Category Archives: Pizza

Pizza to feed the family

pizza

This is the pizza I make for family and friends. It’s rolled out, thin and crispy, and baked in my puny electric oven on baking sheets. I find this approach more convenient to make over the course of a family Saturday, starting with a sponge (aka preferment) in the morning before swimming lessons, making a dough around midday, then bulk fermenting for about four hours.

Much as I’ve enjoyed the certified Vera Pizza Napoletana – “real Neapolitan pizza”– in Naples, I don’t really feel the need to try and emulate the Neapolitan style pizza, with its wide crust (cornicione). And if I’m honest, I always preferred the thinner crust, no-nonsense Roman-style ones we used to eat in places like Ai Marmi on Viale Trastevere and da Remo in Testaccio anyway. This dough does work opened by hand, slid off a peel onto a baking stone, if you favour the round, pseudo-Neapolitan style, but I prefer to roll, bake four at a time, then sit and eat with my family.

Variation on a theme
Pizza is ubiquitous. It’s Italy’s most successful export. And as anyone who’s eaten pizza in various corners of the world will know, it’s changed a lot in its travels*. Even within Italy, and within the diverse regions, and the provinces within those regions, pizza has enormous variety, not just familiar Neapolitan and Roman. It’s fat, thin, doughy, crunchy, round, square, long (alla pala), stuffed (farcita, or scaccia from Sicilian) or sandwiched (pizzòlo, also Sicilian) or pasty-like (calzone) or pie-like (rustica etc), tray-baked (like Palermo’s sfincione), fried (fritta; they loved fried in Naples). Flatbreads have infinite variety. Populations move, cultures hybridise, and the human experience is constantly in flux. The weather changes (now more than ever), ingredients change, processes change. Food, like language, is always changing.

During our time in Rome we also encountered the great Gabriele Bonci, star Roman pizzaiolo. His original hole in the wall pizza place, Pizzarium, located behind the Vatican, doesn’t have a fixed menu, it varies constantly with what’s available. Our very last visit there before moving back to England from Rome, Fran had a pizza with mortadella and Brussels sprouts. Who’d have thought Italians even had sprouts, let alone put them on their pizza? It was inspiring and a long way from the sort of thing that would achieve certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – and all the more exciting for it.

Sauce and toppings
This post is principally about my pizza dough. For tomato sauce, I often use a very simple one made with a tin of tomatoes, with a dash of dried oregano, black pepper and salt. Sometimes I add a bit of garlic or pinch of chilli. Then I use a stick blender to puree it. Other times, I’ll make a sauce with garlic, basil, a pinch of chilli, salt and pepper in a pan with lots of olive oil, warm that up then add a tin of tomatoes, cook that down, then put the whole lot through a mouli (food mill) to get out any fibrous bits. This is my son’s preferred pasta sauce.

As for toppings – just go for it. Whatever you prefer. This time round I had some local leeks from market for one, roasted first. For another, I bought some taleggio, which I used on a pizza bianca (white – no tomato sauce) with some boiled potato, a good drizzle of olive oil and some sprigs of rosemary from the garden. For my bacon-loving wife, we had some quality pancetta from Beals, renowned charcuterie (or salumi, in Italian) made locally from mangalitza pigs.

My favourite is usually aubergine, sliced longways about 5mm thick, roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper, then add to a pizza rossa (red – tomato sauce), with salty black olives and pecorino – it’s an offshoot of what the Italians would call “alla Norma”, a pasta sauce from Catania in Sicily. We didn’t do that this time. Another one I like is broccoli – cooked to tender, then gently fried in olive oil with garlic and chilli.

My pizza dough recipe
Anyway, this is my pizza dough recipe. Not a whiff of “authenticity”!

It is a 66% hydration dough – ie the weight of water is 66% of the weight of the flour (400g/600g). That means it’s pretty easy to handle, not too sticky.

I use a blend of flours. I find this gives the best extensibility and doesn’t shrink back in on itself. For the light spelt flour, I either use Sharpham Park or Stoates, British, stoneground. You may have a local variation.

Makes 4 pizzas

400g water
4g active dried yeast (or 8g fresh yeast)
600g flour – 200g strong white, 200g plain (all-purpose), 200g light spelt
6g fine sea salt
20g extra virgin olive oil (approximately)
Extra oil for oiling worktop and drizzling

1. Warm the water, add the yeast. Allow to froth.
2. Add about half the flour, mix well to combine, then cover. Allow this sponge or preferment to get nice and bubbly. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this can take anything from half an hour to a few hours. Leaving it gives us enough time to swimming lessons and back.

Pizza sponge

3. Pour in a few good glugs of olive oil, around 20g, and combine.

Pizza sponge with olive oil

4. Add the salt and the rest of the flour and mix well. You can do this with a mixer with a dough hook if you have one.
5. If you don’t have a mixer, turn out the shaggy mass** onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead to bring together.

6. Form into a rough ball then put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover (shower caps are great for this) and rest for about 10 minutes.

2020-03-07 12.40.09

7. Turn out and knead briefly. It should be smoother now, and easier to form into a neat ball.
8. Turn out and give it another brief knead. Rest for another 10 minutes.
9. Give it another knead then return to the bowl, cover and rest.
10. Give it a nice long fermentation. You can give it a stretch and fold if you like. This is a good process for helping the dough structure. Simply turn out the dough onto the lightly oiled work surface, stretch out a rough rectangle, fold one third in, then the other third. (Check out my old post on pizza bianca for more details or this technique.) If it’s rising too fast and you want to delay things, you can also put it, covered, in the fridge.
11. When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out. It should weight just over 1kg.
12. Divide up the dough into four pieces, scaled at just over 250g each.

Shaping pizza dough into balls. Bottom two cut off the main lump, top left is tucked, top right is shaped.

13. Tuck any rough pieces underneath then shape into a ball, ideally by cupping in your hand and making circular motions.
14. On a liberally floured area, leave the balls to rest, covered. Alternatively, you can put the balls in a container, cover it with a lid and leave somewhere cool if you need some more time.
15. I give my pizzas a final prove for about half an hour once I’ve stretched then out, but this is optional. Again, it’s about what fits in with your household routine.
16. On a floured worktop, squash a ball of dough down with the heel of your hand, then flatten out. Roll out to a size that fits your baking sheets – mine are 30cm square. (If you prefer round, go for it. If you prefer using a peel and sliding your pizzas onto a pizza stone, go for it. This dough works well for that too.)

Shaping pizza dough

Rolled out pizza dough

17. Preheat your oven. Mine says it’s 220C on the dial, but it doesn’t really muster much more than 210C.

Pizza dough on baking sheet

18. Top your pizzas, helped and/or hindered by children.

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19. Put in the oven for about 8 minutes, then swap around on the shelves and bake for another 8 minutes or so. Your oven will be different to mine, but you obviously want nice bubbly cheese and some colour on the crust.

2020-03-07 17.46.52

20. Turn out onto boards, slice and dig in.

If we’ve got any leftovers, I’ll happily blast them in the oven again for a few minutes then eat them Sunday evening – the one evening when the kids are allowed food in front of the telly in our house. I love a slice cold too.

* What are your most memorable, weird and wonderful pizza experiences? Whitebait pizza in Hokitika, South Island, New Zealand is one of mine. And the abovementioned sprouts.
** This is a Dan Lepard turn of phrase.

