refrigerator that needed cleaning out. Oldish vegetables and a few other odds and sods were lurking in the crisper. Summer is over and the harvest is dwindling. Waste not, want not, as they say, so I decided to salvage these rag-tag edible bits, combine them with some pantry staples and create something vaguely exotic. 

Pantry suppers such as these are reminiscent of more ancient times. To get through the leaner, colder season, pantries were not just pleasant, they were essential. Life saving even. Dried beans and legumes, milled flour, preserves, pickles, spices, dried chillies and a veritable cornucopia of other wonders require no refrigeration and can contribute to some of your most memorable recipes. In some sense, the modern freezer is now playing a role in the pantry - as mine does to some extent with these dishes. 

Along with a defrosted chicken (admittedly, a modern addition to the concept), I went for a sort of North African theme for this pantry supper. I soaked dried chickpeas in water for a few hours and then finished them off in the pressure cooker with some olive oil, garlic, cumin and bay leaf. I took a rather large eggplant (a gift from my neighbor's farming parents), along with a zucchini, onions and garlic, chopped it all up and sauteed the works in some olive oil to get some colour. Then I braised it all slowly in some of my defrosted roast tomato sauce (made at the height of summer and stored in the deep freeze). A few exotic spices went into the mix including cumin, cinnamon, white pepper and fennel seeds. This vegetable stew cooked down until unctuous and soft. To impart a slightly sweet and sour note, I added a drizzle of honey and a bit of white balsamic vinegar along with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro leaves. The chicken was broken down into portions, then browned in hot oil and finished in the oven with a bit more of the roast tomato sauce, along with some chillies and smoked paprika. The last item, and the only one for which I feel the need to annotate a recipe, is my fried flat bread. Similar to Indian-style naan, this bread is dead simple to make and ideal for dipping into saucy braised vegetables or mopping up the lefotover spicy bits on your plate. Because there is yeast involved, it will require a bit of proofing time, but not nearly as much as a full loaf does.

Pan-fried flat bread

475 g all purpose flour
1 tbs dry active yeast
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
350 ml lukewarm water
1 clove of garlic

Combine the flour, the yeast and the salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix to incorporate. Then make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the oil first, then slowly add the water, pulling in the sides of the well as you go. Once all the water is in, start mixing by hand - there really is no other way of doing this. Think rustic! The dough will be very sticky at first, but will eventually start to come together. Flour a work space and then give the dough a good five minutes of kneading. Then get into an oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for an hour and a half. It will grow considerably in volume. Once it's proofed, smack it down a bit and then tear off golf-ball sized balls from it (you should get about eight balls from this amount of dough). Get a cast iron pan on a high fire until it is almost smoking, then flatten the dough balls out so that they look like little misshapen pizzas and fry them off in the dry pan (do not oil the pan). They only require one or two minutes per side, or until they start to bubble and blacken a bit. Once done, cut your garlic in half and rub over the hot crusty surface of the bread, then brush on a wee bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm. Lefotvers can be stored in an airtight container and re-warmed in the oven, but they won't stay soft for much more than 24 hours.

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