The City of Des Moines has a deep history of Italian traditions and deep Italian roots. As a child growing up on the city's south side my family was the only family in the neighborhood that wasn't Italian- I'm not kidding!! The elderly couple who lived next door were known to me as Gramma and Grampa Fazio and believe me Gramma shared her fantastic food and baked treats with us all the time. Just a few miles away from my neighborhood was an area of the city known as Little Italy, and here many Italian families settled, opened restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and celebrated their heritage.
The Italian American Festival was a big event in the community. In those days the festival was held in Columbus Park and featured rides, Italian food, bocce tournaments, traditional music and entertainment, games and fellowship with Italian and non-Italians alike. During my junior high years, the Italian Festival was a big big big event every summer. My best friend Liz and I would spend hours doing our hair, nails, makeup, trying on outfits and then pile in the car with either set of parents for a ride to the festival, where we would surely run into whatever guys we had our eyes on. Back then we didn't really appreciate the significance of the festival or the traditions its celebrated but it left a lasting memory.
Man of the businesses of those days have come and gone, and Little Italy no longer is a primarily Italian part of the city. The Italian American Festival has long since moved to new grounds but a few reminders of those days remain- like Graziano Brothers, an Italian specialty store known for its incredible sausage, fabulous breads, olives and seasonings. Just steps away from Graziano Brothers is Tumea and Sons, a family owned Italian restaurant that has been around as long as I can remember.
Fast forward to today and The Chef and I were discussing what to cook. Now that's often a topic of conversation at our house- with two very accomplished cooks we usually have to have a plan. So The Chef was talking about a spicy roll his dad used to buy from Graziano Brothers. He kept calling them "pitagazardi" and neither of us could find any recipe for such an item. The Chef put the appeal on social media and before long our friend George, a well known local chef and food historian, gave us the name- Pitta Con Sarde. A quick call to Graziano's to see if they had any left another wrinkle in the plan- they don't actually make them, they are made at Tumea and Sons and occasionally sold at the store. Sigh. We won't be going to Graziano's to buy goodies today. Can we make these ourselves??
The Chef described in detail what the rolls were like, and even though Google didn't really help at all, I knew I'd be able to come up with a very close version. I was totally relying on his description because I have never had these before- never heard of them before. Amazingly enough we had everything we needed so I set about recreating the rolls The Chef is craving, the pitta con sarde.
As a baker, making a yeast dough is right up my alley so the real challenge was going to be the filling. The Chef knew it was deep red and spicy and he knew there were anchovies in it. We had a couple red bell peppers in the veggie drawer so they went over the open flame on the stovetop to roast and char. The bread dough came together quickly and easily and rose beautifully in the warm kitchen- it was also canning day. If you have ever made homemade cinnamon rolls, you know how to rolls these guys. The dough was soft and not a bit sticky so it rolled out great and rolled up like a dream. Here is the recipe.
Pitta Con Sarde
2 1/4 cups flour
1 packet yeast
1 tsp flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tb olive oil
3/4 cup barely warm water
additional olive oil
2 red bell peppers or equivalent amount of canned roasted red pepper, drained and patted dry
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves fresh garlic
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2-3 tablespoons crushed red pepper
1 tb Italian seasoning
2 tb anchovy paste OR a small jar anchovies*
1 tb olive oil
* I used an entire small jar of anchovies- think of the tiny jars of jam or mustard that come in gift baskets- that size.
To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together the flour, salt, Parmesan cheese and yeast. Place on the mixer and fix the dough hook. Add the oil to the bowl, followed by the warm water. Let the dough hook mix the dough until it forms a ball. Leaving the dough hook in place, cover with plastic and let the dough rest 15 minutes or so. Then using the dough hook, knead the dough a good 7 or 8 minutes until smooth and pliable and comes off the hook easily. Place the dough in an oiled bowl turn to coat, then cover and let rise about and hour and a half until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the filling. Roast the peppers over an open flame until charred (or under the broiler), then cool and peel, remove seeds.
|I had a red bell pepper and a red and orange striped Enjoya|
bell pepper. The colors are so gorgeous.
In the work bowl of a food processor combine all filling ingredients and puree. Set aside for later.
After the dough has risen, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently roll out into a rectangular shape approximately 10x13 or so. Spread the filling evenly over the dough leaving 1/2 inch border on one long edge. Begin rolling up and continue, like cinnamon rolls, pinching the edges to seal.
Slice the dough and place in oiled baking pans. I used 8 inch square pans, you can use round if you like. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about an hour.
Brush with melted butter, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Brush again with melted butter and serve.
Now, as I've said, I have never had these rolls before so I can't compare with the ones made at Tumea and Sons, but The Chef proclaimed them "so @#$%^&* good" so I take that as a compliment. I loved the tender yeasty bread dough, the crispy bottom and the soft spicy filling. The red pepper makes it's presence known, as does that crushed red pepper. The paprika adds a smoky sweetness and the anchovy, like always, is not really something you can taste- no fishy taste at all- but the savory salty richness is in the forefront.