The signature dish of Gaeta is Tiella Gaetana, the traditional fare of the local mariners. It was perfect for the men of the sea – simple to eat, yet delicious. Tiella is made with two pastry crusts, brushed with plenty of oil and stuffed with a moderate amount of simple ingredients. It is then sealed and baked. True Tiella Gaetana has a number of peculiarities that make it unique. First of all, the border sealing the two disks of dough must always be wavy, like the sea. The dough itself is either made without oil, or the bottom and top of the pastry are brushed abundantly with extra virgin olive oil, either way – olive oil is an essential ingredient. Finally, the stuffing has a few rules of its own. The most classic of tiellas is made with octopus or squid, plus the world-famous Gaeta olives that are named after the town. To this, tomatoes, parsley and plenty of olive oil are added. However, there are many of variations: tiella alla Parmigiana is filled with eggplant, cheese, tomato and fresh basil, while others may be made with escarole and olives; escarole with bacclà; anchovies, tiny calamaretti and zucchini and cheese made from sheep milk represent just a few themes. Gaetana tradition requires that tiella should only be paired with wine, never water. A nice cool wine from Lazio or Campania goes well with the tiella and there are some traditions that should never be broken.
- 18 oz. of flour
- ¾ oz. of yeast
- 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of warm water
- 2 lbs. of boiled octopus or squid
- 2 oz. capers
- ½ cup of Gaeta olives pitted,
- ½ cup peeled tomatoes,
- handful cleaned Italian parsley
- salt and pepper
For the Crust
Combine warm water, yeast and olive oil in a small bowl. Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in liquid mixture with dry ingredients and mix well. Knead the dough by hand for 5 – 8 minutes on floured board. Transfer dough into a covered and oiled bowl. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area for 60 to 90 minutes, until it has doubled in size.
For the Filling
While the dough is rising, you can prepare the filling by chopping the boiled octopus or squid into small pieces and drizzling it with olive oil, chopped parsley, pepper and tomatoes. Then add the pitted olives, capers and mix well.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Take half the dough and roll it out just as you would a pie crust and layer it in a greased tiella pan (or deep dish pie pan). Add the filling, distribute it evenly and cover with the second half of the dough. Seal the edges of the two crusts together. For authenticity, the crust edges should rise and fall, like a wave of the sea. Allow the tiella to sit in a warm, draft free place for about 45 minutes before baking. Cooking should be in a preheated 350°F oven. Bake for at least 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let the tiella sit for 15 – 20 minutes before serving.
Spaghetti alle Vongole Gaetana
Spaghetti with clams is a favorite throughout the Lazio region, but the olives named for the town become an essential ingredient in this recipe.
- 2 lbs. clams
- 2 shallots
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 oz. white wine
- 1 cup Gaeta olives
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch of Italian parsley
- 4 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 oz. fish stock
Wash the olives, pit and chop. Wash the clams; discard the unopened ones. Peel and chop the shallots. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium-low flame and sauté the garlic until lightly brown. Add the clams. Deglaze the pan using the white wine. Add the fish stock and cover the pan. Cook for 6 – 8 minutes until the clams open. Strain the clams, while collecting the cooking sauce. Remove the meat from the clams although you may leave just a few in their shells for decoration. In the meantime, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water, until al dente, Drain. Bring the clam cooking sauce and fish broth to the boil. Add the chopped olives and parsley. Leave to cook over low flame for 3-4 minutes. Add salt. Add the spaghetti to the clam meat. Mix and serve.
Torta di Ricotta al Cioccolato
If you visit Gaeta, you’ll find that the most popular dessert in the town is gelato. There are gelaterias throughout the town, but in the restaurants you may come across delicious homemade cakes, one of which is this scrumptious chocolate ricotta cake.
- 4 eggs separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup ricotta
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ cup butter melted
- ½ cup mini chocolate chips
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- shortening to grease the cake pan
- pinch salt
- powdered sugar and chocolate for dusting
Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9″ cake pan by lightly coating it with shortening. Melt the butter on a low flame and then set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. Beat the egg yolks and sugar for about 1 ½ minutes, add the melted butter. Beat for about 30 seconds to incorporate the butter and add the ricotta. Again, beat for 30 seconds and then add flour, salt and baking powder; beat for 30 seconds, then add the egg whites and beat again for 30-45 seconds (until well combined). With a wooden spoon, fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into prepared cake pan and bake in pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes. Let cool, remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar and chocolate. Garnish with a mint leaf.