07 November 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: La Bella Parigina

CHIAVARI, Italy - Italians have been making and eating pizza for a long, long time. It probably started back in the days when every Italian housewife made her own bread dough and took it down to the village oven to be baked.  Frugal souls that they were, they would take the left over bits of bread dough, spread a little something on them, maybe just olive oil, and bake those bread bits along with their loaves of bread and have themselves a tasty snack.
 Bella Napoli
Sometimes, depending on what they had, they would roll the dough up with the filling inside and then bake it. It was common practice throughout Italy. Over the years, pizza rustica started to take on different forms. At some point someone got the idea to fold the dough in half with the filling in the middle, thus creating a calzone.

The biggest change came after Colombus discovered America and Italy discovered tomatoes. Once the Italians figured out they could eat those strange fruits from the New World and not drop dead, they started putting tomatoes on everything. In Naples they made a type of rustic pie from dough beaten very thin and topped with tomatoes and grated cheese. On fast days they topped them with olive oil, fresh anchovies and a touch of garlic. 

 It Starts Like This
 So while the Neapolitans made culinary history when they developed the pizza Margherita, which they name in honor of the Queen of Italy, Margherita Maria Theresa Giovanna, most Neapolitans and other Italians were eating a similar version of that pizza long before Italy even had a queen.

But nothing ever stays the same, especially in the food world. It has by tradition an evolving nature. So when Naples passed from under the Spanish to the Austrians and then on to the French, there were changes in the way Neapolitans ate.  One of the major changes was the introduction of puff pastry, which the French preferred over regular bread dough. In some cases it replaced regular bread dough in some recipes making what was once soft and chewy, crisp and crunchy. You have to wonder if they would have been as enthusiastic about puff pastry if they knew it was a version of phyllo dough, but I digress.  

 And Then Do This
So with Naples under French rule, and the French fondness for puff pastry, it’s no surprise that even though the French are long gone, the Neapolitans favorite snack is still the Parigina. The Parigina is a delicious combination of puff pastry, ham, cheese and tomato sauce and it is to Naples what foccacia is to the Genovese – culinary heaven.

Some rosticcerie make their Parigina with pizza or bread dough for the bottom layer and puff pastry for the top. Others use all puff pastry. It’s a personal choice. The pizza/bread dough on the bottom is nice because it’s soft and chewy and it goes well with the crispier puff pastry top. Those two contrasting dough textures, together with the ham, cheese and tomato filling make this easy dish is a real winner. 

 Then Add the Cheese, the Sauce and the Top Layer of Dough
But enough talk, let’s get down to the good stuff. This is a ‘by eye’ recipe, since it depends on how big or small your Parigina is, but it’s such a simple recipe I doubt you will have any problems with it at all, especially when you look at the photos.
 La Bella Parigina

 The basic ingredients for the Parigina filling are:


Bread/pizza dough or puff pastry (buy it ready made at the grocery store)
Tomatoes – (peeled tomatoes pureed in a food processor, canned tomato puree or your own tomato sauce)
Sliced boiled ham
Slices of provola cheese

Plus –
1 egg yolk and
2 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk to baste the top layer of dough with
And a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil to grease your pan

Put a layer of dough (pizza, bread or puff) in your greased pan. Spoon a layer of pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce over it. Cover the tomatoes with a layer of boiled ham slices. Then add a layer of sliced provolo cheese. Spoon another layer of pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce over the cheese. Cover with the second layer of dough. Seal the edged tightly.

Beat an egg yolk in a little heavy cream or milk in a small bowl and brush over the top of the top of the dough. Bake in a hot oven – 200 C/400F for about 30 minutes. It has to sit for about 10 minutes before you cut and serve it. Best served warm but you can keep it in the refrigerator for a day or so if it is in a covered container.

That’s it.

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