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Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain, Pizza, Recipes

A week in Rome: pizza and pizza bianca

Biddy on the beach, where we had pizza bianca for our lunch

A couple of my pizza or pizza-related ambitions for this trip didn’t come to fruition – a trip to the vaunted Pepe in Grani pizzeria and a chance to try the intriguing pinse. The former just felt like too much of a mission, as it’s in the sticks, a two-hour drive or doubtless convoluted journey by public transport from Rome. The latter because the place I’d been told about by Hande Leimer, not just the expert sommelier of Vinoroma, but a great knowledge on Roman eating, was closed when we passed by around midday on our way back from closing our Italian bank account. Or attempting to close it. I’ll eat my hat – okay, I’ll just nibble it a bit – if that cheque ever arrives at our UK address.

Shame really, as pinse are a kind of rare Roman and Lazio relative of the pizza, made with a dough based on grains other than wheat, such as millet, oats or barley, in a mix with older wheat varieties. Next time.

And it’s not like we were otherwise deprived.

The best meal we had was for Fran’s birthday lunch, which we celebrated at the excellent trattoria Da Cesare (Via del Casaletto 45, Casaletto/Monteverde Nuovo, 00151 Rome – at the end of the number 8 tram route). It’s an old favourite, via Rachel, Hande and her colleague Katie Parla, and the place where I had one of my most memorable meals ever, last year on Ferragosto – the public holiday that’s celebrated on 15 August, the day that’s considered the hottest of the year. For Fran’s birthday, we gorged ourselves on amazing fritti (deep-fried antipasti) and fresh pasta dishes, like these giant ravioli, accompanied by some great wines recommended by Hande (who told me the boss is also a sommelier and has a great selection). They do do pizza, though I’ve never tried it.

Giant ravioli of ricotta and spinach at Cesare a Casaletto

More basically though, we also ate a fair amount of pizza, including at one one of my favourite pizzerias. Da Remo (Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, Testaccio, 00153 Rome) is isn’t a place that sells products that are entirely in line with my more ardent principles about long fermentation and whatnot, but it does offer a consistent, consistently tasty product: classic, thin Roman-style pizzas, nicely charred from their wood-fired oven and served an atmospheric slightly rough, rushed setting.

When we went there I had a pizza without tomato sauce – that is, a white pizza or pizza bianca. The topping was simply mozzarella, a few zucchine flowers and some anchovies and it totally hit the spot, washed down with dubious house wine.

Da Remo

Shades of white
The term pizza bianca can be a little confusing in Rome as the other thing it refers to is a simple snack of basic pizza dough embellished with little more than a slosh of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I love the stuff. Can’t get enough. Which is good, as it’s ubiquitous in bakeries and pizza takeaways, which bake long planks of it and sell it by weight. It’s such a popular staple with Romans, I suspect even mediocre outlets put more effort into getting it right.

I’ve got a recipe here, but I’ll be honest – while I’m pleased with it, it’s never quite as good as the real thing, baked in a proper commercial oven oven, cut from a massive plank, eaten on a Roman street. Or nearby beach (where the old biddy, above, was our neighbour), here topped with some caciotta di pecora (sheep’s milk cheese) and prosciutto.

Pizza bianca 'sandwich'

Or as part of a simple lunch, here accompanied by burrata – not a Roman cheese, but from Puglia, and one of the most stupidly indulgent simple pleasures that exists.

Simple lunch

We bought ours from Il Panificio Passi (Via Mastro Giorgio 87, Testaccio), which was basically underneath the flat we were staying in and fortunately does decent pizza bianca.

Pizza bianca torn open, showing its moliche - crumb or guts

Name games
Rome, and Italy in general, is a great place for getting confused about the names of foods you might previously have considered yourself well-acquainted with. So while pizza bianca refers to both plain pizza, or topped pizza, pizza rossa refers to both pizza based topped with little more than a smear of tomato sauce, and the types of topped pizzas that have that sauce along with other elements.

Furthermore, Romans even use the word focaccia to refer to a very thin, crisp, crunchy bread that some trattorie serve in their baskets of bread that accompany every meal. I love it, though I didn’t take a photo when we had some as the waiter was so grumpy about my query it put me off my stride.

The plumper flatbread us Brits (and I suspect Americans) know as focaccia, meanwhile, can be simply called pizza alla genovese, as that style is from Genova/Genoa and Liguria.

Pizza rossa, pizza bianca and (the fatter stuff) pizza/focaccia alla genovese at Passi, Testaccio.

It’s all six of one and half a dozen of another though, as arguably all flat breads can be considered focaccia. The name simply means “hearth bread”, bread cooked on the hearth, from the Latin focus. Furthermore, Wikipedia’s attempt at making a distinction between focaccia and pizza is clearly spurious as it says things like “while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher” and “focaccia is most often square whereas conventional pizza is more commonly round”, both things fairly disabused by the kind of Roman food mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting, no one really seems to know the etymology of the word pizza anyway, so sod it – if you want to make something thin or thick, round or square, with a hole in the middle or not, heavily topped or simply sprinkled with salt, I’m not sure it’s really worth any fuss if you call it focaccia or pizza. Or indeed pinsa, a word that some suggest has the same roots as pizza anyway. Or not. Chissa?

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Pizza, Restaurants etc, Rome

Sourdough pizza and Hastings Brewery’s No 6 Hop Forward Pale Ale

Sourdough pizza with Hastings Brewery No 6 Pale Ale

Even though we ate tonnes on Saturday night, accompanied by various local beers and wines, I was making bread dough on Tuesday evening and thought, heck, why not make another pizza? One of the justifications was that on Saturday night one batch we did was slightly over-baked and the other slightly under-baked, so I wanted to keep on experimenting with our oven to try and get it right.

Anyone who’s made real pizza in a domestic oven will know it can be slightly challenging, largely because you simply can’t get the heat. My oven goes up to about 250C (480F) but a wood-fired pizza oven can get up to 450C (840F), enabling flash baking. You can improve things in a domestic oven by using a baking stone. Stones are excellent as you heat them in the oven first, so when the pizza is slid onto them, they’re already hot and help bake the dough through, quickly, as well as crisping up the base.

But I’ve not got one at the moment.

Currently, I’m just using a metal baking sheet, which goes into the oven cold. It’s not ideal, as, depending on the temperature variables in your oven, you can get a done, or potentially burnt, top, before the base is full baked. Even though I’m pleased with this recipe, the base wasn’t baked to perfection. That’s the challenge – for me and for you, as your oven will be different again.

Hastings Brewery No 6. With cat

Hopping forward
The other enjoyable factor about this pizza dinner – aside from being able to eat it outside on a warm English summer evening, 20C, no mosquitoes – was a great beer. I mentioned in my previous post I don’t think the light mild beer I was drinking was a good food pairing. This time round I chose a considerably more hoppy beer, and it worked well.

This was a Handmade No 6 Pale Ale bottled beer from Hastings Brewery, bought from the excellent Trafalgar Wines in Brighton, a booze shop with an excellent selection of beers. Apparently Hastings Brewery beers are their second-best selling now, after beers from The Kernel in London.

Hastings Brewery is a new discovery for me. I’m slowly working my way through all the local breweries. This one is 23 miles away from my home in Lewes. It started with founders Pete Mason and Brett Ross inspired “whilst litter picking after the Hastings Beer & Music Festival in July 2010.” Pete’s dad Andy got on board and by 2011 they’d bought “a larger – but still small – brewery”.

