Nearly every culture has a flatbread that is baked, grilled, fried or steamed, and topped, dipped or stuffed with delicious ingredients. In the United States, outside of heavily ethnic enclaves, we have become familiar with just a few -- mainly pita bread, tortillas and pizza. So it was with some excitement that I was recently introduced to the "coca" -- a pizza-like Spanish dish.
My introduction came via Daisy Martinez -- the star of the Food Network's "Viva Daisy!" -- and her new book "Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night" (Atria Books, 2010). For this book, Martinez traveled through several Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Argentina) and dug through her family's Latin-American specialties to come up with recipes for everyday meals.
It was in Barcelona that Martinez discovered "cocas" (some books say the plural is "coques"), which, she writes, are so varied and delicious that she could have devoted an entire chapter -- "or maybe even a book" -- to them. Consisting of yeast dough topped with ingredients, they are baked -- much like a pizza. Martinez's book includes only recipes for savory cocas, but in Spain many sweet ones are also served. "The New Spanish Table" by Anya von Bremzen (Workman, 2005) offers recipes for cocas made with savory ingredients that have been sweetened: red peppers candied with sugar, for example, or onions cooked with honey.
A little research reveals that a traditional topping is sliced onions that have been sauteed in olive oil until caramelized. Chopped olives (green or black) can be added, along with anchovies or cooked sliced sausage (a Spanish sausage called "butifarra" is traditional, but Italian sausage or kielbasa will work). Most cocas, I have read, do not have cheese; Martinez's do.
There are doubtless technical differences between a coca and a pizza. (For one, some books say that the traditional coca dough is lighter than pizza dough and can bake perfectly at a lower temperature.) But I think for the American home cook, the difference is in the toppings. They should, like Martinez herself, have an authentic Spanish accent.
In Spain, cocas are often served in tapas bars, as part of a numerous array of small portions of food to be consumed (often while standing) with a glass of wine or sherry. At home, you may want to serve it as finger food at a party, or even as a main course. It will have you saying, "Gracias, Daisy -- viva la coca!"
Cook's note: Pizza dough from the supermarket will work, but buy your dough from a pizzeria if possible.
CLAM, BACON AND PIQUILLO-PEPPER COCA
3 dozen cherrystone or other small hard-shell clams, such as Manila clams, scrubbed
coarse yellow cornmeal
1 pound store-bought pizza dough
3/4 pound sliced bacon
6 piquillo peppers (about half of a 10-ounce jar), torn into roughly 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 F.