Mostly Unproven

I have a few favourite things in the world. Somerset County Cricket club is one. Indie music from the late 80s/early 90s is another. The landscape of South-West England. Post-war British fiction. Cats.

Pizza is up there. Very close to the top actually. It was what weekends in Italy were all about, whether at the beach in summer, snacking on pizzette on white plastic tables, or else the Sunday night takeaway on the sofa with friends, watching Serie A. It is my takeaway staple, my not-so secret crush and my totally innocent pleasure.

I’m not exactly a purist either. I’ve been known to consume frozen varietes of many brands and drunkenly ordered it from the menus of the most scabrous eating establishments. I’ve eaten it when there were better things on offer, when I couldn’t be bothered to cook; I’ve had it for supper when I already had it for lunch.

I do however generally like to keep it simple and I am consistent in my ordering. Either a plain margherita, perhaps with added anchovies, or, when I was more of a meat eater, al piccante with spicy salame. One can gild the lily too much with those meat feasts and four cheeses. Like a good sandwich I believe a maximum of three key ingredients is all that’s needed.

Having said that I’m going away tomorrow for a couple of weeks so I took the opportunity of using up a few things in my fridge which would otherwise not keep to put on my homemade pizza.

A pizza, moreover, made without yeast. I told you I wasn’t exactly a purist. I didn’t have any yeast anyway, only baking powder. The combination of flour, salt and baking powder doesn’t make a totally authentic pizza dough, but for a home cook – especially one pushed for time – it’s close enough. No need for any proving time as once the dough is made it’s ready to be rolled and topped.

The ingredients I felt would sit better on a ‘white’ pizza rather than a tomato sauce-based one. It ended up as more like cauliflower cheese on bread, but what’s not to like about that?

For the dough-making recipe I followed this link, but adapted the quantities to make one single pizza. So:

  • 200g flour
  • 1 and a half tsp baking powder
  • half a tsp of salt
  • 100ml water
  • 20ml olive oil

For the topping:

  • half a head of cauliflower, florets only (stalks retained for future use, they freeze)
  • one leek, sliced
  • 100g mozzarella
  • 25g blue cheese
  • 25g parmesan
  • a few spinach leaves, torn
  • palmful of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • olive oil
  • dried oregano, enough to sprinkle
  • salt and pepper
  • smoked paprika, half a tsp.

 

Method to make the topping:

Blanch the cauliflower and leek in salted boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and leave to drain well and cool. Once the pizza dough is rolled, brush with olive oil and then arrange the vegetable mixture on top, leaving some space at the sides. Add the thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and grated parmesan, then the other cheeses. Sprinkle over the paprika, if using. Drizzle over a little more oil. Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees celsius for about 40 minutes. Add the spinach leaves after about 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Prove it

Twin hobs, toaster and an un-proven cupboard. Ever since I moved in to this apartment I’ve been intrigued by a certain fitting in the kitchen. The cupboard beneath the principal chopping area, usually used to house saucepans and most of my crockery, has behind it a radiator. Now I should say that I have no input in the heating situation in my apartment, as it is centrally controlled throughout the entire building. It is turned on in mid-November and switched off mid-March, virtually regardless of the outside temperatures. Beginning of the third month and the weather is getting milder, yet the heating pulses on.

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Said cupboard, in its usual state

Well. The idea occurred to me relatively early in my tenancy this cupboard, as well as an invaluable storage space, could at times double as a kind of proving drawer for bread products, such as one finds in some ovens. The temperature within is consistently warm, about that of a disappointing bath. Never mind it’s taken me over two years to try this out (lack of oven a key factor), my enthusiasm for this blogging project has given me the oomph – aided by the dull weather on a day off – necessary for the experiment.

Waking up I was initially sceptical of being able to easily locate yeast within the environs  of my apartment. I live in a quiet and unfashionable district, well away from the expat communities who might have better access to better-stocked western-style supermarkets, and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding said raising agent in the local shops – although, thinking about it, that was shortsighted given its presence in various bread products, including these.

Never mind. I got to cycle down to my favourite local, run by a woman I will call Twin, and found a sachet. Bonus exercise. Recipes I read for bread call for, variously, strong, or hard flour. I bought a packet of something called all-purpose flour and, obviously, the proof will be in the eating….

Actually I had no idea what kind of bread I was going to make. My preoccupations lay virtually solely with the aforementioned experiment meaning, typically, I was more concerned with the process than the result. And yet. As I went about the morning, doing laundry, tidying up, ideas began to formulate, as they will. I thought about what I had in my other cupboards, and in the freezer, and eventually I had a picture in my mind. A picture of beef stew and flatbreads. Slow Saturday cooking.

The scene was set. Not only did I have the ingredients, the time and the methodology, I also had things to listen to. One of these days I will publish a post about the things I have on in the background while I am cooking. At the stove and the train window are my favourite places to listen, to music or other. Today I had albums by these old favourites and this marvellous new discovery as a soundtrack but, best of all, piping in from sunny climes over eleven thousand kilometres to the south-east, this. If there’s anything better than cricket commentary on the radio I don’t want to know about it.

Baking calls for some precise measuring. That’s what the baking people will have you think. I found a basic recipe and adjusted the quantities to fit a smaller amount because as much as I wanted to try this out I didn’t want to be eating flatbreads for the next seven days. Not having any scales I wasn’t sure of the flour-yeast-water ratios so improvised by using measuring spoons my mother had thoughtfully given me at Christmas – figuring out that 1 millilitre equals 1 gram.

To make the flatbreads a bit more funky I augmented the dough mixture with a good couple of teaspoonfuls of za’atar, and once everything was combined I placed it, covered, in the un-proven drawer….

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….approximately an hour later, or could have been less, or more (I fell asleep), the dough looked like this….

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A proven success!

Buoyed by my small triumph I set about the stew with zeal. The beef was cubed and sprinkled with smoked paprika, salt and pepper, before being quickly browned then removed so that the carrots, red onions, garlic, star anise, thyme and rosemary could jostle for flavour favour in the pan. Once these had softened I added a tin of tomatoes, some stock (a cube) and the beef again. Lid on, heat to a simmer. I rinsed and chopped some kale in preparation as obligatory green addition.

I still had to cook the bread. After a bit more kneading – I don’t mind that – I oiled up the baking tray and set the oven dials for fifteen minutes on the highest heat. Rolling the bread out proved (ha!) to be interesting. I used, first, a bicycle pump and then a hand mixer to achieve the desired stretched flatness. The pump gave a more even roll but was basically inadequate because of its appendages which didn’t permit a direct contact with the bread surface after the initial roll. The mixer did not roll evenly but was more generally efficacious.

While the bread puffed up in the oven I cooked the kale in salted boiling water and threw in with the stew, now ready. The flatbread turned out to resemble a piece of driftwood but, fortunately, tasted pretty good – crisp exterior and soft inside, with the za’atar taste nice and mellow throughout. A grating of clementine peel over the stew was a perky afterthought.

Nice and mellow sums up the day.

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