Most of the times when we cook, we chop, soften, mash and stir ingredients, bending them to our will to create the dish we want to make. However, there are times when it’s the ingredients that take charge – driving a dish and challenging a cook to just let them be. Such was the case last week Saturday. And it was the best thing I ate last week.
I bought a packet of locally made artisan goats’ cheese from a pop-up vendor. In another aisle in the market I gently placed ripe, locally grown baby plum tomatoes into a bag and handed them to a vendor to weigh. I paid and moved on, heading towards a vendor who sells some of the most beautiful looking bush basil (Guyana’s married man pork). Selecting a bunch and making several other purchases, I headed home. As I unpacked my shopping bag, like so many of you, I wondered aloud – what to cook today. All I knew was that I wanted to use the tomatoes, goats’ cheese and basil in whatever dish I was going to make.
After dilly-dallying around the house for an hour, I decided, rather unenthusiastically, to make a salad. Yay me. However, as I reached for the ingredients I changed my mind and decided I wanted to make a flatbread and top it with the cheese, tomatoes and basil. Think Margherita pizza. As the dough was proofing, the freshness and quality of the ingredients begged to be left alone – raw, uncooked. The raw idea appealed to me. The goats’ cheese was creamed with a little oil making it easy to spread on the cooked flatbread. Tomatoes were sliced thin and the basil was pureed into an oil. To tie it all together I seasoned everything with flaked sea salt.
Now, imagine this. A thin, crisp flatbread; smooth, creamy, tart cheese; already juicy tomatoes made juicer with snow-flake like sea salt that slowly melts into it; bright green, aromatic, herby basil drizzled atop everything. As you take a bite, the flatbread snaps and crunches leaving a trail of crumbs, the cheese is warm and tart, the tomatoes almost melting, the briny juice coating your tongue mingled with the fragrant basil. It is a perfect bite. There are different textures and you get a hint of sweet, salt and sour; it’s simple food but it is not boring food. It is the best thing I ate last week. Want to make it yourself? Here’s how.
● 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
● 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
● ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
● 1 heaped tablespoon sugar
● ¼ teaspoon fine table salt
● 2 tablespoons oil plus extra for pan
● Warm water (110 – 115 degrees F)
For Basil oil:
● 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
● ½ cup oil
● Salt to taste
● Ice cubes and water
● 8 – 10 ounces goats’ cheese, room temperature
● 2 – 3 teaspoons oil
● Thinly sliced ripe tomatoes
● Flaked or coarse sea salt (use fine table salt if that is what you have)
1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, yeast, sugar and salt.
2. Add oil and enough water to form a dough, when the dough comes together, knead for 3 minutes and place in an oiled bowl, cover and let proof in a warm place for 45 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
4. Drizzle some oil onto a 13 x 18” sheet pan. Transfer the risen dough and use your hands to stretch the dough evenly to cover the entire surface of the pan. Dab the dough with a little oil. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until brown and crisp.
5. Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes in the pan then place on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
For Basil oil:
1. Add ice cubes and some water to a bowl and set aside.
2. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a sauce pan
3. Add the basil and cook for 1 minute only; drain well and transfer to ice water bath; let cool for 5 minutes then drain and squeeze tightly to remove water. Pat with paper towels and transfer to a blender along with salt and oil. Pulse to puree. Pour into a bottle or container and set aside.
1. Using a flat rubber spatula or a small whisk, mix together the cheese and oil to make it smooth and creamy, easy to spread.
1. Spread the goats’ cheese on to the flatbread.
2. Lay tomato slices on top of the cheese. Give the oil a good mix as it would have settled and then spoon or drizzle it over the cheese and tomatoes, sprinkle the entire thing, take care to get the surfaces of the tomatoes with the salt. Cut and serve.
You will not use all of the basil oil. Cover tightly and refrigerate, it can be used to drizzle over roasts and grilled foods; eggs and salads.