Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pizza, the Italian way...

It seems rather strange that I learnt what I know about authentic Italian pizza in Ireland. Having an Italian flat mate, who loved to answer my never-ending stream of questions about her food culture, was at that time, the closest thing to visiting Italy!

Franchesca was passionate, just the way I imagine a young Italian woman - passionate about family, passionate about her friends, but mostly passionate about food. She and I would exchange ideas while cooking together in our tiny kitchen (although it was mainly me asking the questions). Pizza was seemingly the standard dinner option. She made it simply with a chunky home-made tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and herbs. The base was thin and squared out in an oven tray, ready to be cut into big, easy-to-eat rectangles (a meal begging to be shared).

The traditional way to eat pizza is with your hands, ‘like a man’ (as Jamie Oliver describes it) folded over like a sandwich with an oozing, juicy centre - delicious. This is how pizza originated, a simple, affordable street food, easy to grab while on the go. Somehow, we got carried away with all the elaborate toppings and lost the appreciation for a crisp, hand-rolled base with a simple combination of two or three toppings.

Apart from simple toppings, a thin base is essential and a wood-fired oven does lend that unmistakable smokey flavour and crunchy crust. Very few of us have access to a wood fired oven at home. I have, however, stumbled across an alternative: by par-baking your crust in the oven, assembling your pizza and baking it in a Weber braai you’ll get a near authentic crisp, smokey pizza. Proving, sometimes it takes a little adventure in the kitchen (or out) to get the best result!

Tip: Make sure you use charcoal or wood (not briquettes) for your fire. Bake pizza in closed Weber for 10 - 15 minutes, and then put in the next one!

Pizza Toppings – Great Combinations

• Goats milk cheese, fig and caramelized onions with fresh rocket.
• Baby potatoes (boiled and sliced) with mozzarella, rosemary, thyme on a chunky tomato sauce.
• Parma Ham, artichokes, olives, mozzarella on a tomato base with freshly torn basil leaves.
• Spicy salami with oven-roasted courgettes, basil and mozzarella cheese on a tomato base.

Basic Pizza Dough (Makes 6-8 medium sized thin pizza bases)

800g strong white bread flour
200g fine ground semolina flour/whole wheat flour
1 level tsp of salt
15g dried yeast
1 tablespoon castor sugar
650ml lukewarm water

• In a big bowl or on a clean smooth surface, mix the salt and the flour and make a well in the middle to hold the liquids.
• Mix the yeast and the sugar with the tepid water and allow it to stand for a few minutes.
• Pour the yeasts mixture into the flour and using a fork and a circular movement; slowly bring the flour into the centre mixing the dough until it comes together.
• Pat the dough into a ball and flour a clean surface for kneading the dough.
• Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until you have a smooth, soft ball of dough.
• Dust the dough with flour, cover it loosely with cling film and let it rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature.
• Divide the dough into as many pizza bases as you like, depending on the size you’d like. It’s good to roll out the bases about 15-20 minutes before baking them, this gives them time to rest and prove slightly.
• Preheat your oven to about 230-250 degrees Celsius or prepare your Weber fire.
• Roll your bases out into ½ centimeter thick bases. Arrange your toppings and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the temperature.
• Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy warm, straight from the oven!

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