They’re an interesting outfit as not only do they do everything by hand on a small scale, with brews of 800 litres, they’re also make entirely vegan products. A lot of drinkers may not realise beer generally isn’t very vegetarian or vegan, but it’s often filtered with isinglass finings, which are fish bladders. Pete Mason is a vegan, as is their sales manager. Their beers are unfiltered. For some, this is appealing as filtering, arguably, can remove some of the flavour and mouthfeel.

The brewery’s label design and branding is great too. Their labels – all featuring a lion with fine mane and tongue sticking out1 – certainly stood out on the shelf at Trafalgar Wines.

Handmade

The 4.8% ABV beer, with its slightly unwieldy full name of ‘Hastings Handmade No 6 Hop Forward Pale Ale (Columbus)’, is very much a British take on a US craft beer. It’s defined by its use of Columbus, an American hop variety with a high alpha acid (around 15%), making it suitable for assertive bittering, 48 IBUs apparently. I suspect they’ve also used it for late-hopping (adding later in the boil, so it the oils aren’t totally broken down) or even dry hopping (adding during the conditioning stage so the oils remain largely intact) as the beer is highly aromatic: citrus, ginger, passion fruit, honey. The taste, while defined by massive bitterness, is also honeyed, with a salty, minerally aftertaste that verges on soapiness. [See below – actually they used a hopback.]

This beer really reminded us of our travels in the US, and while I have vague feelings of disloyalty to more traditional, malty, subtly hopped British beer styles when I drink something like this, I also love how British brewers are playing around with US styles. I love all the international cross-pollination of tastes and styles. The beer also went really well with our pizza, which I topped with mozzarella, thinly sliced pancetta from Beals Farm Charcuterie and a pecorino romano, for that added salty goodness.

I was hoping to add some asparagus but while I still saw plenty on the farmers’ markets a few days ago, guess what? Waitrose – nominally the less unethical British supermarket – only had asparagus from Peru! Southafeckingmerica!!! It’s asparagus season here – in England – right now, the end of the season sure, but still now. Now. In England. I’ve seen signs outside farms as I’ve cycled around Sussex, mere miles from that branch of Waitrose. Supermarket food economics is bonkers. Not to mention environmentally appalling.

Baked pizza

Sourdough pizza recipe
This makes one large-ish pizza, about 30cm (12 inch), but could cut up and manipulated differently. If you roll it flat, you’ll get a much more Roman-style pizza. If you open out the centre more and leave a wider, fatter edge, you’ll get a more Neapolitan-style pizza. The latter is called a cornicione and is the speciality of Michael Hanson at The Hearth in Lewes. Lewes, depressingly, has about four industrial chain pizza places; I’d say my pizza is better than all of theirs, easily, though still second-best in Lewes, after The Hearth.

This is a naturally leavened dough, so you want to make it the day before, to give it time to do a nice long fermentation.

250g strong white bread flour (or a mixture of strong, high protein flour and plain, all-purpose flour)
180g water
50g sourdough starter (100% hydration. I used a rye-based one, but wheat-based would be fine too)
15g olive oil (a good glug basically, QB)
5g salt

1. Whisk together the sourdough starter and water. It doesn’t matter if the water is cool, as it’s a long fermentation it doesn’t really need that boost of using body-temperature water. Try and use water that’s not too chlorinated or fluorinated. I filter my tap water with a Brita and the sourdough starter seems to prefer it.
2. Add the flour and salt and stir together well.
3. Add the olive oil and keep blending until well-combined.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly greased with more olive oil and give it a short knead. It is a relatively wet dough. If you find it too sloppy, add a little more flour – but not too much or you’ll make a nasty dry dough.2
5. Put the dough back in the bowl, cleaned and oiled, and let it rest for 15 minutes before giving it another quick knead, stretching it and folding it over. Repeat this twice more, then put the dough back in the bowl, again, cleaned and oiled.
6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and put it in the fridge and let it ferment slowly for about 24 hours.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use it.
8. Form it into a ball on a floured work surface. Cover.
9. When you want to bake, preheat your oven to the highest setting.
10. Gently stretch out the dough. Don’t be too rough, or you’ll damage the structure that’d been developing during the fermentation period. How you open it up depends on what shape of pizza you’re making (see above).
11. Once you have opened up the dough to almost the desired shaped, gently transfer it to an oiled baking sheet, hanging it over your forearm and taking care not to poke your fingers through it.
12. Cover with your desired toppings. I did a pizza rossa – with tomato sauce – along with the abovementioned cheese and pancetta. Here’s the pizza before it went into the oven:

Unbaked pizza.
13. Bake in your preheated oven until it’s done. Yes, I know that’s vague, but it could be 10 minutes, it could be 25, with the oven turned down a little lower to make sure the middle of the base bakes and the top doesn’t char (too much).
14. Enjoy. Preferably al fresco with a quality, hoppy local beer.

 

Info
Hastings Brewery, 12 Moorhurst Road, Hastings TN38 9NB
hastingsbrewery.co.uk | info@hastingsbrewery.co.uk | 01424 572051

 

Trafalgar Wines, 23 Trafalgar St, Brighton BN1 4EQ
01273 683325

 

Footnotes
1 Some local ignorance – is the lion a Hastings thing? Maybe, as there are lions – or one lion and two half-lion/half-boat things – on the town’s crest.
2 The mixture is really 275g flour and 205g water, as the 50g of leaven at 100% hydration is 25g water, 25g flour. So this is a 74.5% hydration dough in bakers’ percentages. I’m using Stoates organic strong white bread flour; I find it quite absorbent, possibly as it’s stoneground and contains more bran. If you’re using a whiter, less branny flour that’s less absorbent, and

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Filed under Ale, beer, Baking, British beer, Pizza, Recipes

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua… Sort of.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua, sliced

You could say pizza cresciuta is an Easter (Pasqua*) equivalent of the traditional north Italian Christmas cake panettone. Pizza cresciuta is one the many distinctive Italian baked products I saw during our two years in Rome. I mentioned it last year in a round-up of Easter baked goods and baking, saying that the verb crescere means “to rise”, as in the word crescendo. I also mentioned that the word pizza means a lot more than just a topped dough disc in Italy. So this is a “risen pizza” (it’s also called pizza ricresciuta – “re-risen pizza”). I believe a cresciuta is also term for what we’d call a sponge or pre-ferment – yeast, water and some of the recipe’s flour mixed ahead of time to get the leavening going nicely. It’s a term that’s also applied, in Naples I think, for a yeasted batter. Anyone with more knowledge about this, please do comment!

In shape the pizza cresciuta di Pasqua I saw in Rome was more like a tall round cake – that is, like panettone. Except when it’s savoury. Looking at recipes online, most of them are an enriched dough with some spices, but there are even recipes online in Italian for cheesy versions.

As the ones I’d seen in Rome were always sweet, I wanted to try that this Easter. Though I’ll say now that this is one of those experiments that didn’t really quite exactly work. Blogging it anyway, as a record. If I do try to perfect it, I don’t think it’ll be until next Easter.

