Monday, August 8, 2011
There’s a very good chance you’ve seen friselle for sale in a store in Italy but didn’t realize what they were. You may even have picked them up, wondereing "Why on Earth would anyone buy such big, hard crackers?" They usually come wrapped up, in a pack of six, looking like so many flat, misshapen bialy-shaped rejects. Hard, dry and pretty ugly.
And even if they are labeled, friselle or frise, they wouldn’t call to mind anything you’d had in a restaurant. Because this is one of those things that never show up in on a restaurant menu (and please, correct me if I’m wrong). I have no idea why. I have a feeling it's one of those cucina povera dishes that is just waiting for a come back. (you heard it here)
Anyway. Friselle are a type of twice-baked bread from Puglia. They smallish ring shaped dough is baked until almost done. It’s then taken out, split in half, and baked again until it’s as hard as a rock. Meant to last for ages, I imagine it could be taken out to the fields by workers as a weather resistant meal. Or up to the fields with shepherds.
Although friselle sometimes show up as a substitute for bread in panzanella, they are more often served very simply, topped with fresh tomatoes. The friselle are briefly soaked in water first, drained and them heaped with the ripest summer tomatoes you can find. Of course olive oil and salt play a leading role.
I always keep some friselle in the pantry, since - as I mentioned - they last forever and are a good way to make use of the oh-my-god-we-have-too-many-tomatoes period that comes in August. For us it’s a lunch time meal. Never dinner. I prepare them about a 11:00 so that by 1:00 they’ve not only soaked up all the tomatoey goodness, but have also softened. You could call it a poor man's lunch. I call it a lazy girl's panzanella.
Friselle with Tomatoes
1 friselle per person*
1 large tomato per person
Core and chop the tomatoes into chunks. Place in bowl with salt, olive oil and basil. Let sit for at least a half hour, or more, so that the juices start accumulating in the bowl.
Fill a large bowl with tap water. Briefly soak each friselle in the water. For about 4 minutes. Take it out and gently squeeze excess water out, without breaking it apart. Lay on top of clean kitchen towel, face side down, to let excess water drain out, for about 10 minutes.
Place the friselle on a plate, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Top generously with tomatoes and their juices. Let sit for a couple of hours before serving.
This is of course wonderful served with fresh ricotta or mozzarella.
*I did a quick search for buying friselle online, and came up empty. I have a feeling that if you go into a high quality Italian food store, you'll be able to find them. Do let me know if you've found them anywhere. They are super easy to make, and there are lots of recipes online. Also, if you do happen to be in Italy, it's a light, inexpensive and delicious gift to bring back with you.