Pizza al formaggio

From the title, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a recipe for a cheese flavoured flat bread. You’d be wrong. And I was certainly confused at the bread counter after I moved to Italy and first came across it.

This is, in fact, an Easter bread, sometimes known as Torta di Pasqua al Formaggio, probably down the road in Umbria. Local cooks tell me it is a speciality of Le Marche; but these days it is to be found year round all over central Italy.

I got interested in it because there’s a special deep sided, glazed, earthenware pot this bread is baked in. The result looks a bit like a panetonne, though of course it tastes completely different. I drove over to a little town called Appignano to a pottery cum hardware store to source mine but I think you could just as easily use a (clean) flowerpot to create the same sort of shape. Or don’t bother and use a cake tin – or even make mini ones.

Whatever the shape, do have a go at making this bread: it’s intensely cheesy and spicy, and goes really well with bacon and eggs. Make a brunch with it.

A couple of notes about the recipe: Traditionally lard, not olive oil would have been used. There are more sheep than cows in Le Marche, so Pecorino is the local, abundantly available cheese; if you’re reading this in Spain Manchego cheese makes a fine substitute. Anywhere else in the world please don’t go up hill and down vale trying to track a sheep’s cheese. A flavoursome Cheddar (or local hard cheese equivalent) will do.

Makes two good sized loaves.

1kg white bread flour

300g Parmesan, grated

300g moderately aged Pecorino, grated (or a hard Cheddar)

1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, a few scrapes of nutmeg

80g block of live yeast, dissolved in a 100ml warm water

50ml olive oil

6 free range eggs, beaten

200g fresh Pecorino, 1cm dices

Mix the flour with the grated cheeses, salt, cayenne and nutmeg. Make a well in the middle and add the dissolved yeast, oil and eggs Use any implement you like: hands are best to draw in and mix together the dry and wet ingredients, until you have a soft sticky but not wet dough. It should quite easy to rub off your hands. So much depends on the type of flour you are using, but if it is too wet add more flour.

Put the dough in a clean bowel, cover with a tea cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour or so until the dough has doubled in size.

Gently flatten out the dough, sprinkle the cheese dices over the top and fold them into the dough. Divide the dough between your chosen tins or pots – which you have oiled.

Heat the oven to 200C and once the bread has risen again, pop the breads into bake for around 40 minutes – it depends on the size of your loaves.

They should be golden and sound hollow when you tap the base.