Tarongia pairs a flatbread (that’s wonderful enough to enjoy on its own) with a topping of sun-dried tomatoes, pecorino cheese, anchovies, green olives, capers, red onion, fennel, and red serrano peppers. It’s like tasting the sunshiny essence of Sicily.
In the world of pizza-like delights, tarongia stands out as being extra special because the base is every bit as good as the top. And that rare, standalone merit comes from the ingredients in the exceptional flatbread and how you cook it.
As you’d expect, the dough for a tarongia’s crust is made with flour, yeast, water, and salt – the same sparse ingredients you’d use to create the base for a classic Neapolitan-style pizza. But, for tarongia, the dough is enriched with honey, red wine, olive oil, and all the tangy zest from a good-sized lemon.
As to how you cook it, well, before it gets its topping, the base is completely ‘sealed’ by being fried hot-and-fast on both sides in olive oil. The underside gets a little more heat to turn it crisply golden and to give it a few spots of light char. You then layer on the filling and finish the tarongia quickly under a hot broiler or grill.
This combo of fast frying and grilling means the base of your tarongia really is a ‘crust’ and its topped center doesn’t turn unpleasantly soggy.
Tarongia’s topping: hot, salty, sharp, and slightly sweet
There are plenty of intense, salty flavors here coming from the anchovies, capers, and the essential pecorino cheese. But that salty hit is mellowed by the rich sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes, the red onion, and the mild, sweetly aniseed-like taste of the fennel.
So, why pecorino cheese in particular? Made from sheep’s milk, a good, pale yellow pecorino should be pretty hard and dry like Parmesan, but have a noticeably sharper, saltier tang to it. It’s grand in a tarongia’s topping because it really highlights the strong character of all the other flavors.
Same goes for the green olives, as opposed to riper, milder-tasting black olives. They’re here to act as powerful reinforcements, emphasising the balance between your tarongia’s blend of potent and subtle tastes.
As for the serrano peppers, fresh red ones play two different roles. First, a couple of them get finely chopped and gently cooked along with the fennel, onion, and tomatoes in a little olive oil. These add a pervasive, warm depth that flows right through the topping. And then there’s a far more immediate, brighter heat that comes from a pair of serranos that are sliced into 1/4-inch disks and scattered over the toppings just before the tarongias go under your hot broiler or grill.
A richly satisfying fusion of multi-cultural flavors
In his cookbook, “Moorish”, chef Ben Tish explores the flavors of the southern Mediterranean and tells how the region’s cuisine is still heavily influenced by ingredients and techniques first introduced some 1300 years ago by colonizing Berbers from North Africa and Middle Eastern Arabs – collectively known as the Moors.
Our recipe for tarongia is inspired by the one in ‘Moorish’, and we’ve added two items that feature in a great deal of Sicilian cooking, olives and capers.
Olives have been harvested on Sicily for about 4,000 years, so using them here is backed by a lot of history. Not only do they add another dimension of distinctive flavor to our tarongia, they also bring in some nicely contrasting color and texture.
And the Aeolian island of Salina off the north eastern coast of Sicily is famous for its capers, and they’re regularly referred to as being the world’s finest.
Not being able to find any of those, I used some I already had – from Spain and packed in mild, briny vinegar. And I especially liked the tart, almost mustard-like pepperiness they added to the topping.
Toning down the saltiness – if that suits you better
This is really easy to do if you feel things are going to be too salty for your taste. They weren’t for the good buddy I enjoyed this with, but we do like salty food.
To drop those levels, gently rinse the anchovies and capers in a little milk and then let them drain before you use them.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Beef Churrasco With Argentine Flatbreads And Chimichurri: There is so much going on in this meal, and yet it’s so simple, deliciously primitive in its flavors.
- Spicy Marinated Olives: Something simple, like these olives, make for an excellent Mediterranean appetizer for this meal.
- Bunny Chow: If you’ve never experienced this tasty, South African hand-held food, now’s the time.
For the dough
- 16 ounces white bread flour I used a ‘00’ Italian brand – plus 2 tablespoons for dusting the work surface you’ll use to knead the dough and roll it.
