Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pizza at home

Making your own dough, bringing it to life, feeling it growing in your hands. Picking the tomatoes and the herbs from the garden. Cooking that sauce out to the right consistency slowly and lovingly. Choosing the right cheese at the right time for the right reason. Put all this together with your oven cranked up as high as it'll go and I've fallen back in love with the home made pizza just one more time. Yesterday began with a wee debate over the onion over the shallot. Personally I love both of them, particularly now as when I was an obnoxious child I declared a hatred for the onion, my Gran fixed that by telling me everything I picked out of my food which looked like an onion was actually a leek. Of course I didn't mind leeks so I happily carried on eating while she happily kept feeding me onions. 

There is a time and a place for both, but yesterday the shallot got the edge. I wanted both them and a good quantity of garlic to form the base of my tomato sauce. The toms were sun warmed and perfect to eat as they were, but that extra sweetness only a slowly caramelised shallot can give off was what they needed to make a difference. A bit each of basil, thyme and oregano is all that was added, cooked for easily an hour just plopping away happily.

The tomatoes here are bang at the height of their season, and the varieties I'm pulling out of the garden quite outstanding. So much so that each and every meal this week so far has had to have a tom theme. Even out for dinner the other night I attempted to order a gnocchi dish with slow roasted tomatoes. The gnocchi never showed up and the waiter pretty much argued that I never placed the order in the first place, but that's a whole other story, and kind of confirms how much more satisfying it is when you take care of the cooking yourself. Anyhow, suffice to say, I'd be delighted to have the growing season last as long as possible this year, nowhere near to getting tomato fatigue just yet. 

So, last night was as simple as this. A couple of those toms, roughly cut up, lots of good quality salt flakes and fresh pepper, half a handful of ripped oregano leaves, a good hit of decent olive oil from the Italian place in Arlington and a bit of the pizza dough just smeared with the oil and oregano and slapped in the oven to form a kind of softish flat bread, ripped up and scattered over the salad like you would do croutons. Really so so simple but quite delicious if I do say so myself. 

Then the pizza. Pizza is simply exactly what you want it to be. The base isn't really so difficult, toppings are all about what your mood is. The key really is the heat, and the hotter you have your oven the better chances you have of a true result. 

The one that worked last night was as simple as this. The base - as thin as absolutely possible, even to the point of the dough tearing in a few places, adds to the charm. The sauce - thick and sweet, fresh and still warm from cooking, try not to fridge it, kills off that sunny glow they have when first picked. And the rest - which was a few slices of roasted portobello mushrooms, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of parmesan, perfect.

Quickly, here's an easy pizza dough recipe which will take a maximum of 10 minutes out of your life, don't ever buy a pre cooked base ever again, you have been warned.

Pizza base
Makes enough for 4

500g strong bread flour
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
300 ml lukewarm water
1/2 tsp salt
4 tblsp olive oil

Mix the yeast, sugar and 50ml of the water in a jug, leave for 10 minutes to begin frothing up. Meanwhile, blend together the flour, salt, olive oil and remaining water, forming a dough by gradually drawing the flour into the liquid. Add the yeast water and continue to knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large clean bowl, cover with a damp cloth and place somewhere warm for about an hour until the dough has doubled 

Take the dough on a flour dusted surface and knead it again to push the air out. Ideally now is the time to use it, but will keep happily for a while wrapped tightly in cling film.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The meatball sub

There's this magical place in Arlington called the Italian Store where you really need some great local knowledge to find this one out. It's filled with the whole range of usuals from decent oils and vinegars through a reasonably authentic but simple cheese selection to a few banks of freezers offering a range of filled pastas. you can take this or leave it, but the whole reason for this place, and where all the fuss was, is their sandwich counter. That was exactly where all the noise, people, smells and activity was and I being in particularly safe hands through the whole process needn't have worried a bit. There is however a confusing quantity of varying subs, sandwiches and pizza flying out of this section, but it's the Philadelphia style subs, I have on very good authority,  are what it's all about. The fillings are all there to be had. A great selection of terrific looking prosciutto, sopressata and salami, plenty of the expected cheese offerings, and dressings, and even a few tomatoes and peppers to cut the meat and cheese duopoly. Seeing as I've never really come across the meatballs in sauce in bread thing before at close quarters, this it had to be - the Italian style meatball sub. My photo doesn't really do it justice, but that said, this is hardly the most photogenic food group going around, suffice to say, it never really stood a chance after the first bite.

Here's a quick meatballs in sauce recipe of mine. If you would, take these, split a submarine roll in half lengthwise and scrape out enough of the centre to create a hollow. Pack the meatballs in there and wrap tightly. Chill yourself a bottle of Californian Chardonnay from Columbia Valley, take all this outside, light a candle and talk rubbish for a couple of hours. it is a dinner option, honestly, needs nothing other than that really. 

Meatballs with spiced tomato sauce

Serves 6

The meatballs and tomato sauce freeze well, so I often double up the quantities to have a meal ready on stand-by for a hungry family. You can use a variety of herbs in the mince mixture; basil, thyme or rosemary also work well. This always used to be a basic with tagliatelle till I discovered the sub...

50g fresh breadcrumbs
100ml milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tblsp olive oil
500g each beef and pork mince
4 tblsp freshly grated parmesan
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Handful of sage and parsley, leaves finely chopped

For the tomato sauce

2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tblsp tomato purée
800g chopped tomatoes
250ml dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onion for about 8 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and stir over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the cumin and chilli flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Stir in the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, white wine and seasoning, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until rich and thick.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs. Put the breadcrumbs in a small bowl and add just enough milk to cover. Leave to soak. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in one tablespoon of the oil for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Tip into a bowl and leave to cool. When cold, stir in the breadcrumbs, along with the mince, parmesan, lemon zest and herbs. Season generously, then mix well.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Shape the mince mixture into large meatballs. Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan and brown the meatballs on all sides for about 5 minutes. Pour the tomato sauce into a baking dish and place the meatballs on top. Cover loosely with foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.