A lot of the recipes I found used spices – notably anise seed and cinnamon. Most of them also used some liquor, notably spiced or herbal liquers like Alchermes (aka Alkermes) and Strega. One recipe I saw even contained 100ml each of rum, vermouth, alchermes, cognac, and cointreau! But I thought this much strong liquor was sure to bugger things up with the yeast (I note now that that recipe uses “lievito paneangeli” – I think this is a kind of vanilla flavoured baking powder).

I couldn’t hope to get Alchermes and Strega, but was able to source a bottle of the latter from TwentyOne Wines in Brighton (thanks Philip, who opened up for me during his Easter holiday last week). I was also finally able to track down some aniseed – something I’ve not been able to source in smalltown Lewes, and really want for several other Italian recipes, notably aniseed-flavoured ciambelline al vino (ring biscuits often eaten with a digestivo after dinner).

So here’s my recipe. Tweaked slightly from the weekend’s effort, but to really work I think it’ll need more tweaking. If you do have a try yourself, or have a better recipe, again, please let me know.

Some ingredients

Liqueur
50g Strega
2 t aniseed

Sponge / pre-ferment, or cresciuta
100g strong white flour
100g water
10g fresh yeast

Dough
250g strong white flour
300g plain, all-purpose or type ‘0’ flour
6g salt
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
5 medium eggs
2 t vanilla
300g caster sugar (seems a lot but vabé)
50g lard
50g butter

Aniseed in Strega

1. Put the aniseed in the liqeur and leave to macerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Make a sponge with the yeast, the water and 100g of the the strong white flour.

Lively sponge
3. Leave the sponge to ferment, covered, in a cool, draft-free place overnight.
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, vanilla, zests, sugar, booze and other spices.
6. Melt together the lard and butter then allow to cool.
7. Add the melted fat to the egg and liqeur mix.
5. Put the rest of the flour in a large bowl, along with the salt, then add the wet mixture.

Slightly strange sticky pizza cresciuta dough action shot
6. Make a dough – a nice soft, wet, tricky-to-handle dough.
8. Give the dough three short kneads every 10 minutes over half an hour or so, forming a ball, returning it to the bowl and covering between each knead. (This is the very handy Dan Lepard method.)
9. After the final knead, put the ball back in the bowl, cover again, then leave to prove until doubled in size.
10. Form a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
11. Tighten up the ball, then put it in a tall, deep tin (it could be an old food tin, which is what I did when I made panettone, though note – not one with plastic lining), or in a paper panettone case. I used the latter, which are available from Bakery Bits.
12. Leave to prove up again. Ideally you want it to double in size and feel nicely inflated. Hm. See discussion below.
13. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan oven).
14. Brush the top of the dough beaten egg. I didn’t bother as, frankly, my dough didn’t look great.
15. Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes, then turn down the oven by 20C.
16. Test to see if it’s done with a knock on the bottom. Hm. See discussion below.
17. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua. Sort of.

Eat for your Easter Sunday breakfast. In Rome, the pizza cresciuta is eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast with corallina salami. We had this one for breakfast, even though I was disappointed with the results. And couldn’t get corallina.

I knew it was going wrong when the dough seemed sluggish for the final prove. There was some (very irregular) oven spring, but I knew it was going even wronger when I first took it out of the oven – it just felt hefty, not light like a panettone. I had the oven set too low originally, and it baked too slowly, and ended up both dense and thick-crusted.

Easter Sunday breakfast - Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua

The taste was interesting though, thanks to the Strega, which features saffron, mint and fennel among its many ingredients, and the aniseed. Though I do wonder about the Strega. Certainly yeast produces alcohol alongside CO2 when it’s active in the dough, but not too much alcohol, or the presence of strong alcohol retards the action. Scratching my head about this today, I found one comment at Delia Online (here) that says “Baker’s yeast is tolerant to alcohol to about 3%. That’s 3% C2H5OH [ethanol] by mass. Brandy is about 40% C2H5OH.” I’m not sure my 50g Strega could really retard the yeast quite so much, but clearly something was awry. My proving times were quite possibly problematic too. And  I suspect all that sugar might have been a factor in affecting the activity of the yeast too.

Anyway, next time I try it, I might adapt my attempt at panettone a few years ago, which was much more successful, and go easier on the strong liquor too. Fun experiment anyway even if the result is slighty heavy duty. We had a load more for Easter Monday breakfast earlier, and it was pretty good toasted.

 

 

 

* While the English word for Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddesses – the Anglo-Saxon Ēostre – the Italian word relates to the word Passover, which comes from Pesach and the Hebrew pesah and pasah.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baking, Other food, Pizza, Recipes, Rome

The long way round to whitebait pizza

Whitebait pizza

Whitebait fritter is a classic NZ dish. In the season – or all year round if you catch enough and freeze them – whitebait is mixed with egg and fried up like a fishy omelette. Done well, it’s delicious. Done badly, well, it’s a bit of a pointless slaughter of many little fishies. And added to a pizza, well that’s a whole different story, and one we encountered this evening.

This morning, we left Mount Cook/Aoraki and headed for the South Island’s wild and woolly West Coast. Although Mount Cook is only about 50km from the coast as the crow flies, by combustion engine it’s more like 500km plus.

Cars can’t really manage the bloody great glaciated mountain range, you see. You have to drive all the way out from Mount Cook Village’s dead end highway, then east, then northeast towards Christchurch, then finally northwest and west over Arthur’s Pass, an impressive route that saddles at 920m. Alternatively, we’d have had to backtrack to Wanaka in the south, then loop up north over the Haast Pass. Either way is a mission. But Fran was determined to go to Hokitika – she’s reading Eleanor Catton’s award-winning, 832 page novel The Luminaries, which is set in this West Coast town in its 1860s gold-rush days.

Luminaries and beer

It was a great journey though. We left our hostel, visited one last, epic glacier (Tasman), then drove out along the massive glaciated valley, past bright blue lakes, hydro projects, and onto the Canterbury Plains, along very English, or even French, avenues of poplars, oaks and willows. Through alpine tussock grasslands, past the incredible rock formations of Flock Hill and Kura Tawhiti, aptly named Castle Hill in English, past various ski areas, and then we got back to some areas that hadn’t been deforested for sheep stations.

Arthur’s Pass, and the descent toward the West Coast is precipitous in places, an amazing route, surrounded by peaks and native forest, frequently by keas (NZ’s unique alpine parrot) but not always entirely fun when the inevitable speeding local in a 4WD tries to chase you at 100kmh around every sharp bend marked with a 45kmh sign.

Pinwheel and citrus slice in Geraldine

En route, we stopped at Geraldine, famed for a Bayeux Tapestry replica made with sewing machine needles (or somesuch). We didn’t check it out, concerned about our timing, but did eat a few idiosyncratic Kiwi snacks like a pinwheel, a savoury bun stuffed with cream cheese and red pepper, and citrus slice, a kinda of granola bar whose health benefits were undone by a thick layer of lemony icing. We also bought a few beers from the nearby Valley Brewing Co, a double hopped Pale Ale and Muster Red Ale (“Local barley and Nelson hops”), which we’re enjoying now.

The culinary highlight of the day, and indeed of the last week, however, was the abovementioned whitebait pizza. Rome’s renowned pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci has opened my eyes to new levels of pizza inventiveness (with seasonal delights like Brussels’ sprouts and mortadella) but even he didn’t prepare me for this.

