Ode to Joy (of Pizza)

For this post, I thought I would (at least try to) adopt a bit more serious tone than usual in this blog. On the other hand, a proper Italian pizza certainly is a serious matter!

Food really has an amazing impact on life. Obviously it has moved masses, borders and wars throughout the human history. But in addition to meeting our most primal and physical needs of survival, it can also nourish your soul in the same way as any other form of art or culture. There are always some “diet gurus” who will tell you to treat food as fuel. They are probably (either miserable and/ or) those individuals for whom taste simply is not a sense important enough for them to appreciate its sensations fully. In a similar way, there are people who aren’t moved by music or can’t help but stifle a yawn if they are dragged into an art museum. There is nothing wrong with any of that but just because one sense is not important for one person, doesn’t mean that it would be silly for someone else to feel differently. So it is actually kind of baffling how the diet gurus get away with publicly stating their fuel opinions whereas you never hear anyone slate people for loving music or Picasso!

I think there is also a difference (albeit admittedly sometimes maybe a very fine one) between eating evoking emotions and emotional eating. When I first tried this pizza recipe, I actually cried! Yes, it naturalmente was so good. But it was also about the challenging moment in my life in which opportunities were more limited in many ways. Yet even if I couldn’t travel to Italy at the time, I could still bring a perfect little piece of Italy to my small kitchen in Helsinki.

Making a proper Italian pizza, embodies many aspects of food culture at its best. It is always a special occasion (at least if you don’t work at a pizzeria in Rome…) as it does require planning, time and some effort. However, for the special occasion, this effort for the delight of others feels quite exhilarating. It is also a social event with important people in your life – the fun of cooking together (you don’t need to slave in the kitchen by yourself), of a bit of gossip and good conversations, and of savouring the fabulous union of a thin crust, delicious tomato sauce and mozzarella. In short, you can’t really make an Italian pizza for one. Finally, there is an element of challenge in the art of making a pizza as you can never be too good at it!

When I started this blog a year ago, I hence promised a continuous investigation for the perfect pizza base. I have by no means forgotten this mission although I have grown fairly attached to that afore-mentioned recipe. Next on my list is the aim to try a Neapolitan version (the current recipes are apparently Roman ones). I additionally stated that I would dedicate a separate posting for the tomato sauce of a pizza. However, having googled this more afterwards, it seems that most Italians simply use tinned tomatoes (of good quality) or tomato puree with some seasoning. Therefore, being a big tomato fan myself, this time I added my own little and very simple version of the sauce.

As I am feeling more serious today, let me end this post by quoting an aphorism that I recently heard on an Italian radio channel (apparently by a lady who sadly died too young): “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain.” I can guarantee that a proper Italian pizza will make you dance regardless of the weather!

Anna’s Tomato Sauce for Pizza

For ~4-6 pizzas

2 cans of peeled tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

½-1 red chilli

olive oil

herbs to your taste (basil, oregano, thyme…)

salt, pepper

Chop the garlic cloves and chilli. Gently fry them in a kettle/ pan in some olive oil for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Switch your stove to the minimum heat and cover the kettle with a lid. Let the sauce simmer for several hours (I usually do that for 2-4 hours) and lightly season to your taste.

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The Zone Call – Mini Calzoni al Forno

Even though – for understandable reasons – a bulk of my food-related reading tends to be in Italian these days, I do use some publications in other languages for culinaristic inspiration as well. One of them is a Finnish foodie magazine called “Glorian ruoka ja viini”. Obviously it doesn’t really qualify as a proper source for Cucina Fintastica – the magazine being in Finnish and all. However, the latest issue included a recipe for mini calzones that looked so delicious that I just had to find a loophole.

My sneaky strategy was to utilise this recipe for the dough and the recipe from my Finnish magazine only for the filling. In addition, I experimented with another filling of my own as I had some funnel chanterelles in stock. Both of them worked quite nicely! The pizza dough I used this time also required less kneading and time to rise than the other Italian ones I have tried earlier.

To my own amazement, I currently seem to be on a winning streak when it comes to baking (knocking on wood…) as I have been moving from one success to the next recently. Maybe I should start filling in applications for the Great Finnish Bake-Off after all… Well, maybe not.

Mini Calzones in Oven

For the dough (of ~20 pc):

300 ml warm water

500 g flour + some extra for kneading and rolling out the dough

25 g fresh yeast

10 g salt

1 tsp sugar

Filling 1 (for ~10-15 calzones):

5 dl kale, chopped

2 garlic cloves

½ dl olive oil

200 g goat cheese

½ dl parmesan, grated

1 tl salt

pepper

100 g sour cream

Filling 2 (for ~10 calzones):

3 dl mushrooms (e.g. funnel chanterelles)

1 onion

olive oil/ butter

½ dl parmesan, grated

½ dl gruyere cheese, grated

salt, pepper

100 g sour cream

Start by preparing the pizza dough. Mix the yeast in one half of the warm water and add the sugar. Stir well. Measure the flour into a bowl. Make a little hole in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast water into it.

