Pizza

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite “treat” foods has to be pizza.  I am not talking about the doughy and often nasty takeaway version, or the hard and mainly unpalatable frozen variety.  I am talking restaurant quality or a darn fine home made version!

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I have tested dough for some time in my quest to make a pizza base I was happy with.  It has come down to not just technique, but also the types of ingredient.  Using speciality flour has definitely made a difference.  Technique changes have also made for a more tastier base!

Please note that I have placed affiliate links on some items, to help you locate items I use.  It is up to you whether you choose to purchase any item.

Three pizza making items that have revolutionised my pizza’s are:-

Pizza Stone

Pizza Shunt/Peel

Pizza Scissors – (No necessary but if you see the below video, you may be convinced.)

Ingredients:-

500g Tipo type “0” flour  (This link at time of writing, buys you around 10 bags for £12 – It is hard to find this flour in supermarkets, so you could go halves with a friend as a suggestion. It stores and lasts well, so I go through it all…. no shock there)

3.5g Dried Easy Bake Yeast
45g Olive Oil – I find weighing it easier
250 ml of luke warm water
10g salt
10g sugar

Semolina or Greaseproof Paper if using the Pizza shunt/peel as per video below.

Toppings:-

Tin of good quality tomatoes (See my photo below)
Ball of Mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Plus any other toppings – I like red onion and mushrooms.

The first part to this recipe that I would want to advise you about is dough timing.  I make the dough the night before I eat it, or early in the morning.  This allows the dough to get better flavour and it really makes a huge difference!

I use my Kitchenaid mixer  and this is because I love getting maximum use out of it.  Plus I can be doing other things whilst it mixes the dough.  I use a dough hook and speed 2 setting.

In the mixer, place in the flour, sugar, yeast to one side, salt to the other side (otherwise it can cause problems proving) and olive oil.

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Then add 200mls of the water to begin with.  Different types of flour absorb different levels of water.  You may need only this amount or you could find yourself needing more than suggested. Go little by little.  If you find the dough too wet, add a little more flour.  Give the dough chance to come together though, because all of sudden it can go drier. The dough needs to be kneaded for around 10 minutes.  You might have to stop your mixer once or twice, and run a spatula around the edge of the bowl.  This is so all the ingredients get properly added.

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After ten minutes, your bowl should be clean and the dough should be smooth and have some elasticity to it.

Using the bowl you have been mixing it in, rub a little olive oil around the bowl and place the dough back in.  The olive oil helps stop the dough sticking to the sides, whilst it is proving and rising.  Place some cling film tightly over top.  This stops the dough getting a skin.

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Then place a tea towel over the top and let it prove for around about an hour or so, until it has doubled in size.  DO NOT be tempted to place in an airing cupboard or anywhere too hot.  Most rooms around 21 degrees centigrade are a good temperature.

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After an hour or so, when doubled in size, tip the dough out onto a floured or oiled work surface.  Many people use flour, but at this stage I like to use a little olive oil on my hands and work surface as I find it stops the dough sticking.  Everyone has their own preference, and this is mine.  Knock back the dough.  This means turning and almost pushing the air out of it again.

I then make the dough into a sausage shape and score into four.

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I then cut into four pieces and roll each piece into a ball shape.  I place each ball into a lightly greased tray/dish.  I then cover with clingfilm and place into the fridge.  I leave them overnight or all day, depending on when I have made them.  As I state above, the longer the better as this gives the dough real flavour.  Even thought it is in a fridge the dough is still proving but not rising.

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Once you are ready to make the pizzas, I would ensure all your topping ingredients are prepped ready.  Make sure your oven is heated high (240 degrees centigrade) with any pizza stone at the correct temperature.  Be prepared to work quickly if you are using my method of pizza shunts/peels as per the videos below.  The video will explains more.  The last thing you want is your dough sticking to the pizza shunt/peel.  Even if you are not using a pizza peel/shunt, you will still need to be fairly quick to stop the dough getting sticky underneath.

I roll out one pizza at a time and keep the others cool in the fridge.  I use a floured surface for this part, and mainly use my hands to push the dough out.  You can use a rolling pin, but I find my hands better for some reason.  Make sure o rings etc, pierce the dough!

I then move on to use the pizza shunt.  Here is a video is below of me using the pizza shunt.

 

One of the toppings is of course the tomato base.  I like the way the Italians just use tinned tomatoes, but they ensure they are real good quality ones.  Some of the nicest I have tried for pizza is the Cirio Polpa ones (see below).  They take a tablespoon or two of the tinned tomatoes and use this as the tomato base.  Do not go right to edge but leave a plain rim.

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Place your pizza into the oven using your pizza shunt/peel or other method you choose to use.  Depending on the topping it will take around 8 minutes to become nice and crisp.  This is why the semolina at the bottom of the pizza shunt/peel and using a pizza stone is so good.  Both absorb moisture which helps eliminate soggy bottoms!