Fat Pipi Pizza

The venue was Hokitika’s Fat Pipi Pizza, and this is their signature dish. The full 26 inch version supposedly includes a quarter pound (114g) of whitebait. I had the slightly more modest 20 inch, which still featured a serious amount of whitebait fritter, combined with mozzarella, capers and parsley, and served with lemon wedges. It was delicious. The capers and lemon cut through any fattiness from the cheese and egg, while the fish offered some slightly salty protein, care of the Hokitika River.

Tomorrow we plan to visit some of the remarkable old gold workings in the Hokitika Gorge, but in the meantime, we’re enjoying sitting in a hotel room, digesting pizza and feeling vaguely threatened by the sea. The room was going cheap, as recent storms have been trying to scour away the beach, and by extension the town, and apparently we’ll be woken by diggers working at low tide tomorrow morning trying to shore the place up. No matter, it’s still a delight to be listening to the waves a mere 20m away, and watching a line of sunset brightness slicing through the grey cloud.

Addendum
Whitebait is a big deal in Hoki. The town’s history museum dedicates about a third of its space to whitebait, including a lot of blurb from Booker-winning author Keri Hulme (The Bone People), who says “she’s not particularly serious about anything except whitebaiting.”
image

 

Oh, and months later, after Fran had finally had a chance to look at her pics, I found this. I don’t look quite convinced at this point:

Whitebait pizza

 

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Filed under Cakes, New Zealand beer, Pizza, Travelling

Back on the Mainland

Woodfired oven, Marlborough Sounds

Historically, the South Island of New Zealand has been called the Middle Island (when the southerly Stewart Island was factored in), or more commonly the Mainland (when Christchurch was the country’s main city). I like the latter nomenclature, as the South Island’s always been my main New Zealand destination, my on-and-off home.

It’s also proving to be a place with less-than-modern notions of internet access though. We’ve been down here a while now, and only now am I getting a chance to sit down with some semi-functional WiFi.

When we came over from Wellington a week or so ago, we immediately caught another boat and went deep into the Marlborough Sounds to catch up with my old friend Nadia. She’s living on the side of Mount Stokes, with a woodfired oven and a mighty fine view.

Pizza in oven

She’d made dough, and when we reached her place we had a good session sliding pizza into the oven and chowing down on the results mere minutes later. Gotta love 400-ish-C of woodfired oven.

Nadia cutting pizza

Much of our visit involved working on her precariously tiered hillside garden, and chasing away a weka (a tenacious flightless NZ bird that is the bane of many people who try to have a veg garden in areas with nearby bush), but we did find time to ardently discuss Italian food, cook up some carciofi alla romana (Roman style artichokes), and even attempt a kind of ciabatta. For this, I used the remains of Nadia’s pizza dough as a kind of biga.

Folding dough for ciabatta

I mixed up a new dough, left it to ferment for a day, then stretched it and slid it into the oven. I hadn’t got the oven quite hot enough (hey, it’s my first time), so the spring wasn’t good, but it was still a pleasing exercise.

Taking out ciabatta

… Other than when I tried to make another variant, it got stuck on the peel, and I ended up losing the loaf to the embers. Hi ho. Live and learn.

Oops

Now we’re heading further south on the Mainland, after visiting another old friend, Susie, in the Buller Gorge, catching up with loads of other young old friends (some of whom I’ve know since their infancy – it’s disconcerting to go away for 10 years and come back and find all these adults).

We even managed to fit in a fairly intense tramp/hike/mountaineering scramble in the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. It was a route I’d wanted to do for years, but after weeks of summer, the weather turned back into winter and we found ourselves on a very exposed ridge, all rocks and scree, in thick cloud, horizontal rain and cold winds. Fran, who has a kind of mountain-ridges-vertigo, looked like she was about to file for divorce there and then.

We’re still married though, thankfully, and even survived a seven hour jaunt by car today, the start of a Mainland road trip. Which has even involved some slightly frustrating (I’m always designated driver as Fran doesn’t have a license) visits to several breweries, which I’ll write up at some stage.

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A British Captain America tea party

Spread, lit candle

Our young nephew Ellis turned five on Monday. He’s a little bit obsessed with superheroes, particularly Captain America. He spends a lot of time in a Captain America outfit. He must be the only Captain America with an English (/slightly Welsh/slightly midwestern) accent.

Although I’m really not a cake decorator, and I really really really don’t like artificial food colourings, I couldn’t say no when sister-in-law Sharon said we had to make Ellis a Captain America birthday cake. Especially as I’m a big comics geek.

Captain America sugar paste figure

This involved a late-night session making one of those cake-dec bobble head figures. It was a collaborative effort: I did the head and some trimmings, Sharon the body, Fran the shield. We were all quite pleased with it. Partly as it was fun to do, but partly as our Captain America is amusingly portly, like he’s retired and taken to the beer. Even his belt and the stripey part of his costume looked more like a girdle or corset. Oh, and we’d had a little booze too: the girls on local Missouri wine from Pirtle in the historic town of Weston, me on beer from Boulevard Brewing Co in Kansas City (which is also in Missouri, mostly).

Really enjoying their bottle-conditioned beers. (I’m drinking one now too.) Like the sound of the brewery too. “Boulevard’s mission is simple: to produce fresh, flavorful [sic] beers using the finest traditional ingredients and the best of both old and new brewing techniques.” That’s what I like to hear.

Slightly bemused that US beers seem to have to carry the government health warning but don’t have to include the ABV on the bottle though.

We’ve tried Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer, which is 4.4% according to the site, and surprisingly mellow for a wheat beer. Apparently it’s also the “best-selling craft beer in the Midwest.” Their 5.5% Pale Ale, meanwhile, is also pretty mellow, but with a really well balanced hoppy tang and caramel maltiness. As for what I’m drinking now – not sure. The brother-in-law said the label came off after a session in the chilly bin/eski/cooler/cool box (delete according to nationality) and he can’t remember; and I can’t find it on the brewery site.

Covering cake

Anyway.

The cake. Although I can’t really eat coloured sugar paste, I made a nice chocolate cake underneath. I used one of my favourite recipes. It’s originally based on a cardamom cake by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood, but it’s such a great recipe it can be varied according to inclination and occasion. Here’s a metric version of the original US recipe on Cake-off, a site I used to do with my friend Jo. The chocolate version I did left out the nut mix, and replaced about 50g of the flour with cocoa. I also added some finely chopped dark chocolate. It’s such a good cake: dense but moist.

Ellis Capt America

For the party we also did some pizza. This was an interesting challenge, as was making a loaf of bread later on. Like when I first moved to Italy, I find myself in a country where the types of flour, and their packaging, are entirely unfamiliar. And here a lot of the flour is made with GM grain. At least a badge that indicates the non-GMO options seems to be a legal requirement.

Heidi pizza

A lot of the flour, sadly, is also bleached, and packed with gratuitous additives. Still, there’s also some organic available – even in the dreaded Walmart, that poster child for the problems of the industrialised food chain and a place I visited for the first time this week.

Perhaps more problematic in practical, rather than ethical, terms, however, was the way the packages labelled protein content – there was no percentage. So I really couldn’t get a great sense of what was a high protein bread flour. Still, Fran did a sterling job of making pizza dough… until we baked it and managed to totally burn the bottom of one. Our oven in Rome similarly had very fierce bottom heat, but Sharon was possibly even worse; never mind any confusion from being faced with ye olde daffy Fahrenheit after years of using nice sane Celsius.

