PARIS -- I've always been a sucker for any kind of bread, but flatbreads are truly my favorite. Tortillas, both corn and flour. Pita bread. Indian naan, cooked in a tandoor (clay) oven. Italian focaccia, made with olives, rosemary or potatoes. Fougasse, from the south of France. Flatbreads are easily to tear apart, and often provide a practical way to scoop up food without using a knife and fork. Stuff them, top them or simply enjoy them on their own, bit by bit.
The thing about flatbreads is that they make any meal that much more special -- you don't have to tell people that flatbreads are really easy, which they are, and that they really don't take that much time, which they don't.
Flatbreads can be made with or without leavening. They can be thick or thin, puffy with a hole in the middle or flat as a saltine cracker. They don't require any special equipment or skills, and they're by nature an easy and rustic thing, first made by the Romans, who baked focaccia in fireplace ashes, or the French, who later made a flatbread to test the oven temperature -- which may be a much better method than the one I'm using today. No matter how many gauges I scatter about the inside of my oven in a desperate attempt to monitor the temperature, the heat lurches up and hiccups like a fire-breathing dragon. Maybe I just need to bake more flatbreads, which love as much heat as you can throw at them.
To prove how versatile these breads are, I've got a recipe for one that you can make on the stovetop and one that'll work in the oven. The sundried-tomato flatbread, made with yeast, is a bit thicker and bready; the crispy rosemary-pepper flatbread is cracker-thin, its rise powered by baking powder.
Despite the ongoing feud with my little oven, I've had great success with flatbreads, which just goes to show you how easy and adaptable they are.
Crispy rosemary-pepper flatbread
Break this crackerlike flatbread into jagged pieces for dipping, snacking or serving with salads or soups. It'll disappear quickly, so you may want to double the batch.
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
About 1/2 teaspoon pepper (or about 6 turns on the pepper mill)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
1. Adjust a rack to the lowest setting in your oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, 1 tablespoon rosemary, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add water and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon until a ball forms.
2. Using your hands, knead dough a little bit to make sure everything's combined, then divide it into four pieces. Take out a piece and put a piece of plastic wrap over the rest.
3. Place the dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and sprinkle the top with a tiny bit of flour. Stretch the dough out with your hands as much as you can, then use a rolling pin to make it as thin as possible. Brush on a little olive oil, add a bit more fresh pepper, and slide into the oven for 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Repeat with the other pieces.
To serve: If you're serving this right away, simply crack the flatbreads into pieces and sprinkle the rest of the rosemary on top. You can also let them fully cool, break them up, put them in a sealable plastic bag, and serve them later. Just hang on to the rosemary so you can add it when you do.
Note: Nutritional analysis was unavailable.