By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Cooking magazines and TV shows are full them and so are restaurant menus. What? Flatbread. The word sounds like what it is. Essentially, flatbreads are, well, flattened pieces of bread. And as we all know, bread is pretty fantastic by all by itself. In fact, it’s one of my favorite foods. But when you add toppings to that flatbread, that’s when things start to get interesting — and delicious. As an appetizer, small-plate meal or dessert, flatbread creations win.
Flatbread is just unleavened bread that’s made with flour, water and salt and then rolled out (flattened) into dough. Some flatbreads contain yeast, but traditional flatbread does not; however, the combination of spices and oils that can be added to the dough are endless. Think olive oil, sesame oil, curry powder or chili powder. And flatbreads, technically speaking, run the gamut of breads — tortillas, pita and even crepes can be grouped into the flatbread family.
After the flatbread is seasoned to your liking and baked until it’s crispy (which is my preference), that’s when the fun begins. You can make your flatbread into a cousin of the classic pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, or you can pile it high with vegetables, protein, whatever is appealing to you at the time.
It’s true that some restaurants that devote most of their menus to flatbreads may be struggling right now — the Urban Flats chain, for example, was not long for this world — but restaurants that serve flatbreads on their menus along with other things have seen an uptick in orders the last couple of years. The reason?
Flatbreads are lighter and can have fewer calories than sliced bread but they are equally as satisfying and filling. And there’s so much more variety.
Flatbreads are an excellent alternative to heavier carbohydrates, such as pasta with cream sauce or potatoes. Plus, flatbreads tap into the trend of small-plate dining because they’re easily shareable and they can easily stand on their own as a satisfying small meal or part of a bigger more elaborate one. Flatbreads truly are one of the most versatile dishes on modern menus, and I couldn’t be happier about this trend.
Lately, when I don’t have time to make my own flatbread, I’ve been heading to Outback Steakhouse for the kitchen’s chicken artichoke flatbread, which is made up of grilled chicken, chopped spinach and artichokes, fresh-grated Parmesan cheese and a little drizzle of olive oil atop a crispy flatbread. It’s delicious, easy and the perfect meal.
What’s your favorite flatbread variety?
Tips to compose the best flatbread treats:
I love to get a little gourmet without over complicating things. Adults like to make their own flatbread almost as much as kids so here is what I recommend:
Start with store-bought flatbread or foccacia bread. Set out bowls of grated cheese, spreads such as boursin, pesto and fig and an assortment of sautéed shrimp and pulled barbeucue chicken. Let everyone at the table create their own.
Try using leftover barbecue chicken, shredded gouda and sliced apple for flatbread pizzas. Another idea is to spread sautéed shrimp with garlic and pesto on top of a sundried tomato and olive flatbread. Top with feta cheese and bake for about 12 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
And here’s something delicious I’ve been seeing on restaurant menus lately – Caesar salad on a flatbread. It’s the ideal summer lunch. Get a Parmesan flatbread and top with a cool crisp chicken Caesar salad omitting croutons, and top with plenty of anchovies and a sprinkle of cheese.
Flatbreads can be the basis of wonderful and easy desserts too. Spread Nutella over a warm flat bread bottom. Top with sliced bananas and drizzle with warm hot fudge and/or caramel sauce. Top with salted nuts. Oh, my, how good is that!