Still, it all went off well. The cake was a hit with Ellis and the kids; the (unburnt) pizza was avidly consumed, with several of the other ex-pats here being very appreciative of a freshly baked bread product; and me and Sharon even managed to make a decent wholewheat tin loaf too.

Oh cripes. Another rambly post. I’m sorry. I’m not sure I’ll get any structure or succinctness back into this site until I’m settled back in England at the end of the year…

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Bonci, Baladin and cats

Look for this sign - Pizzarium

The past few weeks we’ve been increasingly scombussolati (“de-compassed”, discombobulated, unsettled). Moving house is always a bit of a whirlwind, and we’re on our third move in less than three years. Moving internationally is even more complicated – especially when we can’t actually move back into our own house in England just yet.

While our clobber went off in 11 hefty boxes last week, yesterday was even worse – we said goodbye to our beloved cats. Now, if you’re not an animal person, look away, as you probably won’t understand.

If you are an animal person, and you’re childless like us, you may well understand how important pets are. They’re not exactly surrogate kids, as it’s not like they’ll ever become stroppy teenagers, threaten to leave, then actually do leave, then come back again with dirty laundry. But you do invest a lot of time, money and affection in them.

We didn’t have an easy transition to living in Rome in August 2011, and it was only when our cats arrived in May 2012 that the apartment we were inhabiting here actually took on some of the qualities of a home.

Cats

They went off yesterday, chauffeured by a nice lady called Den and accompanied by three other cats, also making their way from Italy, specifically Naples, to south London, with their owners. It was all very emotional, so we had to get out of the flat, which felt oddly dead without them. To paraphrase something Jean Cocteau reportedly said, cats become the soul of the home, and that soul had just left in a cage in the back of a people carrier.

It seemed like the ideal opportunity to go and indulge ourselves in some of the greatest grain-related goodies available in Rome: specifically Gabriele Bonci’s hole-in-the-wall pizza takeaway Pizzarium, and Rome’s best beer bar, Open Baladin. I’ve been meaning to write more about the latter for ages, as Baladin really is the most important brewery in Italy’s craft beer scene, but I seem to have accidentally deleted most of my photos (ecco: scombussolato) so that’ll have to wait.

Counter at Pizzarium, Rome

Instead: Pizzarium. We heard about this place pretty soon after we arrived in Rome. It’s an institution and Bonci himself is a celebrated pizzaiolo and TV celebrity. When we went there first, I wasn’t entirely convinced, as I was hung up on the thin, crispy, slightly burned Roman pizzas of places like Ai Marmi in Trastevere and Da Remo in Testaccio. I still love those pizzas, but I’m totally a Bonci convert now.

Bonci’s principles were of course more in line with mine – he uses stoneground flours made from older wheat varieties, natural leavens and long fermentation, and tops the pizza with local and seasonal ingredients, along Slow Food lines. But I wasn’t entirely sold on the thick bases and felt the toppings tended towards overload. The latter can still arguably be the case, but they’re delicious nonetheless. I’m tired of the over-quoted Vogue soundbite about him that draws parallels with a certain Renaissance man and is included on his upcoming English book* but he’s certainly a master craftsman of the pizza and great ambassador for real food.

Pizzarium pizza bianca

I have mentioned Bonci before, as we did a pizza-making class with him last year. And he’s a big part of the scene I really enjoy here in Rome. Along with Baladin brewery’s Theo Musso and Leonardo di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo, he’s a co-founder of Open Baladin bar. The same trio is also behind the more recently opened bistro No.Au (another place we need to go before we leave). Bonci baked goods are available at both venues.

Pizzarium pizza

After a half hour walk in the hot October sun, along the Aurelian wall, then around the south and north Vatican walls, we reached Pizzarium, which is in the Trionfale quartiere. We were sold the moment we walked into Pizzarium and asked about one particular pizza. Or at least Fran was sold, as the pizza was cavolini di Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts, the first of the season) e mortadella, two of her favourite things. And seriously, who’d have ever thought of combining these on a pizza? That’s Bonci right there – he’s innovative and got a surprising sense of what will work.

We also had a pizza farcita  (filled pizza), a kind of sandwich with two layers of dough and a layer of primo sale (“first salt”, a young sheep’s milk cheese), rocket and tomato pesto between. It was delicious, with a lovely balance between the slight pepperiness of the rocket, the sharpness of the pesto and the smoothness of the cheese, itself an interesting alternative to mozzarella.

The other we had was the classic potato pizza. People may think, Hey – carb and carb? Really? But it’s delicious and quite possibly my favourite type of pizza, especially when there’s a bit of rosemary in play too. It was surprisingly light, with a good crunch where the dough and potato have caught slightly in the oven, with a pleasing, simple saltiness.

'Nduja suppli at Pizzarium

We also had some suppli – a classic and one made with primo sale and ʼnduja, soft spicy sausage from Calabria. Both delicious, but I’d still say the best suppli I’ve had yet in Rome was at La Gatta Mangiona. Though Bonci’s pizza pips theirs.

We ate all this sitting outside on the one bench, luckily having avoided the lunchtime rush, when we had been busy coercing the poor cats into the back of the people carrier and feeling mighty guilty and sad about it.

Most of the rest of the Pizzarium punters were foreigners, proving how Bonci’s reputation has made this small pizza al taglio hole in the wall a key stop of the tourist schedule for discerning food enthusiasts visiting Rome. I just wish we’d been a few more times, but it’s in a slightly awkward location up behind the Vatican. Well, awkward for us, as it’s not on a handy bus route, we’re not on Metro line A, and we don’t contribute to Rome’s excessive population of polluting cars and scooters.

Flour for sale at Pizzarium, Rome

Afterwards, not wanting to go back to a house that was like Tony Makarios without his daemon, we continued our long head-straightening walk. We headed back into town, and down to Open Baladin, near Campo deʼ Fiori. And drank much-needed restorative ales.

The sharp, firm hoppiness of my Hopbleoem, a special from Extraomnes brewery in Lombardy, with its notes of salty sweat, citrus and tomato plants, provided a good slap in the face though it was still sad going home, via another fight with our mobile phone provider (what does it take to cancel this account? Blood!? Si, certo), to an empty flat.

Open Baladin, Rome

Info
Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43, 00136 Rome.
Metro Line A; station: Cipro
bonci.it

 

 

* ‘Pizza – Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium’, due out this month. It’s a slightly more modest title than that of his Italian book: ‘Il gioco della pizza – Le magnifiche ricette del re della pizza’, ‘The Game of Pizza – The Magnificent Recipes of the King of Pizza’. I’m guessing the former is an English translation of the latter, but I’ve not seen it yet, so can’t be sure.

Oh, and PS, when we did our course, we met a half-English, half-Italian guy called David who talked about opening a place called Pizzarium Sutton, in Sutton, south London. I’m not sure this ever happened. If I find out, I’ll of course post about it.

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Pizza bianca – the quintessential Roman street food

Pizza bianca, sliced

Pizza bianca is ubiquitous in Rome. Although Romans don’t by and large like eating on the move, chances are you will see people wandering along clutching bready packages and chances are, they’ll be folded pieces of pizza bianca, either plain or filled (farcita).

