"Tiella or teglia," according to the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, "is a layered dish that can be made up of everything from fish and potatoes to combinations of rice, vegetables (spinach, zucchini, tomatoes), cheese, and shellfish, baked in the oven with enough liquid to prevent drying up, much fragrant local olive oil, plentiful herbs, and garlic. It was originally a way of cooking a fairly fast dish on getting back home from work in the fields, using everyday ingredients, simmered or baked in a terra-cotta pot."
As with most dishes in Italy, most people think only their mothers cook it correctly. Viktorija Todorovska, the author of The Puglian Cookbook, and the subject of this week's Omnivorous, makes a simple version—bread crumbs and wine, but no herbs.
"Other than the orecchiette and cavatelli, that's probably the most controversial dish," she told me. "Every Puglian cook you talk to has her own recipe. And from one village to the next they vary so much. The one in the book is from Bari, and in Bari they always use rice and they always use mussels. You go 45 minutes out of Bari and you mention tiella and they're like. 'There can be no rice. Do you hear me?' They are convinced that the people in Bari do it the wrong way. And the people in Bari are convinced that the people in Lecce make it the wrong way."
Either way, they like it to drink rosé with it, she says. Recipe after the jump.
Yield: 4 servings
1 lb (454 g) mussels
1 cup (236 l) dry white wine
1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
2 T (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
10 (about ½ cup [118 ml]) grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup (236 ml) uncooked white rice
½ cup (118 ml) grated Pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
½ cup (118 ml) toasted breadcrumbs, for sprinkling
(1) Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
(2) Wash the mussels and discard any that are open and will not close when touched. Put the mussels in a medium pan. Add the wine. Cover and cook over medium heat until the mussels are completely open, about four to five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Using a fork, take the mussels out of the shells and set them aside. Reserve some of the cooking liquid (a combination of wine and seawater from the mussels).
(3) In a medium baking dish arrange a layer of onions and then a layer of potato slices. Sprinkle with some olive oil and a little salt, and then layer half the tomatoes. Distribute half the rice as evenly as you can on top and add the mussels. Cover the mussels with more rice, tomatoes, and onions, and end with a layer of potatoes. Sprinkle the top layer of potatoes with the remaining olive oil, the Pecorino cheese, and the breadcrumbs. Pour some of the cooking liquid from the mussels and add water to come almost ¾ of the way up the sides of the dish. Cook for at least an hour, or until the potatoes are done (they should be tender when pierced with a fork).
Reprinted with permission fromThe Puglian Cookbook by Viktorija Todorovska, Agate Surrey, May 2011.