- ¼ ounce dried yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 ½ tablespoons dry red wine
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ teaspoon finely ground sea salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest approximately the zest from one medium-sized lemon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil for frying the bases hot and fast
For the topping
- 4 red serrano peppers The plump ones I used were each a little over 2 inches long. Chop 2 finely and the other 2 into 1/4-inch discs.
- 6 ounces sun-dried tomatoes roughly chopped. I used the sort that come packed in olive oil in a jar – and drained off the oil leaving me with 6 ounces of tomatoes.
- 2 bulbs fennel medium-sized. Cut into 1/8-inch slices, including the soft green stalks and the hair-like fronds.
- 2 red onions medium-sized, peeled, halved and cut into ¼ inch slices.
- 12 capers roughly chopped
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 ounces pecorino cheese grated
- 24 anchovy fillets
- 12 green olives pitted, halved
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
Making the dough
- The dough needs 1 hour and 15 minutes to rise, so we’ll start with that, using a mixing bowl that will easily hold all the dough’s ingredients.
- Thoroughly mix the 16 ounces flour with the salt and yeast, and then stir in ½ the water. I used a stout wooden spoon for this and stirred until I had a dry, crumbly mix. Once that happens, add the lemon zest, red wine, honey, and olive oil. Keep stirring until all the ingredients are completely combined – that’ll take a few minutes of thorough stirring.
- Although the dough may seem too sticky, don’t worry, that’s the way it should be, and it will firm up a lot as you knead it.
- Now turn the dough onto a flour-dusted surface and knead it for five minutes. If the dough sticks to the surface, just add another dusting of flour and continue kneading.
- Form the kneaded dough into a ball, return it to the bowl and cover with a barely damp tea towel. Let it sit like that for 60 minutes – during that time the dough will rise to around double its original size. And while that’s happening, you’ll have ample time to prep and cook your topping.
Making the topping
- I used a heavy 12-inch skillet for this, and then used the same skillet for frying the bases.
- Set your skillet on a medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Let the oil heat for a minute then add the fennel and onion. Drop the heat to low-medium and gently stir fry until the onion and fennel have softened but not taken on any color – about five minutes on that low-medium heat.
- Now add the sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped serrano peppers, capers and black pepper. Continue stir frying for another 2 minutes and then turn the lot into a bowl ready for topping the bases once you’ve rolled and fried them.
- **Rolling and frying the bases
- Once the dough has had its hour’s rising, turn it out of the bowl and use your hands to form it into six evenly sized balls.
- On a flour-dusted surface, roll each ball into a circle that’s 1/3 of an inch thick and about 8 inches in diameter. Let each base sit and rise a little for 15 minutes before you start frying each one hot-and-fast.
- To do that, set your skillet onto a high heat and add a tablespoon olive oil. As soon as the oil starts shimmering, but not smoking, drop the heat to medium-high and add your first rolled base. It will start to swell and bubble almost at once which is exactly what you want. Let the base fry on that medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then carefully – and I mean carefully – turn it over and let it sizzle away for another 90 seconds.
- Remove the base and set it aside on kitchen towel to soak up any excess oil. Repeat this hot-and-fast frying for the next 3 bases, keeping each one separate from the others.
- For this frying, bear in mind that you’re aiming to give what will be the underside of each base a good golden, crisping color, with a few spots of char. The upper-side, which gets the topping, doesn’t need to be fried to the same extent because its edges are going to get the full heat of your broiler / grill.
Topping and grilling your tarongias
- Set your broiler / grill to high and place a flat baking sheet about 4 inches below the heat source.
- As it’s coming up to heat, spread the fried topping evenly over the upper-side of each base, smoothing it out to within ½ an inch of the edges of each one. Then sprinkle each topped base with grated pecorino cheese. Nearly time for grilling.
- Add an equal, evenly spaced share of anchovies, green olives, and sliced serrano peppers to each topped base. They’re now ready to be grilled hot-and-fast for about 90 seconds or so.
- I grilled two at time on that pre-heated, flat baking sheet and removed the tarongias as soon as the exposed rims of their crusts just started to take on a little char. Serve at once.
- I served mine with few torn leaves of basil scattered over each one, along with a few sprigs of fresh young rosemary.