From the moment I read the concept of 'Pizza Pilgrims - Recipes from the Backstreets of Italy' I pretty much hated the Pizza Pilgrims! Envy is a powerful emotion and these two brothers (James and Thom Elliot) had given up their day jobs and set off on a trip around Italy to learn the secrets of traditional Italian cuisine, in particular, pizza. (Does anybody fancy covering my teaching timetable as well as financing a trip for me? I was thinking Spain, India and the US. Anybody?!)
I believe their trip was recorded in the hope of securing a tv series but I haven't heard anything further about this. The book was published in May which suggests this isn't going to happen. That's a shame because the passion with which they talk about their food really comes across in the book and would have made for great tv. However, they've recently opened a restaurant in London following on from their great success selling pizza from their Pizza Pilgrims van so i'm sure they're not too bothered!
So, is the book any good? It really is! (Once you get past the dreadful front cover which looks as though it's a promo for a US Food Network show!) This is such an approachable book and I felt that the authors really wanted me to have a go at their recipes. Sometimes a recipe book can be just that, a collection of recipes. This book is more inviting than that with the extra context from the road trip and the little anecdotes and light-hearted tips bringing a familiarity which draws the reader in. I get the impression that the Pizza Pilgrims are really proud of this book (rightly so); their enthusiasm springs from the page and although they confess to being 'pizza snobs' (or 'pizza studs' depending on who is reporting it!) http://ind.pn/1aWMhBe there is no piety in their writing.
There's a collection of good solid recipes from panzanella to semifreddo, but the pizza chapter is the real reason to buy this book. Their knowledge, passion and skill come across more in this part of the book than in any other, and you just know that they are on their home turf when talking pizza! I was fascinated by the list of regulations that a pizzeria must adhere to in order to be classified a pizzeria in Naples! It is quite staggering that 'The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana' (read pizza mafia or 'Men in Black' as they are described here!) prescribe everything from the variety of tomatoes to the grade of flour and length of proving time. Although it is completely over the top, I can sympathise in some sense when you consider some of the abominations I have witnessed on pizza menus; anybody for a kebab pizza, or chicken with a bbq sauce base, yummy!
I've been holding off from reviewing this book because I wanted to try their pizza recipe 'to the letter' before reviewing. I haven't quite managed this because my impatience got the better of me! Their recipe for pizza dough uses 00 flour with a high gluten content. This is different to 00 flour we can get in the supermarkets so my plan was to order it online. However, life got in the way as it usually does!
So in the recipe below I've combined standard 00 flour with strong white flour to compensate for the low gluten level. I'm sure this is a hanging offence but I promise you it was delicious! I can almost hear the cries of the disapproval from the pizza experts but I'd be lying if I said that I cared!
The real revelation to me was the technique they suggested to cook the pizza; using a frying pan and the grill. I've tried a number of techniques to replicate a pizza oven including a pizza stone but with little success. So when it was suggested that we have pizza for tea I couldn't resist trying out their technique and it was an absolute winner! It is a labour intensive method of cooking pizza and also rather warm with screaming hot frying pans and the grill on max, but it's worth it! I certainly need practice shaping my pizzas but I think they have a certain rustic charm! ('Rustic' being a hugely over-used term in the culinary world used in place of 'piss poor'!)
The texture of the pizza when cooked with this method is fantastic; having the satisfying crunch from the extreme heat of the pan/grill, whilst having a soft interior thanks to the extremely short cooking time (2/3 minutes on the hob and the same under the grill). My issue with pizza stones is that the base often goes too hard before you get that satisfying caramelisation of the topping. This technique solves that problem and I honestly don't see myself cooking pizza in any other way (until I follow the instructions in the book and build a pizza oven in my garden...oh, I haven't got a garden. That might have to wait!).
So I can recommend two things to you: 1) Give this recipe a go, it's lush! and 2) Buy the book and try the real recipe, I'm sure it will be even better!
Pizza Margherita (ish!)
165g Strong White Flour
160g 00 Flour
1/2 sachet of quick action yeast (3.5g)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
Tomato Base Sauce (Passata, seasoned with dried oregano, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar)
1 Ball of Mozzarella
100g Grated Parmesan
1. Combine the two types of flour and add yeast, mix well. Add salt and olive oil and stir through.
2. Add water and mix until a dough forms. (Better that the dough be too wet than dry.)
3. Knead on a lightly floured surface for around 8 minutes until smooth and springy.
4. Lightly oil a clean bowl and place dough inside, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for 2 hours.
5. Remove the dough and portion into 4 balls, set aside to rest for a further 10 minutes.
6. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
7. Portion the Mozzarella into small pieces (no bigger than a 50p piece according to the Pilgrims!)
8. Preheat grill to maximum setting with the shelf as close as possible. Place heavy-bottomed frying pan on hob to preheat.
9. Roll out bases to fit the frying pan.
10. Once the pan is screaming hot, place the base in it and then add a small amount of the tomato sauce using a ladle to evenly distribute the sauce. Leave a gap at the edges to create the crust.
11. Sprinkle with parmesan (and ideally Basil, but I didn't have any!) then add the mozzarella (4 pieces) and a drizzle of olive oil.
12. Cook for around 3 minutes until coloured on the base then transfer to the grill for a further 3 minutes until charred and risen.
13. Keep warm whilst you repeat the process with the remaining 3 bases. (I had 2 pans on the go, one on the hob whilst the other was under the grill.)
|Cheap Mozzarella and one too many pieces, oops!|
I'd love to hear if you give this technique a go! I think it's fantastic and i'm looking forward to trying it with Naan Bread as well, another product I've never quite got right! Oh, try not to burn the roof of your mouth off by biting into them directly from the grill, good luck with that one!