A Pie-like Stuffed Bread with Broccoli

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As it often happens with my garden’s vegetables, I forgot to cut the broccoli when it was still hard and firm. Now it had opened and was soon going to fill with tiny yellow flowers, but I knew that this didn’t mean it wasn’t still delicious. I separated the stems from the very tender tops, and cooked them in boiling water for about ten minutes; I added the tops and cooked for another four minutes, then drained everything through a fine colander.

There was quite a bit of green mash at the bottom of the colander, from the over-ripe florets. I diced the stems, added the green mash and decided to use it as stuffing for breads. I was inspired by Scacciata con i Broccoli, a Sicilian stuffed focaccia from Catania originally made with the purple, very flavorful broccoli that was once the only kind we had in Greece. We planted such old-fashioned broccoli two years ago, but since then, I haven’t been able to get seeds on time.

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Traditional Scacciata con i Broccoli, with ‘u bastardu’, as that purple cauliflower or broccoli is called, “can be imitated but never duplicated, since this variety of purple cauliflower is different from bunches of the same color that grow all over the world,” writes Vincent Ciaramitaro –who used to operate Focacceria Palermitana in Brooklyn. “This cauliflower that grows only at the foot of Mount Etna, has a different taste due to the different chemical composition of the soil that is mixed with the ashes of the volcano {…} u bastardu, grows only in season from autumn throughout the winter, its delicate and sweet taste and its aroma can be enjoyed during the winter holiday season when in Catania every family bakes the scacciate,” writes Ciaramitaro.

I didn’t follow the Sicilian recipes that balance the broccoli’s sweetness with anchovies and fresh cheese, or with olives, pancetta, or spicy sausage. I just used crumbled feta and Metsovone, the smoked cheese from Epirus that makes all pies taste delicious. After all this stuffed bread is only a little different from the traditional pies that are wrapped in home-made phylo pastry.

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Any kind of vegetables or greens, mixed with cheese, can be stuffing for pita –as pies are called in Greek. Women who roll thin, silky phylo in minutes, as my friend Stamatia, use it for the pie’s crust. I, on the other hand, am much more confident making bread dough, hence this Sicilian sciacciata is right down my alley. It is not the first time I make this kind of pie-like, stuffed bread. In my Foods of the Greek Islands I have the recipe for kalasouna, the cheese and onion pie from Folegandros. Modern cooks make the olive oil crust with baking powder, instead of yeast. Last spring, I used some of the abundant fresh fava from the garden to make a similar fava and cheese bread. If I remember correctly –I still look for my notes— I flavored the fava with plenty of green garlic and dill, and besides feta, I added some myzithra (the Greek ricotta).

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For the crust of the broccoli bread, instead of a simple pizza, or a semolina dough that the Sicilian recipes ask for, I used a piece from the aniseed-flavored, delicious dough for breadsticks, since I was baking yet one more batch today.  This dough, rich with olive oil and fragrant with spices, made a truly wonderful crust; infinitely better than the basic bread dough I had used in the spring for my fava-stuffed loaf!

RECIPE: Stuffed Bread with Broccoli and Cheese

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