Mix the salt with the other half of the warm water in another bowl and add the olive oil. Combine the mixture with the flour and yeast water. Knead until you have obtained a smooth and elastic consistency. Add some flour as much as needed while kneading (at least my dough was quite wet in the beginning). Cover the bowl with a towel and leave the dough to rise for at least 3 hours in a warm place.

Prepare the fillings. Remove the kale leaves from the thick stems and chop them. Peel, crush and slice the garlic cloves. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the kale leaves and garlic cloves. Cook at medium heat for 3-4 minutes, remove the pan from the stove and add the goat cheese (in crumbles). Add the grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

Clean and slice the mushrooms of your choice. Peel and chop the onion. Heat the olive oil/ butter in a pan and add first the onion and after a few minutes the mushrooms. Cook until the excess liquid of the mushrooms has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated parmesan and gruyere and season to your taste.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a block that is about 2 mm thick (I rolled out one half of the dough first due to limitations of my kitchen space…). Use a mold (a diameter of 10 – 15 cm) to separate round pieces of the flat dough. Save the excess dough for later use. Spread some sour cream onto one half of each round. Add a spoonful or two of the filling of your choice on top of the sour cream. Fold the clean half of each calzone on top of the one with the filling to create “half moons”. Press and seal each half moon tightly from the sides (you can check out the impressive fork technique of Giallo Zafferano here). Roll out the excess dough and repeat the aforementioned steps until you have used it entirely.

Sprinkle the calzones lightly with some olive oil and bake them in the oven at 230C for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm (although they do taste quite pleasant also a bit colder!).

The Great Pizza Hunt – Part 2

When looking for the perfect pizza recipe online, it is hard to find a more convincing sounding address than www.pizza.it. And the recipe I discovered there certainly lives up to the site’s name!

The site contains a section on how to make pizza of restaurant quality at home. It seems that the recipe that I originally used has been replaced by an even more professional looking one. Maybe I will give that one a try as well but in the meantime, I’m sharing my original discovery of the site.

As I mentioned in my previous post about pizza, there are several tips and tricks that take you closer to that pizza perfection. In my experience, the most important one is pazienza – both to knead the dough properly as well as to let it rest and rise for hours. In this recipe the kneading part is even more important (and a lot more time-consuming) than in my earlier pizza recipe. If you have an electric mixer at your disposal, I am sure you can speed up at the process. However, with my limited baking skills without the modern technology, it takes me almost an hour to knead this dough sufficiently. It also seems that the dough certainly improves when you store it in a fridge overnight.

Another critical component of your pizza success is cooking. This recipe contains a couple of tricks on how to imitate the impact of a proper pizza oven in case you do not have one at home (as is the case for the most of us I presume…). I have also noticed that sometimes the difference between a nice pizza and a fantastic one is about one minute in cooking time.

Thus, even if a pizza may be a simple enough thing to make, perfecting it is a very different matter! Let the great pizza hunt continue…

The Perfect Pizza – Candidate # 2

Serves 4

420 g (~6 dl) flour (preferably of type “00”, or alternatively of durum wheat)

2 dl warm water

4 g fresh yeast

10 g salt

Divide the flour into two equally sized portions. Mix the yeast in 1 dl of water. Combine the yeast water with one half of the flour. Knead thoroughly until you have obtained a smooth dough with some elasticity (at the beginning this may seem like an impossible task with the smallish amount of water but miraculously you will get there after some persistent kneading!). Mix the salt in 1 dl of water and combine it with the other half of the flour. Knead again thoroughly to obtain another dough of similar consistency to the one with yeast. Finally, combine these two doughs and knead even more (at this point, you may consider never making this pizza again, but trust me, you will change your mind after having the first bite of the end result!). The ready dough should be smooth, slightly moist, soft and elastic.

Store the dough in a fridge overnight (you may skip this step if you have lost your pazienza already at the kneading phase but this does improve the quality of your dough). On the following day, take the dough back to the room temperature (+23 C) and let it rise for 3 hours.

Place an oven tray into the oven and preheat the oven to its maximum temperature (I have used 250C). Roll out the dough into four large and thin rounds, using a rolling pin. Top the pizza bases with the tomato sauce. Place a pizza base on a parchment paper and move it to the hot oven tray. Bake it in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Take the pizza base briefly out of the oven and add the mozzarella di bufala and potential other toppings of your choice and drizzle it with some olive oil. Continue cooking the pizza for another 4-7 minutes.

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.