When it comes to food, there are a couple of things that Katie and I just don’t meet eye-to-eye on. Firstly, she thinks that anchovies are the food of the devil. This is a terrible shame, as they are potentially up their as one of my favourites. I love them in salads, stuffed into legs of lamb, dressed with lemon and herbs or simply straight out of the tin (that shirt goes in the wash swiftly afterwards). She has an incredible micro-sensitivity to them, to the point that if I melted one measly fillet into a vat of sauce, to add depth rather than flavour, she could tell in a heartbeat. Instant ticket to the doghouse right there. Another food-based conflict is her insistence that all pizzas should have tomato sauce on the base. This is pure craziness. A delicately-flavoured pizza bianca, full of herbs, cheese and green vegetables is a thing of pure beauty. Thinly-sliced, crispy potatoes, thyme, garlic and parmesan would be barged out of the way by a sloppy, tangy pomodoro sauce. Surely there is room in the world for both!
Last week I had one of those dreaded days spent waiting at home for a delivery. It could arrive at any time “between 9am-9pm” they said. Thanks for nothing. Scowl face. So I decided to make pizza, or more specifically pizzetta; dinkier versions perfect for a snack, or as a first course before a hunk of meat or fish. On a day previously written-off in my head, it was a total joy sitting in a bright and sunny living room, listening to Ruth Rodgers on Desert Island Discs (if you haven’t heard this, find it. It’s lovely) with a bowl of gently rising dough in the corner.
When it came to topping the pizzettas, of course bianca was the only way. Don’t get me wrong, I like pizza in every form. But with spring ingredients, fresh orange-yolked eggs and lovely fontina cheese, a heavy sauce just wasn’t needed. But the great thing about pizza though is that you can customise exactly to your wants and needs, so don’t take the below arrangements as gospel. Add mozzarella, parmesan, wild garlic and asparagus. Even add cheese, tomato, ham and pineapple. Just be safe in the knowledge that that last one is all yours.
Makes 6-8 pizzettas
For the dough:
2 tsp dried yeast
185ml warm water
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
A good pinch of salt
250g Italian ‘00’ grade flour
75g polenta or semolina
For 6 pizzettas with purple sprouting broccoli and broad beans:
400g fontina cheese, torn into small rough pieces
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
A pinch of dried chilli
18 stems of purple sprouting broccoli
12 broad beans pods, beans podded and shelle
For 6 pizzettas with porcini, garlic and egg:
400g fontina cheese, torn into small, rough pieces
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
6 medium eggs
3 small handfuls of dried porcini mushrooms
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
To make the dough, pour the flour, polenta and salt into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl or large jug, stir the yeast with the water, milk and olive oil together until well combined. Make a well in the flour and pour in the liquid. Use a wooden spoon to form the mixture into a dough, then use your hands and knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough will still be relatively wet at this point, but that’s ok. Coat a separate large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough into it. Drizzle a little more oil over the top, then cover with cling film and allow to prove in a warm place for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
When the dough has risen, quickly knead it a few times to knock most of the air out. Replace the cling film and allow to prove again for 45 minutes.
Lightly flour a large work surface. Take a tangerine-sized piece of the dough and quickly roll it into a thin base around 20cm in diameter. Transfer carefully to a lightly floured greaseproof sheet. The pizzeta is now ready for topping with your choice of ingredients. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have the required amount.
Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go.
To make the broccoli and broad bean pizzettas, fill a saucepan will lightly salted water and bring to the boil. When the water is ready, blanche the purple sprouting broccoli for 2 minutes, then drain and shake dry.
Get a small bowl and add the chopped rosemary, garlic and dried chilli. Season well, and pour in enough extra virgin olive oil to create a loose, spoonable sauce.
Crumble the fontina onto the base of each pizzetta, to about a centimetre from the edge. Top with the blanched broccoli and a scattering of shelled broad beans. Spoon over a little of the rosemary and garlic oil and sprinkle some additional seasoning. Slide the pizzettas, in batches if necessary, on the greaseproof paper bases, onto the top shelf of the oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is cooked and starting to brown around the edges.
Top the cooked pizzettas with an additional spoonful of the rosemary and garlic oil and tuck in.
For the porcini, garlic and egg pizzettas, fill up a kettle and switch on. Tip the dried porcini into a heatproof bowl and cover with the boiling water. Allow the mushrooms to soak for about 20 minutes, then drain and pat dry with kitchen paper (do not discard the soaking liquid, it is excellent used in risottos, soups and sauces).
Crumble the fontina onto each base, to about a centimetre from the edge. Carefully crack the egg and break in the centre, then scatter the porcini mushrooms all around. Top with a few slivers of garlic, a good pinch of fresh thyme leaves and seasoning. Transfer to the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes, until the dough and egg are cooked.