The introduction to this recipe in my Mom’s cookbook, Breads From Betsy’s Kitchen, says: “Pita bread is a staple of the Middle East. It goes by different names in various countries – Peda, Pide, Pitta, Ramadan Bread. It is flat bread that puffs up when baked on the bottom of a hot oven*. The hollow inside is perfect to fill with stir-fried or grilled foods. You can also use pita to shovel food from the plate to your mouth!”
Starting to roll out the rounds
The introduction is instructive on two accounts. The first is her direction to bake something on the bottom of the oven. I don’t know what ovens of yesteryear were like, but my oven has a large heating element on the bottom that burns red hot. Below that, there are bits of things that really ought to come out (but I only think of them when the oven is on). I suspect that the bits are melted cheese from the cheese breads I make. I’m not sure I really want to think about them any more than that…
Place on oiled parchment (never oiled parchment before but it turned out to be a good idea)
The other part of the intro that caught my eye is the last sentence: “You can also use the pita to shovel food from the plate to your mouth.” People with food addiction issues will see that as a secret symbol of the silent club we belong to. I inherited many attributes from my Mom – most of them good (creativity, empathy, thoughtfulness…), but I also inherited learned behaviors around food. I learned the subtle art of self-medicating through eating that is the hallmark of addiction. I won’t bring you down the autobiographical trail here, but if you’d like the full tour, I have written at length about my food addiction. I just found that the line about shoveling food into your mouth was telling.
Yay! Pita bread
When I was at Fresh Market the other day, I bought a package of thick-cut nitrate-free bacon. I’ve been waiting for a good time to bust it open (like there is a bad time for bacon). I cooked it up tonight along with some turkey sausage, brought out some leftover spinach salad, and in a few short minutes I had stuffed it all into a pita pocket – and briefly, the world didn’t seem like such a bad place. My son Sawyer joined me and gave the meal his approval. That’s a big deal since he’s a notoriously picky eater.
And a good time was had by all.
Eat em up, yum
Variations (from my Mom’s book)
Whole Wheat Pitas: Substitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour for one cup of the unbleached flour.
Parmesan Pitas: Add 1 cup of finely shredded Parmesan cheese in step 2.
Sesame or Poppy Pitas: Springkle the work surface lightly with the seeds of your choice before rolling out each pita. The seeds will imbed in the dough.
- 1 scant tablespoon (or 1 ¼-ounce package) active dry yeast
- 1½ cups warm water about 110 degrees
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 to 4 cups unbleached flour
In a large bowl, stir yeast into water to soften. Add salt and 2 cups flour. Beat vigorously for two minutes.
Gradually add flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
Put dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.
Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 20 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rest on work surface for 10 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 6-inch circle. Place the circle on 6-inch squares of buttered parchment paper (parchment paper makes getting the breads from the rising surface to the oven easier).
Cover dough with a tightly woven towel and let rise 30 minutes.
About 10 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a baking stone, preheat 30 minutes before baking.
Pita bread is best baked on a preheated baking stone placed on the lowest shelf in the oven. If you do not have a stone, preheat a heavy-duty, non-stick baking sheet in the oven for 5 minutes. The floor of the oven can be used, but is an awkward place to work and may result in burns either to you or the bread.
Lift dough rounds by parchment paper and flip over onto the stone or baking sheet. Peel off paper. Place 4 or 5 rounds of dough in the oven at a time. Bake 5 minutes. They should be puffy, pale in color, and flexible.
Immediately remove from the oven and wrap in a towel to cool. Press the air out of the pita while it is still warm.
NOTE: Pita bread is best eaten fresh. They can be torn in half to fill, but I find it easier to cut them with scissors. To store, wrap in plastic wrap then place in a plastic bag in the freezer. Thaw and reheat in a 350-degree oven, wrapped in foil for 10 min.