Once cooked, you can slice up.  I HIGHLY recommend the pizza scissors which I demonstrate below.  They are my new favourite gadget.

 

 

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Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers – Gemista

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Olympic Palace Hotel on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes.  The Executive Chef and his team, were working tirelessly to produce utterly delicious food, day after day.  It is certainly no easy task producing this level of food constantly, add in the hot climate and long hours and I think many of us would be exhausted.  To work at this level you have to have skill and dedication to your work. Eating Gemista in Rhodes

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that they must have a real enthusiasm and passion, for the food and ingredients they were using. It was a true pleasure to see!  Being a person who loves to immerse herself in the culture of a country, I could not resist getting the opportunity to meet with the food and beverage team, and find out more about their superb Greek dishes.  I managed to get a recipe from them too, so if you fancy trying their “Gemista” pronounced yemista then scroll down.

Gemista - Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers

Still to this day, it never ceases to amaze me at how many tourists go to a country, and yet do not try the national dishes?  To me, the whole point of visiting a country is to explore not just the surroundings, but their way of life.  So I urge you to be a little more adventurous and head to the specialist food sections and restaurants, where local and national cuisine is on offer.  Great food is worth exploring!  For more information on the Olympic Palace Hotel (which is a super place to stay by the way) go to:-

www.olympicpalacehotel.com

 

Greek Feta CheeseEmily at workExecutive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager of the Olympic Palace Hotel With Emily

Ingredients

6 large tomatoes
3 Green Peppers
1 Egg plant chopped small dice (Aubergine in the UK)
1 Pumpkin chopped small dice (Small Butternut Squash in the UK)
12 Tbl of Carolina Rice (Long Grain Rice in UK)
1 White onion finely chopped
Salt & Ground Pepper
1 1/2 Cups of Olive Oil
1 Leek
Handful of fresh parsley finely chopped
Handful of fish mint finely chopped
1kg Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunky moon shape

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Wash the vegetables.  Slice a 1cm layer from the top of the tomatoes and peppers.  This makes a lid, so keep them for later.  Remove the inside of the tomato (carefully so you do not split the skin) and reserve the insides for the next step.  Discard the inside of the peppers.

Sprinkle each tomato with a little salt and turn upside down on a tray so that any excess liquid can come out.

In a deep pan take 1\2 cup of olive oil and fry the chopped onion and leek for around 2-3 minutes.  Then add the aubergine and butternut squash and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Add the rice and combine all together well.  With a hand blender, blitz half of the insides of the tomatoes.  Add this puree to the pan, along with 1 cup of water.  Add some salt and pepper for seasoning, and continue cooking on a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and add in the chopped herbs.  The filling will be quite loose and juicy.

Place the mixture to 3/4 height of the tomatoes and peppers.  You need a little room at the top, as when the rice cooks it will expand.  Place the lids on the peppers and tomatoes, and place in a deep baking dish close to each other.  Place the potatoes around the edge.

Blend the other half of the tomato insides with the remaining cup of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, and then place over the potatoes.

Cover the baking dish with tin foil and place into the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.  Then remove the tin foil and continue cooking in the oven for a further 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check that it is cooked by gently prodding the potatoes with a knife.

This dish is served both hot and cold in Greece.  In fact they often like it at room temperature the following day.  This will intensify the flavour even more.

Needless to say it is delicious with feta cheese, but another way is to remove the tops and add a slice of mozzarella, then place under the grill until it melts.  However if you are vegan then you can take away any cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

Pasta, Tomato & Sardines

I used to make this for myself as one of my healthy eating low-calorie foods, but it has fast become a favourite with others in my family.  You could swap sardines for tuna or mackerel if you want, although the tinned sardines in tomato sauce just make this dish taste even better.  The quality of ingredients should be top-notch, as they do all the hard work.  I love Parmentier sardines in tomato, they are just delicious!

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Ingredients (Serves 2)

2  Tins of sardines in tomato sauce
150g of Bucatini or Spaghetti
2 Cloves of garlic sliced
10 Cherry tomatoes in quarters
1 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 Red pepper sliced
Salt
Bag of rocket leaves
1 Lemon

Boil your bucatini/spaghetti as per the instructions in salted water.

In a large wok or non stick pan, place the olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, chilli flakes and red peppers.  Cook and stir for around five minutes.

Once the bucatini/spaghetti has cooked, remove two ladle full of the water and place into the pan/wok.  Drain the bucatini/spaghetti and add it to the wok.  Add in the sardines and break into chunks, gently mixing it around.  Squeeze in half the lemon, take a handful of rocket and add it to the frying pan, season with salt and mix around again.

