Focaccia is one of the most famous Italian food. Here in the UK it can be found in many more or less artisanal bakeries and even in supermarkets. It is seldom good generally far too high and dense. Focaccia is one of the most satisfying baked goodies to make at home: it is relatively easy and highly rewarding in terms of taste and texture.
This is one of the best focaccia recipes I have tasted in a long time. Its secret lies in the generous amount of oil and white wine in the dough. It is these ingredients that give this focaccia a full flavour, even if there is also a biga at work here. The inspiration came from Carol Field’s Focaccia book (via another splendid book: Recipes from Paradise, by Fred Plotkin), but I have consequently developed my own version, which I prefer. I have dramatically reduced the yeast and increased the time for the biga, from 1 hour to 12-14 hrs. I have also introduced 10% wholemeal flour, which I think gives the focaccia a more interesting crumb. Carol Field’s recipe uses white flour only and it is done and dusted over few hours (and it is very good, see notes), my version is over two days and I think it is even better. Continue reading →
All over the world the word “pizza” usually refers to a slab of hot bread dough topped with savoury bits and pieces. However, in Italian cookery, and particularly in Southern Italian cookery, “Pizza” also means “pie”: one can talk of a “pizza di ricotta”, for instance, a sweet ricotta pie or of a “pizza di scarola”, a savoury pie with an escarole filling. One of the best of these pizza-pies is “pizza rustica”, Continue reading →
Pizzelle, fried small (ish) pizzas, are iconic and beloved Neapolitan street food whose strong hold on Italian popular culture has been assured for ever by being the protagonists of a legendary sketch in the movie L’oro di Napoli (The gold of Naples, 195 ) where a young and voluptuous Sophia Loren plays a flirtatious pizzaiola, a pizza maker, whose pizzelle as well as her prosperous bosom are legendary in the neighbourhood. As she fries the pizzelle she shouts: “…Scialate…scialate…Mangiate oggi e pagate fra otto giorni…” (Enjoy…enjoy…eat now and pay in 8 days’ time…”).
They are also firmly rooted in local home cooking though. As a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks every summer in Salerno, not far from Naples and I clearly remember pizzelle being prepared by relatives: what a feast, for a little Milanese kid, whose mother was a reluctant cook and who would never embark in any deep frying. My aunt’s pizzelle were simply dressed with a a little tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan: stuck one on top of the other, they would be kept warm in the oven, ready to be devoured with gusto after an exhausting morning at the beach -they are amongst my strongest food memories. Continue reading →
Ricotta is for me strongly associated with Easter and Spring cooking in general: it plays a crucial roles in beloved seasonal dishes, from Ligurian Torta Pasqualina (when the original, more appropriate Ligurian cheese prescinseua cannot be found outside Liguria – that is always!), to Neapolitan ricotta and wheat tart, called pastiera, spinach or nettle ravioli and the endless sweet or savoury cakes and pies that can be found all over Italy at this time of the year, pizza rustica, fiadone abruzzese, pizza di ricotta.
Artisanal ricotta is one of the ingredients I miss most from Italy. I have never tasted here in the UK a ricotta, either made here or imported, that is as good as the one I can have almost anywhere in Italy. It makes sense: fresh ricotta (that has not undergone any pasteurization) is a fragile beauty and it does not travel well. As a consequence what we get here is generally the long-life stuff; local cheesemakers simply do not have the knowledge or the inclination to learn.
Sfincione is the pizza of Sicily: contrary to its Neapolitan counterpart, which is generally round, sold in individual portions, with a thick cornicione, a thin centre and not too much topping, sfincione is generally baked in large trays and sold cut up in hefty portions (even if there are also small, individual sfincioni, called sfincionelli, approximately 300 g each); it is quite thick all over, with a soft and pillowy dough (sometimes a little lard is added to the dough, which I greatly approve of) and it is laden with toppings. It is another thing altogether and something I urge you to explore – sfincione lends itself to domestic home baking much better than Neapolitan pizza. Continue reading →