Posts Tagged ‘pizza’

As many of you already know Saturday night is my Pizza Night.  Always pepperoni.  For years I’ve followed a Jamie Oliver pepperoni pizzarecipe for a basic bread dough which to be honest has served me very well.  I’ve made this dough so many times that I no longer weigh the ingredients and I can gauge how much flour I’m using depending on the size of the mound on my worktop.  I make a decent sized well in the flour and add a good glug of olive oil before adding the yeast/water/honey mixture and stir with my claw-crane hand.  Once a ball of dough has formed I’d then flour the surface and knead for several minutes before letting it prove under a tea towel for up to an hour in a warm place.  In the past I’ve even made a small loaf of bread if I’ve felt there was excess bread dough.

I would normally cook my pizza dough directly onto the oven rack and bring it out once I felt that the dough was cooked (frequently mis-timing this!) often having to settle for a dense, undercooked doughy pizza.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a Paul Hollywood recipe, which even though had the same ingredients and followed the same basic principles of the warm prove, had slight changes.  One definitive change is that Mr Hollywood prefers to add olive oil to the surface you are to knead the bread dough on and not more flour as he feels that, “olive oil helps to keep the texture of the dough consistent.”

Flavour-wise, the Jamie Oliver recipe with honey was tastier; whilst the Paul Hollywood recipe would cook retaining shape and forming a crispier crust.

Recently, however, a friend and fellow foodie introduced me to the joys of cold proving also know as cold fermentation.  And like me, you’re probably thinking back to your school science classes where you were told, “Yeast is a living thing and needs food and warmth to function properly.”  But this is the crux of the matter; the lukewarm water activates the yeast and it starts to produce carbon dioxide.

By slowing down the activity of the yeast; at cool fridge temperatures, yeast behave differently producing more desirable flavour compounds.  It also produces carbon dioxide (the air bubbles present in bread) more slowly.  Long fermentation gives the enzymes present in flour more opportunities to link up into gluten, subsequently gluten structure is improved.  Finally, the colder the dough when you shape it before the final proof, the fewer bubbles are forced out of it.

So what’s the ideal time-frame for a cold fermentation?

J Kenji Lopez-Alt, Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats’ Food Lab made a large batch of dough and allowed it to cold-ferment over 10 days. His research suggested that 3-5 days cold proving produced the best results; dramatically improved flavour, texture and workability.

So follow Roberta’s Pizza Dough recipe to create the perfect pizza:

Ingredients:

153g Bread Flour (or 00 pasta flour)
153g Plain Flour
8g salt
200g of lukewarm water
2g active dry yeast
4g olive oil

Method:

1st: In a large bowl mix the flours and salt.
2nd: In a measuring jug, mix 200g of lukewarm tap water with the yeast and olive oil.
3rd: Pour this into the flour mixture and using your hand like a claw-crane mix until well combined and then knead for 3 minutes.  Allow to rest for 15minutes.
4th: Knead the rested dough for a further 3 minutes.  Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape into a ball.  Place on an oiled tray and cover in cling.  Place into the fridge for anything from overnight to 5 days later.
5th: Remove from the fridge 45mins before you begin to shape it for pizza.

Top Tips:

Wetter is better.  The dough should be super sticky and almost flow out of the tray rather than fall.
Use coarse semolina rather than flour to help the base slide easily on and off the paddle and stone.
Wetter is better.  Shape your pizza dough by hand – don’t use a rolling pin.
Set your oven to its highest setting and heat your pizza stone for at least an hour.
And just in case you’re still not sure – Wetter is better!

Along my pizza journey I have acquired several pieces of kit that I now always use to assist me reach pizza perfection:
A pizza stone for a crisper base
A semolina covered paddle (or inverted chopping board!)
Dough cutter that also acts as a great scraper

When you make Roberta’s recipe, the first thing that you will notice is the tiny amount of yeast that you need to use (not even half a 7g sachet) but trust me that it is enough to produce the desired amount of fermentation.

My only reservation with the cold prove method is that you need to be quite organised if you chose to have a cold-fermented pizza.  I made my batch of dough on Thursday night and reaped the rewards on Saturday.  If, however, I just did not have the time during the week to create the dough far enough in advance, I would have to rely on the warm prove method – accepting that the dough would not be as established in flavour or texture as its cold fermented counterpart. Either way – nothing beats a pepperoni pizza and Saturday will always be my pizza night.

As some of you know I’ve recently been on holiday in Italy.  Of course Italy is drenched in history and there are some quintessential Italian tourist spots that you can’t miss but when you start planning your trip you don’t realise that Italy is quite a large country!  And with all things Italian – eating is a large part of the experience!  Italy is made up of regions with each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table.

Eating is a large part of the experience

So where best to go at this time of year? Naples and the Amalfi Coast appealed to my summery needs and may I say, did not disappoint.  Driving along the Amalfi coast with its lemon groves sidewinding from cliff-tops to beaches in the 36°C sunshine was like something out of an old Italian movie.

each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table

Having done some research before I travelled to Naples I came across information about Vesuvius and its proximity to Naples – Pompeii (if you pardon the pun) being just a stones throw away.  And it is evident that the volcanic ash that settled on and around the area has created some of the most fertile soil around.

The prime example of this is that nowhere on the Mediterranean do tomatoes (Pomodoro) taste as they do in Italy:

From the simple tomato and ricotta for breakfast (divine), to the tomato sauce used on pasta and pizza!  Ripe plum and cherry tomatoes can be seen growing everywhere around Naples and its surrounding areas – easily grown in pots and off private terraces. Any that don’t make a fresh appearance in the kitchen are dried to increase their longevity.

Naples was also the birthplace of the pizza

An often recounted story holds that in June 1889, to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag.

IMG_3409And yes, once you’ve eaten a Neapolitan stone-baked  pizza, any other just won’t measure up!

But what strikes you the most about Neapolitan cuisine is how much it is reliant on fresh fish and seafood.

The Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Naples providing an abundance for everyone’s needs.

IMG_3452

You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese nor a Ragu on a Neapolitan menu, these a more northern Italian, instead you will find the ubiquitous Spaghetti a la Vongole (spaghetti with clams) a traditional Neapolitan dish, and seeing as I was in Naples it would just be rude not to!

Throughout my week I tried themes and variations on this and found that each restaurant served a beautiful version.  All versions were bianco (without tomato sauce) but some added a few cherry tomatoes to add sweetness to the dish:

My favourite though was the Spaghetti Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia being the area the restaurant was in) with its clams and mussels and a couple of prawns and langoustines hidden under the tangle of pasta.  I know that bread and pasta are a major no-no but who could resist plunging a salty, crusty slice of artesan bread into the garlicky, briny juices – chin drippingly delicious!!

Another delicious concoction was the traditional sweet sfogliatelle ricci – shell-shaped, sweetened ricotta filled pastries.

sfogliatelle ricci

Crunchy on the outside and then sweet and creamy on the inside.  These sfogliatelle make up part of the Pastiera Italiana of which the rum baba is also a big player.  In the hot early evenings everyone dresses up and goes around coffee shops for an espresso and sfogliatelle; filling a hole until it is cool enough to sit down to dinner which with its procession of courses and liqueurs (limoncello and meloncello) may take some time to get through.

But as with everything Italian – food is the centre of the social occasion uniting young and old.

Food is important; not something to be rushed.  Not just fuel for the body.

Looking through my holiday snaps other than those of ruins and columns the rest seem to be about food.  So at least if you cannot make it to Naples and the Amalfi coast you can travel culinarily with me:

Salute! Buon Appetito!!