More herb lovin: this time, handfuls of mixed fresh herbs are tossed in a garlic-infused olive oil and spooned over skillet-grilled homemade naan. Sprinkle on a little salt, pepper and a touch of Gruyère cheese and you’ve got a bright, fresh, addictively delicious snack, appetizer, side dish, or, as I called it today: lunch. And dinner. Pretty sure it would be breakfast as well, if there were any left.
Not quite a pizza, but definitely more substantial than a cracker, naan bread gets its distinctive flavor from the tang of yogurt or buttermilk. These weren’t quite like the naan you get in an Indian restaurant, however: the mix of fresh herbs, whole wheat flour and olive oil instead of butter gave these little flatbreads a distinct European sensibility. Eminently adaptable to whatever herbs you’ve got spilling out of the garden, CSA box, or farmer’s market stall, the dough recipe makes enough for five flatbreads: invite friends and feed a crowd, or refrigerate the dough and cook them up as desired over the week.
A note on cooking with fresh herbs: use plenty of the “soft” herbs, like basil, cilantro, or parsley; less of the “woody” herbs, such as oregano, thyme, summer savory; and even less of strongly flavored, oily herbs, like sage & rosemary. Chop more strongly flavored herbs finely, while milder herbs like basil and parsley can be coarsely chopped. Use a sharp knife and hone it before chopping: chop soft herbs in a single pass, so as not to bruise the delicate leaves and end up with most of the essential oils on the cutting board instead of your dish.
While naan bread is traditionally cooked in a 1000-degree tandoor oven, these simple flatbreads were cooked on the stovetop, on a screaming hot cast iron skillet. They didn’t achieve the smoky-crisp exterior of traditional naan, nor quite the airiness that I can get with a pizza stone and a 550-degree oven, but the difference was subtle and well worth not turning on the oven on a hot summer’s afternoon. Given that, once the dough is made, the flatbreads come together in mere minutes, I know I’ll be making this one again & again.
Bread recipe adapted from Whole Wheat Naan in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads.
- 8 oz (about 1 ¾ cups) whole wheat bread flour (hard red wheat)
- 8 oz (about 1 ¾ cups) whole white wheat flour (soft white wheat), plus extra for adjustments
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 13 oz (about 1 ⅝ cups) buttermilk or yogurt
- 1 oz (2 tbsp) melted butter
- 1 tsp sea salt
- olive oil
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for the skillet
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- about 3 to 4 good handfuls chopped fresh herbs: I used basil, oregano, summer savory & rosemary
- flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup gruyère cheese, grated
- Make & proof dough. In a large bowl, whisk together flours and yeast. Mix in buttermilk, butter, then salt. Mix vigorously in bowl until a shaggy dough forms (about 2 minutes), then turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead, alternately flouring & wetting hands, until smooth, supple and slightly tacky, about 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, mix and knead in a stand mixer using the dough hook for about 4 – 6 minutes. Form dough into a tight ball, then transfer to an oiled bowl for proofing. Turn dough ball in the oil to coat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm spot until not quite doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Make herbed olive oil. In a small skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter foam subsides. Add garlic, reduce heat to low and stirring, sauté garlic until fragrant but not changing color, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Remove from heat. Stir in handfuls of fresh herbs (reserving some for garnish) until sauce is thick and green, almost like a thin, chunky pesto. Set aside.
- Cook flatbreads. Gently deflate risen dough by pulling edges away from the sides of the bowl. Pull off a handful; a piece about the size of a tennis ball. Pat, roll, stretch or toss into a thin, roundish shape. Heat a large dry skillet over high heat until screaming hot (I like cast iron for this). Add a splash of olive oil: quickly move it around the bottom of the pan, then add the first flatbread. Cook about 30 – 60 seconds on one side, until the top of the bread is puffed and spots on the underside are deep brown. Flip over (I use two wooden spatulas for this) and cook the other side for another 30 – 60 seconds. Flip one last time, sprinkle lightly with cheese, reduce heat to medium, and cook until dough is cooked through, about 1 – 2 minutes.
- Assemble. Slide flatbread out of the skillet onto a board. Warm herbed oil if necessary: then spoon onto the flatbread, spreading thinly with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper, garnish with fresh herbs and a bit of cheese, and serve hot. Repeat the process with remaining dough, oil & cheese.
Yields 4 to 5 10-inch flatbreads.
- For 100% local flatbreads, use a butter sauce and ghee for cooking flatbreads. Replace instant yeast with a sourdough starter.
- You can, of course, cook these flatbreads in a hot oven, like a pizza. I like the skillet method in summer when I don’t want to heat up the house, but in chillier weather, preheat the oven to at least 450 degrees F for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. You’ll get best results with a pizza stone.
- To develop flavor in the whole wheat bread, you can allow it to autolyze overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature prior to shaping & cooking. You may also want to shape small balls, then allow them to proof again before you shape & cook.
Refrigerated for up to 5 days. Store uncooked dough, well-wrapped, for up to 1 week: pull off a piece and allow to come to room temperature before shaping. Store herbed oil refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Year round, but the stovetop method is especially good for hot summer days.