Pizza bianca – “white pizza” – is effectively plain pizza, simply sprinkled with coarse salt. It can be fairly thin, or it can be fairly puffy – more akin to what we’d called focaccia in the UK. There are fine lines between different types of flat bread, but what we call focaccia (literally “hearth bread”, from the word focus – Latin for hearth) is probably more akin specifically to the focaccia Genovese. Usage of the words “pizza” and “focaccia” vary a lot around Italy; for example, in our local Sardinian restaurant here in Rome, they serve discs of crisp flatbread that they call… focaccia.

This is my second attempt at pizza bianca. I made some in February 2012, but my oven has such fierce bottom heat, I struggled to get the top golden without over-baking the bottom.

Pizza bianca

Plus, well, as pizza bianca can be found in every bakery and pizza takeaway place in Rome, it seemed almost silly to persist in trying to master it. Except recently, when we’d decided to leave, it seemed I really ought to. Then last week I stopped by Rachel’s place while she was making it, and it galvanised me to revisit the document that’s been sitting on the my desktop the past few month called “Pizza bianca recipes”.

The most important factors
Pizza bianca is made with a fairly basic white bread dough, but there are several important things to consider:
You want a a nice moist dough.
You want to give it some folds.
You have to give it time to ferment.
You need to be gentle with it.
And ideally you want decent extensibility, as with any pizza dough.

Mine fell down slightly on the final factor: perhaps an autolyse process at the start would help, but this didn’t seem to be traditional. Or I could have tried to increase the hydration.

Rachel used the recipe from Gabriele Bonci’s book (so far only available in Italian), which was 70% hydration (ie 700g water to 1kg flour), but last December we saw this recipe in the window of Bonci’s bakery in Prati. Ninety flippin’ percent hydration and two days of leavening. I was just discussing the challenge of high,70%+ hydration ciabatta dough yesterday with Jeremy; that’s tricky enough. I’d love to see Bonci handling his 90% dough.

Recipe in the window of Bonci bakery, Dec 2012

Otherwise my first effort was okay; I would have liked to get a nicer golden colour on top, but couldn’t manage that with my pesky oven…. which will only be my pesky oven for another 10 days, before we leave our home of the last two years and head back to Blighty, then on to a bit of a trip to see friends and family in the US and NZ. So all very bittersweet. Yay to visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, boo to leaving Roma friends and infuriating, wonderful Roma.

Variation and experimentation
As usual with my recipes, I’m experimenting as I go along. You can just make this with commercial yeast, but I did a mixture of fresh yeast and my leaven/sourdough. If you don’t use leaven, increase the yeast to 12g.

A note on the flour too. All the Italian recipes that I’ve seen specify using a grano tenero flour – that is “soft grain”, not a high protein wheat flour. I used Mulino Marino’s organic 0 grano tenero. (00, 0 etc refer to the fineness of the milling; see here for more discussion of Italian flour terminology). This is now available in the UK, but frankly, it’s always better to use local produce as food transportation is a massive contributor to climate change. So see if you can find a medium protein (12-13%) fairly fine flour from your most local mill.

Some recipes also use other ingredients like milk, sugar and even “strutto di maiale” (lard), but at its purest pizza bianca is just flour, water, yeast, salt. And olive oil. But then, what’s any Italian food without some olive oil?* Though the oil here is a classic qb element.

Pizza bianca recipe

The recipe
So here’s my recipe. It makes quite a lot – two fairly large, squarish pizzas – so you’ll need some room in your fridge. Or do half quantities.

The process seems quite convoluted, but mostly it’s about time and gentleness.

1000g flour
700g water
5g fresh yeast (or 3g active dried yeast)
50g white leaven (100% hydration)
20g fine sea salt
30g extra virgin olive oil… or qb.

1. Combine the water, yeast and leaven.
2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and mix together quickly.
3. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix, along with a sloosh of olive oil. Use your hands or a rubber spatula.

Pizza bianca
4. Turn the rough dough out onto a work surface and knead. Try to stretch the dough and fold it over, to incorporate air.

Pizza bianca recipe, kneading sticky dough
5. It will be sticky. Don’t keep adding more flour. When you’ve got it nicely combined, clean off your hands with some flour, rubbing it between your fingers like soap.

Pizza bianca recipe
6. Put the ball of dough in a bowl, cover with film or a cloth or a shower cap and leave to rest at room temperature.
7. Put a drop of olive oil on the work surface and rub. This won’t stop it sticking, but it can help a little…

Pizza bianca recipe
8. Turn out the dough, and stretch it to form a rough rectangle. Be gentle.

Pizza bianca, folding

9. This next bit is important. It’s called stretching and folding, and it’s a gentle way of redistributing the gases building up in the dough and helping develop the structure, aligning the proteins, while avoiding any of that old-school British violent mistreatment of the dough.

Pizz bianca, folding
10. Once you have a rough rectangle, fold one third inwards, then fold over the opposite end, to form a kind of envelope. A dough scraper, or tarocco (“tarot card”), is essential here.
Pizza bianca recipe

11. Fold this envelope in half again in the centre of the long rectangle, to make a more cube-type shape (sorry, no photo). Put it back in the bowl and cover again.
12. Repeat this process two or three more times at 20 minute intervals.
13. Clean your bowl, or use a fresh container, oil it, then put the dough back. Cover with film or a lid, and put it in the fridge.
14. Leave the dough to quietly, slowly ferment for about 20-24 hours.
15. Remove the dough from the fridge.
16. Depending on how big you want your pizzas to be, divide up the dough. I’ve got an oven sheet that’s 40x40cm (about 16”), so I did divided the dough in two.

Pizza bianca recipe
17. Give the dough another gentle fold, form a loose ball, then leave to rest again, bringing it back to room temperature.
18. Preheat your oven – ideally about 250C, or as hot as it’ll go. Baking any pizza, the hotter the oven, the better. (A good wood-fired oven can top 500C.)

Pizza bianca recipe
19. Take your ball of dough and gently extend it into a square or rectangle to fill your baking sheet or pan. Do this gently, as you want to retain the nice gassy structure. You can either do this on a flour or oiled work surface and transfer it, or it directly on your baking sheet/pan. The more you push your fingers into the dough, the thinner your pizza will be.
20. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. You can also sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before baking.
21. Then bake for about 12-18 minutes. You want a nice golden finish, something that eludes me…

Pizza bianca
22. Once it’s baked you, drizzle with a bit more oil, so it’ll be absorbed while the pizza is still warm. If you didn’t sprinkle it with salt beforehand, you can do it now instead.

Pizza bianca, and porchetta

The results
The result should be a delicious salty, slightly crunchy bread with an open, irregular structure.

You can vary it by adding olives or rosemary beforehand, but this really is entering focaccia territory, and a true Roman pizza bianca is plain.

We split ours open and filled it with porchetta, a speciality from the Rome area that’s a rolled pork roast with layers of stuffing made with garlic, rosemary and other herbs and has, ideally, some serious crackling to boot.

I’m not a meataholic like Fran,  but this made for a cracking sarnie. We served finger-food sized pieces last night at our farewell-please-take-our-stuff-while-drinking-Italian-craft-beer party. Boy oh boy, what a great selection of beers we had.

