To continue with my slightly ‘off piste’ foray into the flavours of Italy following my recent trip to Tuscany. I am going to try to justify this by saying that since living in France ‘The Continent’ has become more accessible. It is no longer necessary to take a plane or boat or a 35 minute very expensive car journey under the ‘Chunnel’ to reach destinations in Europe.
We have travelled to Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy twice by car, stopping ‘en route’ to explore regions of the French countryside that we would not normally visit.
During our stay in Tuscany, we visited the small hilltop town of Cortona. Cortona is the town which features in the ‘Frances Mayes’ book and Film of the same name ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ and sadly has fallen victim to the success of the this and subsequent books.
Almost every other shop (slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean) had giant posters from the film in their window, cashing in on the plentiful interest of American tourists who had come to pay homage and see the locations from the film and try to capture a little of the magic conjured up in the book.
As a result of this I counted three ‘Burger Bars’ in the relatively small village, presumably to cater for the American tastes………….Admittedly they were not typical Burger Bars, rather cafes/restaurants serving gourmet burgers with salad and chips that looked very tempting. But I asked myself, would the Americans not have been just as happy (or even more so!) to eat Italian food as they did everywhere else (after saying that, these establishments were full!)
We, however, went to a small pizzeria tucked away in a little alley just off the main thoroughfare, with tiny tables with two chairs balancing on the steps that led down to the outskirts of the village.
Having seen the size of the portions, we ordered an artichoke and caper pizza and a delicious green salad with shavings of tangy fresh Parmesan cheese and shared them both (antipasta and lovely little chocolate and almond cookies were offered free, as was a basket of delicious bread, we found this a lot in Italy, you almost didn’t need to order food as the ’nibbles’ that they served up with the ‘apero’ were plentiful and varied).
This inspired me to make my own pizza dough and tomato sauce and create my own pizza, with true ‘Taste of Two Cities’ style, just using what I had at hand…….the results were pretty good and Monsieur le Frog commented on how crisp and light the base was (normally he would frown on pizza as ‘food for the teenagers’)
For the record, anyone visiting the area and planning to visit a hilltop village, then Montepulciano is, in my opinion, by far prettier than Cortona, with lots of little ‘artisan’ workshops with people working leather and copper and making mosaics from Moreno glass. (not all of them with an eye to the tourists, but actual small business, as the forge halfway up the hill) This charming small town also features in the ‘Flag throwing’ scene in the film………
And now – how I created my masterpiece………..
Pizza dough (pate a pizza)
8oz/200g strong white (bread) flour, or a mix of 4oz/100g of plain flour and 4oz/100g of wholemeal flour if you prefer a more rustic base (100% wholemeal is too heavy) – see table at end of post explaining different flour grades for UK, US, France and Italy.
1 dessertspoon (1 cuiller a soupe) of olive oil
1 teaspoon (1 cuiller a café) of dried yeast (levure chimique)
1 teaspoon of castor sugar (1 cuiller a café de sucre en poudre)
1 teaspoon (1 cuiller a café) of salt
About 1/3 of a pint (un peu pres 200ml) of warm water (d’eau tiede)
Dissolve the sugar in the water then sprinkle on the yeast and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes
Add the salt to the flour then add the yeast mixture and the olive oil until a soft dough forms
‘Knead’(petrir) the dough for about 5 minutes than place in a floured bowl and cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled in size
Knead once more until smooth and elastic and stretch out onto an oiled pizza stone (or baking tray lined with oiled baking parchment)
Cover with tomato sauce and your topping of choice, sprinkle with olive oil and bake in a moderately hot oven for around 20 minutes
N.B. This makes a delicious flatbread (pizza bianco) if simply topped with a generous drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with roughly chopped garlic, oregano and coarsely ground sea salt
Lindy’s Tomato sauce (totally me own creation, unless anyone else has had the same ideas!)
2-3 large ripe tomatoes (I prefer plum tomatoes (olivettes) as they are more fleshy (charnu))
1 clove garlic (1 gousse d’ail)
1 tablespoon (2 cuillers a soupe) of olive oil
1 tablespoon (2 cuiller a soupe) of tomato puree
1 tablespoon (2 cuillers a soupe) of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon (1 cuiller a café) of salt
1 teaspoon (1 cuiller a café) of fennel seeds (grains de fenouil)
½ a teaspoon (.5 cuiller a café) sugar
½ a teaspoon (.5 cuiller a café) oregano
½ a teaspoon (.5 cuiller a café basil)
Freshly ground black pepper to season
Heat the oil in a saucepan
Crush (ecraser) the garlic and roughly chop the tomatoes and sauté in the oil until soft
Add the tomato puree, then red wine vinegar
Add the sugar, salt, fennel seeds, oregano and basil and black pepper to taste
Cover and gently simmer for around 20 minutes
Leave to cool slightly before spreading over the pizza base
Finish off with toppings of your choice – I personally never buy ingredients to make pizza, pasta, risotto, gazpacho or soup – I just use what I have left over from other meals, so each time it is different! This time I used some left over red pepper, orange pepper, courgette, red onion, pancetta and a handful of red jalapenos and black olives plus some grated parmesan cheese (I use mozzarella if I have it, but on this occasion it had all been eaten in a tomato salad!)
Some international flour grades Flour comes in literally hundreds of varieties and it can be very confusing when reading recipes written in other countries, so hopefully this little table will help
UK – Wholemeal. US – Wholewheat. Fr – 150 Italy – Integrale
UK – Brown US – 1st Clear Fr – 110 Italy – 2
UK – Light Brown US – High Gluten Fr – 80 Italy – 1
UK – Strong White* US – All purpose Fr – 55 Italy – 0
UK – Plain White US – Pastry Flour Fr – 45 Italy – 00 (Pasta)
UK – Corn flour US – Corn starch Fr – Mais* Italy – ??
UK – Self Raising US – ?? Fr – Gateaux Italy – ??
* Strong White is Bread flour, Mais = ‘farine de Mais
If anyone from the US begs to differ, please excuse me and your comments will be most welcome – likewise if anyone can fill in the?? then I will be very grateful
Get tossing those pizzas – happy baking