Puccia alla spasa (flat bread) has been handed down for generations in the small municipalities of Lizzano and Pulsano, in the province of Taranto. In this area, already at the end of the 20th century, the peasants were mostly engaged in the cultivation of vines, for the production of what is now Primitivo di Manduria, and puccia alla spasa was a substantial and inexpensive meal to get through the hard days of work in the fields.
Today, puccia alla spasa is an ideal single dish, either an appetiser or a companion, to share with friends and relatives on patron saint’s days and other occasions.
Unlike the traditional puccia recipe, it is not a bread, but a stuffed focaccia. Instead of two discs of dough rolled out with a rolling pin to enclose the filling, puccia alla spasa is made from a single layer of leavened dough (made with durum wheat semolina and sourdough starter) rolled out by hand in the baking tin (hence the name ‘alla spasa’ or rolled out, also known as ‘alla tajedda’, in the baking tin). This sheet of dough is rolled out by the edges until it closes in the centre, enclosing the filling.
The filling is made up of all the typical flavours of the area: onions, black olives of the cellina di Nardò variety (known in dialect as ‘alle ‘nchiastre’, or water olives) flavoured with a few sprigs of myrtle or lemon peel, cuttlefish tarantina style or anchovy fillets; to finish, Manduria cherry tomatoes, capers and chilli pepper are also added.
The variations in the stuffing are due to the fact that the recipe has been passed down from generation to generation exclusively orally, with each local family making its own variation.
The close link with the family environment was also the main reason for its increasingly rapid disappearance. Indeed, the lifestyles of most young people leave the preparation of puccia alla spasa to the elderly, making it increasingly difficult to find.
The recipe is as follows: clean, slice into rounds the sponsali (a variety of long onion) and soak them in milk overnight.
The next day prepare the dough, which will have to rise while the stuffing cooks, by placing the flour in a bowl, spreading it out in the middle and breaking up the yeast (brewer’s yeast is fine if you don’t have mother yeast) with the sugar. Add enough warm water to dissolve the yeast, then, stirring with your fingertips, incorporate a little flour. Cover the dough with more flour, close the bowl with cling film or a tight-fitting lid and allow the yeast to activate. Wait about 20 minutes before kneading the dough, gradually adding the water, salt and lastly a little oil.
Once the dough is elastic, smooth and homogeneous, pull the edges towards the centre, make a ball and place the part where the edges have closed underneath. Leave it to rise, covered, until it has doubled in volume in a warm place.
In the meantime, drain the onion from the milk, but not very well, and stew it over a moderate heat in a pan with a little oil. When almost cooked, add the pitted olives, capers, anchovies and tomatoes. Adjust the salt if necessary and cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Now grease the baking tray and place the risen dough in it. Roll out the dough with greased hands until it extends beyond the circumference of the baking tray. Spread the filling on top, then gently pull the edges of the dough away from the edge of the pan and close them in the middle. Leave the puccia to rest, covered with a dampened cloth, to allow the dough to rise again; grease the surface with extra virgin olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 200°C until golden brown. When cooked, cover the puccia alla spasa with a damp cloth and leave to cool before serving.