The late August wind has announced autumn, circling through the pine scrub. With fall beginning to overlap summer, every leisure moment counts. This is the time to ride the Atlantic’s warmest swells, eat juicy peaches alongside early crisp apples, and enjoy the teenage cardinals at the feeder before they take flight. The serenity of September on the Outer Cape is around the corner.
When planning for those last Labor Day guests, laid-back pulled-from-the pantry meals rule. This flatbread, thrown together before an afternoon swim or bike ride, has become a reliable late summer recipe at our house. And if the weather goes full-on fall, a homemade flatbread by a cozy fire totally works.
The dough is easy — a perfect introduction for those with a fear of yeast and making bread. It’s incredibly forgiving: mixed in one bowl, it can be baked the day it’s made or set aside overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re baking this flatbread the day you start the dough, allow a few hours start to finish — but these aren’t hours of cooking, they’re hours of leisure. The dough relies on just a little rapid-rise yeast, which is added right to the flour and results in a light crust.
Yeasted recipes sometimes feel like they have a life of their own. Why? Because they are alive. The yeast feeds on the carbohydrates in the flour and, as it grows, it releases carbon dioxide gas. This is the fermentation process that makes the dough rise and develop flavor. I use all-purpose or white whole wheat flour; both work well. Kneading the smooth baby-skin feel of a round of dough can be so soothing. Scattering toppings over the puffy dough is like filling a canvas.
In this version, the pecorino and Parmesan provide lots of umami, that bold fifth flavor great cooks and eaters celebrate. The bacon pulls it towards brunch, and it would be complete along with some eggs and Bloody (or Virgin) Marys.
Once you have the hang of it, go free-form with both shape and toppings. If you don’t have corn, add last night’s grilled zucchini, peppers, or mushrooms instead. Try an expressly Cape finish with littleneck clams. For this, steam the clams in white wine or white vermouth until they just smile open, and scoop them from their shells. Then boil the liquid to a glaze, toss the clams in their essence with a splash of olive oil, and then scatter the lot on the crust along with the rest of the toppings.
Preheating the oven is key when baking flatbreads or pizza, so don’t skip that. Forming the dough on parchment paper takes away any challenge of getting the dough into the oven. Most summer kitchens don’t have pizza stones, but baking on an inverted sheet pan is a fine cheat.
Bacon, Corn, and Onion Flatbread
One large flatbread, serves 4 to 6
For the crust:
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp. rapid-rise yeast
½ tsp. fine salt
2 pinches sugar
¾ cup warm water
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the bowl
For the topping:
4 pieces bacon
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
½ red onion
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
Kernels from 1 ear cooked corn
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp. roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
Whisk the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add the water and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, draw the dry ingredients into the wet to make a shaggy dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour-dusted work surface and knead it, adding just enough flour to your hands to prevent sticking. If the dough feels wet, use a bench scraper to fold and turn the dough until smooth, about 4 minutes. Form dough into a ball. Lightly brush a large bowl with olive oil, transfer the dough to the bowl, and cover the bowl with reusable or plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
(One way to watch that: using a marker, draw a circle on the wrap, making it roughly the size of the dough. Inside the circle write the time you started letting the dough rise. Later you can see how much it has risen.)
When the dough has doubled, turn it out of the bowl, punch it down, and lightly reshape it into a ball.
The dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for a couple of hours or overnight at this point. Or just leave it to rise again while you heat the oven and prepare toppings.
At least an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with either a pizza stone or an inverted sheet pan on the rack. (If you’ve refrigerated the dough after its first rising, let it come to room temperature while the oven heats.)
Slice the bacon crosswise into 1/3-inch pieces and cook it in a skillet over medium heat until rendered but not too crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Lay a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper onto a work surface. Stretch the dough out by hand into a rectangle (12 by 10 inches) or a free-form shape, or use a rolling pin.
Slice the onion paper thin (I love a mandoline for this). Toss the onions with the lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Mix the cheeses together and scatter half over the crust. Evenly top with the onions, bacon, and corn, then sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Season the flatbread with the pepper and let it rest until the edges puff slightly, up to 30 minutes.
Slip a cookie sheet or pizza peel under the paper and slide the flatbread, still on the parchment paper, in the oven, placing it either on the preheated pizza stone or the inverted sheet pan. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Top with parsley. Cut into bite-size or larger pieces. Serve warm.