Monday, 24 March 2014

Pizza, it's simple but complicated.

Well, I made it here. I was secretly pretty impressed with myself too, I had managed to get on the correct bus from Naples airport to the train station and from there the correct train to Sorrento, which although took over an hour only cost me 4 euros!!! Admittedly I did get a little lost, and go the wrong way 4 times, from the station to the cookery school and B&B but hey, whose counting?

Upon arrival the chef greeted me with a seriously good espresso and two huge slices of cake that he had made, I don’t usually eat cake but I felt like it was the polite thing to do and OMG they were good. One was a flourless chocolate cake, similar to a brownie but much, much better. The second was a frangipani and pear tart, which was light as a feather and tasted and smelled absolutely wonderful. I was going to get fat here. 

I asked him how long he had been a chef for “Forever, cooking is all about passion, it comes from the inside and it’s always there.” I liked him instantly. He told me pizza although simple was complicated, and we wouldn’t be able to cover everything in a week, but it would be a good start. I was happy with that, most things worth something in life were simple but complicated.

My room was lovely and even though it was raining I explored and instantly fell in love with Sorrento. It was good to be here. I didn’t have an umbrella but refused to let the wet weather dampen my mood. Everyone was incredibly friendly although I did get a lot of strange looks. No doubt because people were wondering why I was more than content to stroll around absolutely soaked with a huge grin on my face, taking pictures of everything I saw. It was great and I hope I never forget how magical everything looked to me.

Day 1:

We started with basic pizza dough, one suitable for cooking in an electric oven, so the kind of pizza you could easily make at home. Not only could the dough be used for pizza but also calzones and focaccia too, although this wasn’t the focaccia I was used to, in fact it was more like the pizza bread you could often get as a starter in Italian restaurants. Light, crispy and totally addictive with just a hint of fresh rosemary and garlic drizzled with plenty of really good olive oil. It was handy for making Italian sandwiches too, I was told, and I couldn’t wait to give that a go when I got home. We also made sun-dried tomato, oregano, pecorino and olive rolls, which were light as a feather and tasted amazing. The calzones were stuffed with a mixture of salami, ham, ricotta and mozzarella cheese then gently fried in sunflower oil until golden brown. The fried dough developed a slightly sweet flavour, which contrasted perfectly with the salty salami and stringy, gooey mozzarella. In fact we made a vast amount from just the one batch of dough, it was all very exciting.

Pizza dough:
Makes loads (seriously from this batch we made 10 calzones, 8 mini pizzas, 1 big pizza, 6 olive rolls and 1 big focaccia, I think you could make 8 pizzas from this)

1kg ‘0’ Canadian strong flour
20g salt
25g fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp olive oil
cold water
Toppings: Tinned tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan and whatever else you like.

1 Tip the flour onto a clean work surface (this was marble) make a large well in the center and crumble in the yeast, add the salt, sugar and oil. Pour in about 200ml of water (he didn’t measure this just did it by eye) and use your fingers to combine the yeast with the liquid while gradually bringing in the flour. Keep going, adding more water, until you have soft, sticky dough. Knead for a couple of minutes until soft. Place in a floured bowl and cover, prove for about 40 minutes.

For pizza:

1 Heat oven to high, about 250C or as high as it will go. Lightly oil a baking tray, we used rectangle. Take about 1/8th of the dough and gently press out with your fingers until you have a rough rectangle. Put onto the tray then turn over so both sides of the dough are oiled. Leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes, repeat with the rest of the dough, or freeze in portions, or make something else with it.

2 Tip a can of plum tomatoes into a bowl; squeeze to crush with your fingers and season with a little salt. Add garlic if you like or leave as is.

3 Once the dough has rested use your finger tips to spread out to the edges of the tray. Spread on a little tomato, then slice a ball of mozzarella and add this. Lastly sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Bake for about 12 -15 minutes, depending on how high your oven goes, until the base is crisp and the cheese has melted. Eat immediately.

Everything I ate today tasted absolutely wonderful. The flavours are simple and seasoned only lightly with a little salt and good olive oil but work together to create the most stunning results. It was honest, refreshing cooking taught by a true Italian family and exactly what I had came for. I will go to bed happy tonight. 

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