The Great Pizza Hunt – Part 1

As mentioned in my introduction of this blog, there is one thing that I’m slighty obsessed with in the Italian kitchen: the perfect pizza. It seems that I am not alone. At least in Italy. My most recent experiment is from the website of Corriere della Sera. The recipe proudly promises to unveil the secret of the perfect pizza – a claim which has certainly sparked quite an intensive debate in the comments section of the recipe.

As also mentioned in my blog intro, I am not exactly skilled in the field of baking. I have some less fortunate incidents in my past, such as burning some parchment paper (and the pastries on it) in the oven. Or heating the oven to 250 degrees as instructed in a Martha Stewart recipe, only to discover later – after having an end result resembling coal – Martha, being an American, obviously meant 250 degrees Fahrenheit (~100 Centigrades). But when there’s a will (which there certainly is to bring this missing piece of Italy to my little kitchen in Helsinki!), there’s a way. And if I can do this, so can you!

The first challenge of following an Italian pizza recipe is conversion. The good news is that there are no fire hazards similar to the M. Stewart incident. However, it seems that an Italian always makes a pizza recipe with the intention of feeding an entire famiglia. In a Finnish city environment, this would probably be an equivalent to a couple of staircases of an apartment building. I wanted to make this pizza for two people but 1.8 kg flour sounded somewhat excessive for us and the recipe doesn’t give any indication on the amount of servings. In the comments section of the Corriere article, someone (sounding sufficiently street credible) instructed to use slightly less flour than in the recipe if you don’t have a proper pizza oven at your disposal. I followed his advice and decreased the amount of flour to 1.6 kg. After that I divided all the ingredients by four and miraculously ended up with a serving just right for hungry two. And yes, this recipe certainly is at least a strong candidate for the perfect Italian pizza!

There are a few more tips that I have learned so far during my hunt for the pizza greatness:

Preparing a proper Italian pizza takes time. You should take your time to properly knead the dough and reserve hours (at least 8-10 in this case) for the dough to rise. Many recommend that you first store the dough in a fridge over night. After that you still need to let the dough rise for those 8-10 hours.

The flour you use makes a difference. Italians and I use a finely ground type “00”. If not available, it is often proposed that you substitute it with durum wheat flour.

The amount of yeast used in real Italian pizza is miniscule compared to many “less authentic” recipes. I suppose the Italian pizza has been modified by the less patient Finnish, American etc. bakers by substituting the long rising time with yeast. You should also always use fresh baker’s yeast for the Italian recipes.

– When it comes to cheese, there is no real substitute for mozzarella di bufala. And obviously the perfect tomato sauce is yet a completely different matter. In fact, so different that I will dedicate a separate posting for it!

Pizzakuva ennen

The Perfect Pizza – Candidate # 1

Serves 2-3

2.5 dl water

14 g salt (~2-3 teaspoons)

6.2 dl flour (type “00”)

1 g fresh yeast

+ the toppings

Pour the water into a bowl. Add the salt and stir with your hand until the salt has dissolved into the water. Drizzle 10% of the flour into the salt water and continue stirring for a few seconds. Add the yeast and mix carefully. Continue adding the remainder of the flour by drizzling it and mixing it with rotational movement. Once all the flour is included in the dough, place it on a table. Continuously knead and fold the dough. Continue until the dough is  smooth and not sticky (this should take at least 10 minutes). Cover the dough with a damp towel and leave to rest for two hours. After two hours, divide the dough into two blocks (about 200 g each). Cover both blocks with a dry towel and let rise for at least 6 hours. Roll out the dough into large rounds, using a rolling pin or your hands. Add the tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala and other toppings to your taste. Remember that less is really more when it comes to pizza toppings! Sprinkle some olive oil on top. Bake in the oven at 200 Centigrades for about 15 minutes.

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The Swiss Twist – Risotto all’Arancia

A food blog on Italian dishes in a Finnish kitchen would not have been feasible twenty years ago. Not only had the internet barely been invented and the most interesting log of the time was carried by a weird lady on Twin Peaks but also it would have been next to impossible to find half of the ingredients of the recipes in the Finnish supermarkets. Yet although in today’s Helsinki you can buy everything from carnaroli rice to organic Italian clementines, there are still some ingredients that require considerable effort to obtain or at least some creativity to substitute.

This recipe is from another Italian magazine – the Italian Elle. Their web pages contain quite an impressive range of delicious-looking dishes! The list of the ingredients for this risotto is quite short but yet long enough for my impatient (Italian) temper to miss one of them when shopping: the Taleggio cheese. I’m not sure if I have ever even tried this cheese in my life, and it certainly wasn’t available in my corner store where I dashed in the middle of cooking the risotto (don’t worry – I didn’t leave the stove unattended!). For substitute, I got some Swiss Gruyère and it worked quite nicely. The full flavour of the salty cheese is nicely balanced with the acidity and sweetness of the oranges. Based on my Google research, it seems that Gruyère wasn’t too far off from the Taleggio thingy either!