Pizza bianca with porchetta

* Of course, this was a flippant comment. Reading about Marcella Hazan, who died 29 Sept 2013, I feel quite dumb to have even made this off-hand comment, as, of course, some things are better fried in butter or types of vegetable oil, even in Italian cuisine. Frying fritti, for example, in extra virgin olive oil would be a total waste, plus, inversely, EV olive oil can be just too strong a taste for more delicate dishes.

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Back to the scene of the crime: some beer and snacks in Naples

Naples street food

Last time we went to Naples we enjoyed the pastiera and didn’t so much enjoy the pickpocketing. This time round there was, thankfully, none of the latter. Though because of the earlier experience we didn’t take a camera, and I kept neglecting to take photographs with my (crappy replacement-for-stolen) phone. Hence this one isn’t very well illustrated. Sorry – I realise food blogging needs fancy photography but, well…. Boh. È già.

Street food
Naples is a great city if you like stodge. Sure, it has amazing restaurants too, but the most tangible food, the food you’ll probably notice first – especially if you’re visiting the centro storico – is the street food.

Along Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali are dozens of places selling, basically, deep-fried stodge. Who says Glaswegians invented deep-fried pizza? Apparently, there’s been stodgy, fried street-food in this ancient Greek then Roman town for millennia.

We tried a bread-crumbed, deep-fried pasta patty, a crochetta (potato croquette, with bits of mystery meat), and a sausage (with provolone in it) wrapped in dough and… deep-fried (possibly called “wurstel in camicia” – “vienna sausage in a shirt”). I love stodge and deep-fried food, but even I felt a bit wobbly after these items. (I would have been even wobblier if I’d been forced to try the tripe and lemon juice we saw for sale from a cart down by Castel dell’Ovo on the seafront.)

Naples street food

Ale
Later on, I fancied some beer (ofc). I’d tried looking up real beer places in Napoli, but I couldn’t really find any in the centro storico. Then we wandered past La Stanza del Gusto on Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. It’s basically in Piazza Bellini, which is a great spot for an evening drink, amid the dilapidated, graffitied, litter-strewn grandeur. Most of the other bars there, however, only serve industrial beers, which gave La Stanza the edge for us as it had a good selection of international real beer.

I always prefer to eat and drink local, though it’s especially nice to be able to do this with beer. When we asked for something Italian, and local, the helpful guy went behind the bar as if he was digging into a special stash and gave us a slightly strange sales pitch. Fran had a Lemonale, which he referred to as a bit “gay” (so not exactly PC).

Lemonale and Trentatre at La Stanza del Gusto, Naples

This is a top fermented beer from Birra Karma brewery, which is based in Alvignano, 45km north of Napoli. It’s a 5.5% ABV beer that’s made with water, malted barley, rye, organic honey, Fair Trade cane sugar, hops, spices and yeast: but no actual lemon. Despite this, it was very citrusy, a little sweet, with a smooth, even body and some coriander. Karma’s own site says it’s in the style of Belgian blanche. Very refreshing.

I had a Trentatré (33) Ambrate from AF Birra/Aeffe – another local Campania brewery, this time based near Salerno. Aeffe’s site describes it as a “Scottisch Ale” while the good old Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013 says it’s 6% ABV and made with Maris Otter barley malt, and refers to it being a beer “inspired by the English tradition”. Italians really aren’t very good when it comes to the whole English-British thing, with many using the former as a synonym for the latter (I’m constantly telling a highly educated historian friend there was no “English army” in WW2, it’s the “British army”).

Anyway, Trentatré  Ambrate has a rich amber colour, with a nicely balanced, deep, slightly fruity flavour of malts and bitter hops. Just to continue his un-PC strain of jovial chat, the waiter said this was a better beer to “picchiare la moglie” (ie, he was calling it “wife-beater” – a name used in England for Stella Artois, for some reason).

Just to get the most out of our aperitivo, we tried Karma’s own amber ale, called Amber Doll. This wasn’t quite as full-bodied as the Trentatré  and had a distinctly coppery flavour, with touches of chestnut.

Karma brewery's Amber Doll

Pizza
The following day, we met some friends. They live in Rome, but have local family, and they took us for a pizza for lunch. This was at Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, which is located by the old gate Porta San Gennaro on Via Foria, a large road to the north of the centro storico and one of the many places one can see the city’s famed modern art installations that look just like massive piles of garbage. They’re uncannily realistic.

The pizzeria itself is one of the many where you’ll see a sign saying “Vera Pizza Napoletana” – Real Neopolitan Pizza – with a picture of the city’s famed folk figure Pulcinella. This guy, with his clown-like white garb and black mask, is the predecessor of Britain’s children’s entertainment psychopath Mr Punch, with his proclivity for killing (his wife, their baby, the arresting police officer). Encouraging you to eat pizza is certainly a more benign activity. The signs are organised by the AVPN, a not-for-profit founded in Naples in 1984.

Vera Pizza Napoletana sign

Our friends said there were only really three genuinely Neopolitan pizzas on the menu: notably the Margherita, which legend says was created for Margherita of Savoy, queen consort of Italy’s King Umberto I, during a visit to Naples in 1889. Another was a calzone made with ricotta and prosciutto, which Fran had. She says “It was delicious and surprisingly light.”

Not so light, apparently, is the deep-fried version, which our friends warned us off – and indeed it looked massive, and coronary-inducing, when some other punters ordered them. I had another calzone, but this time with provolone, black olives and scarola (that is Cichorium endivia, curly endive, a form of chicory). Very nice it was too – with the olives providing a sharpness to contrast with the cheese and wilted greens.

Calzone at Cessano, Naples

Pastry
The following morning, we tried just one more local speciality before we moved on down the coast to get a bit of sun and reprieve from the urban madness. This involved going to Giovanni Scaturchio, a famed historical (“since 1905”) pasticceria (pastry shop) in the head of the centro storico, on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.

Our friends insisted we have sfogliatelle. These pastries come in a few forms, though the most famous in Naples is the sfogliatella riccia, a name that literally means “curly many-leaves/layers”. And indeed the pastry is not unlike say filo, in that it’s been rolled and stretched very thinly, before being layered and rolled, and filled with a mixture of ricotta, almond paste and candied peel. We had one riccia and one made with pasta frolla – shortcrust pastry. The latter, at first glance, looks more like a brioche bun, but when eaten is clearly pastry not enriched bread dough, and is also filled with ricotta and peel.

We were so busy talking about it all, then trying to get the waiter to bring a knife, then cutting them up, that by the time I thought about taking a photo there wasn’t much left. So instead, here’s the picture from Scaturchio’s site:

Sfogliatelle from Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio

If you’re only in Naples for a few days, and fancy trying a distinctive local snack, I’d really recommend a good sfogliatella, or two. Slightly more refined than the deep-fried pizza sold on the street stalls. I’m saving that treat for next time we run the gauntlet of this astonishing city.

Info
La Stanza del Gusto, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 100, 80138 Naples, Italy
+39 081 401 578 | lastanzadelgusto.com

Birra Karma brewery
+39 0823 869 117 | info@birrakarma.com | birrakarma.com

AF Birra/Aeffe brewery
+39 081 516 2434 | info@afbirra.com | afbirra.com

Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, Via Porta San Gennaro 2, 80138 Naples, Italy‎
+39 081 456 421

Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19, 80134 Naples, Italy
+39 081 551 7031 | info@scaturchio.it | scaturchio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Bakeries, Misc, Pizza