It’s not everyday that the mainstays of Indian, Italian, and Middle-Eastern cuisines combine, but when they do, you’ll wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.
Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads take Italian pesto, Middle-Eastern pita-bread dough, and the Indian method of cooking parathas (stuffed, unleavened breads) and meld all the flavors into an addicting appetizer. (Just ask Aidan, he ate 4 flatbreads within a few hours.)
The flatbreads are grilled in a cast iron skillet and have a chewy, almost bubbly texture that’s better than any oven baked bread. But the star ingredient in this dish is without a doubt the pesto.
Traditional Italian pesto is made by combining fresh basil, salt, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan into a smooth paste. If you (understandably) don’t have pine nuts on hand, you can substitute an equal volume of toasted almonds. Admittedly, this will cause a few Italian grandmothers to roll over in their graves, but much fewer than would if you omitted the nuts altogether. Moral of the story: never leave out nuts in your pesto.
The bread dough is simple, and incredibly easy to make, even if you’re not familiar with using yeast. Just let the yeast proof with some warm water, sugar, and oil until bubbly, then add flour and salt. Knead it by hand or in a standing mixer until it looks just like this:
Once the dough has been kneaded, it has to rise for about an hour until doubled in size. This serves two purposes: it lets the network of proteins in the flour (mainly gluten) relax, making for a more cooperative dough when it comes time to shape the flatbreads. Secondly, the rising time lets the yeast produce carbon dioxide gas, which forms small air bubbles in the dough and prevents the finished bread from looking like a brick.
The dough should go from this:
The hardest part of this recipe is forming the flatbreads, which can take a little practice, but anyone can do it. Just turn your dough out onto a floured surface, and divide it into 8 pieces.
Take one piece and flatten it into a small circle about 2 1/2″ in diameter, then spread 1 heaping teaspoon of pesto into the center.
Fold the edges of the dough into the center and seal the edges tightly by pinching the seam. Now pinch the seam again; you don’t want to have to deal with a pesto explosion.
Now, carefully stretch the dough into a circle about 5-6″ in diameter. If you let your dough rise long enough, it should be pliable and this process should be fairly easy. If the dough resists stretching, set it aside for 5 minutes while you shape another flatbread, then try again. The end result should look like this; you know you’re on the right track when the dough has been stretched thin enough to see the flecks of basil in the center.
Don’t worry if the flatbread isn’t completely smooth because any uneven surfaces end up working to your advantage, adding texture by allowing the surface to cook almost unevenly so that certain areas are deeply browned and crisp and other parts are soft and pillowy.
Now to cook them, heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Lay the flatbread in the pan, then cover with a lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the underside is brown and the top has bubbled up.
Flip the flatbread and cook for another 2 minutes until the other side is brown as well. Remove the flatbread to a plate and cover with a clean dishtowel, and cook the remaining 7 flatbreads.
While one flatbread cooks, you can shape the remaining flatbreads to save time. Serve these as soon as possible so that when you rip them open, a burst of basil-perfumed steam escapes into the air.
These flatbreads will impress anyone you serve them to, whether it’s for a weekend lunch or a summertime barbeque. Dip them in olive oil, pair them with fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, or simply serve them hot, straight out of the pan.
Pesto Stuffed Flatbreads
Makes 8 flatbreads
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup warm water (about 100F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (If you want to make these with whole wheat flour, use 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup whole wheat flour.)
For the flat-bread dough:
1. Place the water, yeast, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let sit until the yeast has begun foaming, about 5 minutes. Mix to recombine.
2. Add in the salt and flour, and slow mix (low speed if using a standing mixer) until all the flour is incorporated. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and knead for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and glossy and springs back easily when pinched. If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, glossy and springy.
3. Return the dough to the original bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until almost doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.
While the dough is rising, make the pesto:
1. Add the basil, garlic, salt, and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well chopped, about 8 pulses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well incorporated and the pesto is a smooth sauce.
3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the parmesan. Adjust with additional salt to taste and set aside.
To cook the flatbreads:
1. Once the dough has fully risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Taking one piece of dough at a time, roll it out to a circle 6 inches in diameter and place a tablespoon of pesto in the center, spreading the pesto to a circle 2-3 inches in diameter.
2. Fold the edges of the dough into the center so that the end result looks like a hockey puck of bread dough, with no visible pesto, making sure all edges are very tightly sealed. Carefully roll out the dough into another circle, this time to a thin circle about 8 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
3. To cook, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes until very hot. Gently lay one flatbread in the pan and cover, letting it cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan lid and flip the flatbread, letting it cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Don’t worry if it puffs up, that means everything is going well!
4. Remove the cooked flatbread from the pan and cover with a dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads, and serve immediately.