AETOPITA, a focaccia-like bread from Syros, was usually prepared the day the week’s bread was baked because the wood-burning oven was fired only once a week. Flatbreads topped with olive oil, tomato and herbs or cheese are not uncommon. “These are for the children to nibble,” some island cooks told me. But aetopita is clearly a hearty dish for adults, needing no accompaniment other than a glass of cold fruity white wine. The juices from the fish, flavored with fennel, scallions, garlic, tomato and olive oil, seep into the thin layer of bread, making it irresistible.
Achileas Dimitropoulos, who is the head of the department of terrestrial zoology at the Goulandris Museum of Natural History in Athens, originally described the recipe to me. Achileas has spent endless hours collecting recipes from fishermen in Syros, where he was born.
In a small cup, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes, or until frothy.
In a food processor, place the starter,
Process the dough for 1 to 2 minutes more (add a little water if the dough is too stiff; it should be smooth and sticky).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes, adding more all-purpose flour as needed, until the dough is soft and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball. Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic wrap. Place the dough in the bowl. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1½ to 2 hours, or until almost doubled in volume.
Place the fish in a medium bowl and drizzle with the lemon juice. Add the salt and ¾ teaspoon of the ground fennel and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 and up to 4 hours.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the fennel bulb and scallions for 3 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Oil a 14-inch pizza pan, preferably nonstick, and place the dough on it. Oil your fingers and press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan, dimpling the top. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
At least 20 minutes before baking,
Transfer the fish to paper towels to drain.
In a large bowl, combine the fish, garlic mixture,
Spread the fish mixture over the dough, pressing the fish gently into the dough. Scatter the tomatoes over the top, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving warm, or serve at room temperature.
© 2000 All rights reserved. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.