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Easy Whole Grain Flatbread

Easy Whole Grain Flatbread
Mark Bittman for NPR /

The simplest bread is nothing more than water and flour. Heat some olive oil in a pan — you can add other flavorings, too — and this basic formula becomes a quick flatbread that's ready in the time it takes to cook dinner. The idea comes from the recipe for socca (also called farinata), the Mediterranean "pizza" made from chickpea flour (see the variation below). Chickpea flour and buckwheat flour are certainly options for the main recipe, too, but whole wheat flour and cornmeal are far more common and equally delicious.

A couple of technical details. The resting time for the batter is optional, but it results in a more complex flavor and a creamier, less gritty texture. If you're in a hurry, though, just let the batter sit while the oven heats. It's still awesome. And though a round pizza pan with a lip is ideal, a 10- or 12-inch skillet also works well; the bread in the smaller pan will need less oil, will be slightly thicker and will take another 5 or 10 minutes to bake. You can bake the bread up to several hours in advance; warm it a little if you like — or not.

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings

1 cup whole wheat flour or cornmeal, or chickpea flour (also called besan; sold in Middle Eastern, Indian and health food stores)

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons olive oil (see note above)

1/2 large onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (optional)

Put the flour into a bowl; add salt, then slowly add 1 1/2 cups water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Cover with a towel and let sit while oven heats, or for as long as 12 hours. The batter should be about the consistency of thin pancake batter.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the oil in a 12-inch rimmed pizza pan or skillet (along with the onion and rosemary if you're using them) and put in the heated oven. Wait a couple of minutes for the oil to get hot, but not smoking; the oil is ready when you just start to smell it.

Carefully remove the pan (give the onions a stir); then pour in the batter, and return the skillet to the oven. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the flatbread is well browned, firm and crisp around the edges. (It will release easily from the pan when it's done.) Let it rest for a couple of minutes before cutting it into wedges or squares.

Easy Whole Grain Pizza

When the bread is done, top as you would pizza, using a relatively light hand. Smear a thin layer of tomato sauce on first, if you like, then add a sprinkling or crumble of cheese and thinly sliced vegetables, cooked meat, olives, onions — whatever. Turn on the broiler and put the pan under the heat until the ingredients are hot and bubbly. Let rest as above, then cut and serve.

Easy Socca, Or Farinata

It's crisp on the bottom and custardy on top. Chickpea flour is authentic, but whole wheat flour produces lovely results. You'll need a deep 12-inch pan or skillet. Increase the water to 3 cups and add up to another 2 tablespoons of oil if you like. Bake as above, but longer — closer to an hour. To get a crisper top, set under the broiler for a couple of minutes after the bottom is nicely browned. Let cool a bit in the pan, then slide a narrow spatula under the bottom to remove it. Cut into wedges and serve.

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