Cook for a further couple of minutes, so that the rocket begins to wilt slightly.  Place the spaghetti in bowls.  You will notice some of the ingredients are at the base of the pan, so pour equally onto the spaghetti.

Take the rest of the rocket, squeeze some lemon over, grind a little salt and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Mix to combine and coat the rocket, then add to the spaghetti bowls.

Delicious!

 

 

 

Scones

Scones are not just simply delicious but can be whipped up in next to no time. They can either be plain or include raisins and can be smothered in butter or my personal favourite whipped cream and jam. Scones are great for just eating at home but are the star attraction of a tea party. Without them, a tea party seems incomplete. I have made so many versions of scones over the years in my pursuit of perfection. Finally, I think I have managed to achieve a scone which has good height and great taste. There are a couple of tricks though. Firstly when you push the cookie cutter into the dough, do NOT twist the cookie cutter to get the scone shape out. Lift it from the rest of the dough and gently tease the dough from the cookie cutter. Secondly, when rolling out the dough ensure that it is just over 2cms thick. If you roll it too thin, the scones will not get the height. I also find using a finer flour “OO” Italian grade flour makes the scone lighter. Do not worry if you cannot find any (although most supermarkets now stock it), its just that I use it quite a lot for light fluffy cakes and delicacies, so always have it to hand. Plain flour thats been well sieved will give a good result.

scones

 

Ingredients

500g of “OO” Italian Flour or plain flour
2 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
130g chilled salted butter
50g caster sugar
1 egg beaten
275ml of milk
3 tbsp of Demerera sugar
Optional: 40g sultanas

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade and lightly grease a baking tray.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a large mixing bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour mix until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Light airy motions are best for this.  Stir in the caster sugar.

Mix the beaten egg and milk together.

With the beaten egg/milk, you want to retain a couple of tablespoons for brushing onto the tops of the scones later.  The remaining egg mixture along with the milk can be added and mixed until a dough forms and the mixture comes together.  If adding the optional sultanas do so at this stage.  On a lightly floured surface roll or even better gently press the mixture to just over 2cms in thickness.

Using a 6cm cookie cutter press down into the dough (please see narrative notes above).  The dough will give you between 10-12 scones.  Just keep rolling the dough until its all gone and you cannot make any more scones.  Transfer the scones onto your baking tray.

With the remaining egg/milk that you set aside brush the tops of each scone.  Sprinkle the demerera sugar on top.

Bake in the oven for around 10-15 minutes.  Check after 10 minutes.

Eat warm with butter or cool with cream and jam!

Simnel Cake

This is a traditional Easter cake, which certainly makes a great centrepiece for your Easter dinner table.

simnel cake

Ingredients

500g marzipan
180g butter
180g light muscovado sugar
3 large free-range eggs
250g plain flour, sifted
½tsp baking powder
60g ground almonds
300g mix of raisins, sultanas and currants
50g candied peel, chopped
zest 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp rum
1 small egg beaten
A couple of teaspoons of smooth apricot jam

Pre-heat the oven to 150 C fan oven.  Prepare a 7 inch loose bottomed cake tin by greasing and double lining it.  As the cake takes a while to cook, double lining helps to stop the cake burning on the outside.

Take the Marzipan and divide it into thirds.  With 1/3rd of the marzipan roll it to the size of the cake and just put to the side.  With another 1/3rd do exactly the same.

To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy.  This step may take a few minutes, so be patient.  Then add the baking powder to the flour and stir to make sure it is evenly distributed.  Turn your mixer to a slower speed and alternatively add the flour and the egg.  This helps to stop the mix curdling.  I add a small amount of egg, then a large tablespoon of flour until all the flour and egg has gone.  Then fold in the almonds, mixed fruit, peel, lemon zest, mixed spice, milk, brandy and rum, taking care not to lose that air you have whipped into the cake.

Pour half of the cake mixture into the tin, then place the marzipan circle on top that you set aside earlier.  Pour the remaining cake mixture on top.  To make the cake level as possible, make a slight dip into the centre.  Bake in the centre of an oven for around 1 hour 30 – 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes clean out of the cake.  Let it cool in the tin slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

Once cool you can then decorate the top of the cake.  First glaze the top of the cake with apricot jam.  This helps the top layer of marzipan stick to the cake.  Gently place the other marzipan circle on top.  You can crimp the edges like a pie, leave it smooth or even make lattice patterns on the marzipan it is your choice.

Take the remaining marzipan and roll into 11 balls. It is usually 11, to represent the apostles, Judas gets missed out, for obvious reasons.  Take the beaten egg and just brush a little onto each marzipan ball and stick them to the top of the marzipan on the cake.  You can leave the cake like this or a lovely touch which I sometimes do, is to glaze the cake top with the remaining beaten egg and then use my cooks blow torch on it for a few seconds.  This gives a lovely golden colour to it.