30 May 2013

AUNTIE PASTA; Tiella di Gaeta

CHIAVARI, Italy - There may be a lot of things to see and do in Gaeta, but  the two main reasons for going there are the food and the beaches. Seeing that the town is equal distance from Naples and Rome, this little city on the sea is a major get-a-way destination for both of those metropolises.
Aragonese Castle in Gaeta  

Gaeta kicked off the summer season last weekend with a food fest that was really a love fest for the town’s most famous dish, the tiella. I’ve written about tiella before, that Auntie Pasta post was called Song of the South, (http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4191681270252851547#allposts), but that was the tiella from Bari. This is a whole ‘nuther thing.

So how can a tiella from Bari be different from a tiella from Gaeta? The secret to that little mystery is that “tiella” isn’t what you are eating, it’s what the thing you are eating has been cooked in. A tiella is a type of pot with a lid. It comes from the Latin word tegella, and it changes depending on where you are in Italy.
Tiella Fest

In Modena the original Latin tegella becomes tigella, in Puglia it’s tieed, in Lazio and Campagna it’s tiella and in Abruzzo it is tijella. The word has come to represent the things cooked in it, much like Americans say casserole,” which is actually a French word for saucepan. 

And not to go too far astray, just as the word changes from the original Latin, depending on the area you are in, what goes in the tiella changes as well. In some regions a tiella is a kind of focaccia, sometimes with a filling and sometimes without. In other areas it is complete meal that is layered in the pot, but without a crust.
Tiella, Tiella and More Tiella 
And then there is the Gaeta tiella, which isn’t like any of the above. In Gaeta, it not only has a crust, it has two of them, one on top and one on the bottom, like a pie except it isn’t filled with apples or cherries, but fish or vegetables.

There’s a humptydoodle story about the origin of Gaeta’s tiella that says it was invented by Ferdinand IV of the Spanish house of Bourbon. The Spanish House of Bourbon was a powerful royal dynasty that at one time or another ruled most of Europe. For that reason alone I find it hard to believe that good King Ferdinand put his lily white hands in the dough one day when he was out fishing with the natives, and made the first tiella. He just doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who’s going to sit down and have a beer with you, let alone start messing around chopping fish and rolling out dough. 

Gaeta’s tiella is not hard to make if you are a cook. Because Gaeta is on the sea, the most popular fillings are octopus and squid, along with a few tomatoes to keep the filling moist. Other good fillings are fillings sardines, anchovies, escarole and cod as well as spinach, zucchini and onions. Not all at once, of course. The secret of a good tiella is to keep the filling soft but not soggy, the dough must be thin and well cooked and to use top quality ingredients, but you already know that.

Gaeta’s Tiella

500 grams of flour,
20 g of yeast,
3 tablespoons of olive oil,
200 ml of warm water,
1 kg of boiled octopus or squid,
50g capers,
100 g of Gaeta olives pitted,
100 g of peeled tomatoes,
parsley, pepper, salt

For the Crust

Combine warm water, yeast and oil in a small bowl.
Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
Stir in liquid mixture onto dry ingredients, mix well.
Knead by hand for 5 minutes on floured board.
Transfer dough into covered and oiled bowl.  Let rise in a warm, draft free place for 1-1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.

For the Filling
While the dough is rising, you can prepare the filling by chopping the boiled octopus or squid into small pieces and drizzling it with olive oil, parsley, pepper and tomatoes. Then add the pitted olives and capers, and mix.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Take half the dough and roll it out just as you would a pie crust, and layer it in a greased tiella pan (or deep dish pie pan). Add the filling, distribute it evenly, and cover with the second half of the dough. Then seal the edges of the two crusts together.

Let it sit (in a warm, draft free place) for about 45 minutes, then bake in a preheated 180°C oven for at least 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Let sit for about15 - 20 minutes before serving.


  1. My mom, who was born in Gaeta and came to the US in the 30's, used to make "squid pie" for my dad. We kids would neve eat it thinking it was gross. Who knew it was a popular dish and am glad to see the recipe wasn't lost.....will try it some day but I am sure it won't be as good as mom's.

  2. I too was born in Gaeta. Lost my moms recipe and am thrilled to see it. Thanks a million and
    Happy New Yesr

  3. My father was born in Gaeta and we have been making "squid pie" my whole life. The "brave" kids at school would try a bite when I brought it for lunch. Everyone loved it.

  4. My family is from Formia, just across from Gaeta. I visited several times in my youth and vividly remember my aunt making squid pie. I loved it from the first bite and have never forgotten it. I'm now 65 and have been thinking about this pie lately. So glad to come across this recipe, and I can't wait to try it.