I don’t always feel up to cooking a full dinner on weeknights, so I’m constantly trying to come up with what I call “blank slate” recipes that I can plug seasonal produce into at any time of year that allow me to put a meal on the table without having to think too much. Flatbread is one the best of these “blank slates.” The rolled-out dough becomes an empty canvas, for you to top with any combination of flavor and color that can be scooped out of the palette of your pantry. The dough can be flavored with various herbs and spices to suit your mood, or the season, as well.
Flatbread also lends itself well to being made ahead. You can mix a no-knead dough up the day before (I like to throw fennel seeds in mine), and it will be ready to go when you’re ready to bake. My all time favorite fall combination is also incredibly simple: wild mushrooms sautéed in sherry vinegar and butter, a soft, rich cheese, fresh herbs, and a whisper of flaky sea salt. I’m especially keen on black lava salt these days.
I like to use cheese from my home state of Tennessee. A local creamery called Sequatchie Cove makes a camembert style cheese called Dancing Fern, and it’s become a quick favorite flatbread topper. But any camembert, brie or similar soft cheese with a nice washed rind cheese would stand in beautifully. I tend to use whatever herbs I have on hand, but my favorites are fennel frond (to echo the fennel seed in the crust), flat leaf parsley, chives, and a snap of fresh thyme.
The key to a good, crispy flatbread is twofold: a stone & a screamingly hot oven. Get your oven as hot as it will get. The ultra hot oven, plus the stone (which you allow to heat inside the oven as it comes to temperature so it’s also very hot), mimic the high temperatures of traditional ovens to create a perfect bubbling, crispy crust. When made this way, the flatbread bakes in a matter of minutes, so all that’s left to do is set the table, pour the wine, and enjoy a simple dinner. Any night of the week, it’s a perfect way to end the day.
Ingredients for No-Knead Dough
(Enough for 4 small flatbreads)
500 grams of flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds lightly ground with a mortar & pestle
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
360 grams water
1. Whisk flour, salt, fennel seed, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours.
2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 4 equal portions. Form into balls by pulling all of the corners into the center. Place them seam side down. Dust dough balls with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet.
3. Let the dough balls rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel about 1 hour.
Note: This dough can be made 3 days ahead of baking. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 2–3 hours before shaping.
4. During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare your oven: Arrange a pizza stone on the rack in upper third of oven; preheat the oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°, for 1 hour.
5. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a rough 10″–12″ rectangle. There’s no need to be precise about the shape.
6. When ready to bake, increase oven heat to broil. Sprinkle a wooden pizza board lightly with flour or cornmeal. Place dough disk on prepared board and top with desired toppings, see recipe option below.
7. Using small, quick back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from board onto hot pizza stone. Broil pizza, rotating halfway, until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, 5–7 minutes.
8. Using board, transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 5 minutes between pizzas.
The flatbread can be topped with any combination of ingredients you wish, below is my current favorite.
Splash of sherry vinegar
Soft cheese, such as camembert or brie
Fresh herbs, such as fennel front, thyme, flat leaf parsley, and chives
Flaky sea salt
1. Heat a cast iron or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and once butter has just melted add your mushrooms. Cook without stirring or turning for about five minutes or until they are browned. Turn the mushrooms and give them another 3-5 minutes to brown the other side. Add the splash of sherry vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, and stir. Cook an additional few minutes. Remove from heat.
2. To assemble the flat bread, place the cheese on your formed dough, top with mushrooms. Bake for 5-10 minutes until crispy, bubbly, and browned. Remove from oven, and top with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and a whisper of sea salt. Enjoy hot!
Photography, story and recipe by Beth Kirby, who journals on her website Local Milk.