Sperlonga has been just about my favorite place on earth for well over twenty years. When Giulia was little we used to spend the month of June in a spartan, but charming beachfront apartment. Back then I was the only foreigner in Sperlonga, literally. Only the big hotels (and big still meant fairly small and family owned) had sdrai or lounge chairs, on the beach. No phone, no television and internet was unheard of. In a word, heaven. We bought all our food on a daily basis from local fish vendors, fruit & vegetable stands and a local alimentare, the same one I've been going to for twenty plus years.
On Friday my daughter and I, along with some visitors from London, decided to "escape" the heat by hopping a train down to Sperlonga. It was one of those hot, humid Italian days with no hint of a breeze. We rented sdrai and ombrelloni on the beach. These days there's not a square foot of beachfront area where you can throw down a towel and lay in the sand. In the end, I spent the entire day under the umbrella fantasizing about returning to the peace and quiet of my pool. But it was great fun all the same. The view of the hill town of Sperlonga alone made the excursion worth it. I never tire of that view. The water was clean and crisp and delightful: Sperlonga prides itself on having the top water cleanliness rating along the coast.
For me it always boils down to the food and Sperlonga offers plenty to satisfy. We kept it simple: a few gelati from the Pasticceria Fiorelli which, in addition to amazing ice cream, has the best doughnuts in Italy.
Then it was on to the same alimentare we've been going to for decades, still owned by Carmina and Sandro, still with the same ebullient sales girls working the banco gastronomico (deli counter). They are not girls, or even young women; they can't be if I've known them almost a quarter of a century. But they look it. They're so friendly and welcoming that I usually end up purchasing much more than I intended to.
We always buy plenty of mozzarella di bufala, made just hours before: warm and succulent and redolent of fresh buffalo milk. Our London guests ate theirs as soon as we left the shop, right out of the bag and dripping with milky flavor.
Carmina and Sandro's alimentare is always fully stocked with tielle. They're so good I usually buy a small slice of every kind. The tiella, typical to the Gulf of Gaeta, is something in between a pizza and a calzone. It's the shape of a pizza with a softer dough, and filled, like a calzone.
Like so many Laziale gastronomical specialties, the tiella was born a poor man's food and a way to use up leftovers. The local favorite is filled with calamari, tomato, olive oil, parsley and a touch of peperoncino (below right). The tiella alla parmigiana is filled with eggplant, cheese, tomato and fresh basil. Another popular filling is potatoes and zucchini (below left).
These tielle are all filled with assorted fresh vegetables cooked in local olive oil, cheese, prosciutto and mortadella.
Legend has it that Frederick IV of Bourbon, who ruled the Neapolitan Republic for a time during the 16th century, was so fascinated with the tiella that he came up with the idea to honor it by creating different types, each with different tasty fillings.
The name comes from the round teglia (hence tiella) or baking sheet used to bake tielle. A disc of dough is placed in the teglia, filling is placed on top and then a second disc of dough is placed over the filling.
The best recipes I've run across for the Tiella di Gaeta made with polipi and calamari are in Italian. It's such a simple dish that it should be fairly easy to follow, even in Italian:
Here is my simple recipe to prepare the dough, which you can also use for pizza:
- Flour, 1 kg
- Yeast, one cake
- 1 Tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tsp salt
- 300 ml water, plus an additional 200 ml water as needed
- Combine 300 ml of tepid water with the yeast and sugar. Gradually combine the yeast mixture & flour.
- As needed, add the additional 200 ml water so that you have a soft, kneadable dough. Add the salt and 1 tbsp oil to the dough.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth & elastic, about 5 minutes.
- Put the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil into a large bowl, and place the dough in the bowl, covering it with the oil.
- Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Punch dough down & make into 6 to 10 dough balls.
- Roll each ball into a disc, or rectangle, that will just fit into a wide-rimmed baking sheet.