All in all, whilst I certainly appreciate the availability of Italian and other international food in Helsinki these days, I think it is also nice that not everything is imported. That way we still have room for some culinaristic (substitute) adventures at home, and some different flavours to look forward to when travelling!

Orange Risotto

Serves 4

2 organic oranges

1 leek finely chopped

olive oil

white wine

vegetable broth

100 g Taleggio cheese

parmesan cheese

Rinse the oranges and grate their zest. In a (non-stick) pan, gently fry the leek and the orange zest in some olive oil. Add the rice and roast the mixture for a few minutes. Pour in some wine and stir until the liquid has evaporated. Start gradually adding the broth and continue stirring to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan. At the mid point of the cooking, add the juice of the oranges into the risotto, and a few minutes before the end of the cooking, the Taleggio (/ Gruyère/ whatever cheese you can find in your supermarket) diced. Season with salt, pepper and parmesan to your taste.

Fintastic Fennels – Cartoccio di Finocchi e Mandarini

Over this weekend, I discovered that there is in fact a fairly impressive range of Italian magazines available in Helsinki. Despite also being quite impressed with their prices (costing about 2-3 times as much as in Italy), I decided to invest in an Italian cooking magazine called La Cucina Italiana. It appeared to be one of the more “high end” options with beautiful pictures and some interesting articles too (and with proper paper – I hate to read magazines with sticky, thin paper!).

I am planning to try several recipes of my new magazine, and already successfully started with this fennel one. It is again one of those unlikely, yet simple combinations that sounded slightly odd to me on paper but turned out quite fabulous! I think the secret of this recipe also lies in its cooking method: the fennels and mandarins are baked in the oven in a wrapping in which the flavours mix in a delicious way.

Fennels and mandarins in parchment paper

Serves 4

2 fennels (540 g)

4 organic mandarins

corn starch

sugar

dried chilli

extra virgin olive oil

salt

Trim the root ends of the fennels. Pluck each layer of the fennels separately and clean each piece with water. Keep the fronds (the green part resembling dill) in cold water for later use.

Slice two mandarins with peels into four slices each.

Dampen 2-3 sheets of parchment paper. Place the fennel pieces and mandarin slices in the middle of each parchment paper. Mix the olive oil, salt and dried chilli and sprinkle the mixture on the fennels. Create little packets of the parchment papers by wrapping their sides over the fennels and mandarins. Place them on an oven tray and cook at 200C for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, squeeze the juice of the two remaining mandarins and pour it into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt and sugar and lightly thicken the sauce with a touch of corn starch mixed in cold water (I used about 3/4 teaspoons corn starch and 3/4 dl water).

Once cooked, open the packets, add the sauce to the fennels and garnish with the fronds.

Summer in the City – Pomodori al Tonno

Continuing my list of things that I appreciate about the Italian kitchen, I have to mention their understanding of the seasonality of different ingredients. Obviously me being a Finn, it doesn’t yet mean that I always follow this thinking.

I had some leftover mayonnaise in my fridge and decided to try this recipe that according to its source is “ideal for the summer season”.  Ok, so the Finnish greenhouse tomatoes at this time of the year may bear little other resemblance to their summer (or Italian) versions than the colour red but the tasty stuffing of this recipe reasonably well makes up for what the winter tomatoes may lack in flavour. However, I think I will definitely prepare this dish also during the season officially approved by Italians, and might even take them (the tomatoes, not the Italians) with me to a summer picnic!

The tomatoes are quite filling so we had some to spare for the following day, and it seemed that they got even tastier over night. As mayonnaise can be a bit heavy, I am also thinking of substituting some of it with yoghurt to make it slightly lighter and fresher the next time.

Originally I was planning to use the recipe from the book “Oggi cucino io 4” but I ended up also partially utilizing this.

Tuna-stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 6

8 round, ripe tomatoes

350 g tuna in oil, crumbled with a fork

200 g mayonnaise

4 hard boiled eggs

6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

2 tablepoons capers in vinegar, drained, one half finely chopped, the other half without chopping

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

16 basil leaves, in small pieces

salt, pepper

Cut away the top of each tomato, and scrape out the seeds of the tomatoes with a spoon. Turn the tomatoes upside down and leave them to drain on a plate. In the meantime, peel the eggs and cut them into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the tuna. Add the capers, the anchovies, the eggs and the herbs, and mix well until you have a smooth(ish) paste. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the tomatoes with the paste and put them in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.