October 4, 2011

Late end of summer natural leaven pizzas


It’s been a while since I last wrote. Since the end of summer I felt like everything was on an uphill road and as I’ve had a difficult time picking up the pace. I needed some time to disappear into my shell (I wonder if that has to do with the fact that I’m a cancer) to see things from a different perspective. I’m not there yet, but beginning to see the light, so it’s about time I get out and back into real life.

I have been cooking quite a bit, so I have some stories I wanted to share but had been put on hold. Like these end of summer pizzas, made with butternut squash and courgette blossoms and cherry vine tomatoes from our orchard (the only ones that made it, actually!). There’s an incredible sense of satisfaction and being rooted that comes from growing your own food; that paired with a making your natural leaven dough makes the result the ultimate comfort food for me. This is what these two pizzas are, all ingredients home-made or home-grown, even the ricotta, which rise this humble dish to the ultimate comfort food! So appreciated when that feeling is a need.


I remember how I saved a few seeds from a butternut squash, sweet as honey and full of flavour that I bought last year that. This year Linguini planted them and though so far we’ve only picked up 4 squashes, I was amazed by the amount of flowers it produced! The plant grows spectacularly fast and if you can tell from the photo at each intersection a flower grows. So, each morning I visited the orchard, the ground appeared flecked with yellow spots from the fully blossomed ones that very day. It was incredible! And this is still going since June, so if you are after the blossoms, this plant is well worth it if you have some space.

butternut squash

For the pizza dough, after a try at a few different recipes, I’ve so far stuck with QJones recipe which he posted in “Madrid Tiene Miga”, but of course you can use any pizza dough recipe you like. I just liked the sweet touch from the fine semolina, the perfect slightly chewy crumb texture but crispy crust of this one made without added yeast but from a fresh very mildly sour leaven (that’s why I avoid using the word sourdough in this case, because it’s not sour!). I made a recipe for 250g of flour, which was enough for 2 medium pizzas.

I made the “unorthodox” ricotta (in between ricotta and mascarpone) a day earlier using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which I already mentioned in this post (aha, I just realised I even showed a picture of the first pizzas I tried!).

Late end of summer pizzas

For the chunky confit tomato sauce:

about 200g of fresh tomatoes

2-3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil


200g-250g of ricotta cheese 

freshly ground black pepper

8-10 courgette and/or squash blossoms

extra drizzle of olive oil

optional: some grated parmesan & some grated lemon rind (for the blossom pizza)

about 200g of cherry tomatoes

ideally: some fresh basil or oregano to taste (I had to do with dried oregano!)

Make your favourite pizza dough or buy a pizza base you like…Here’s the velvety texture of the dough, after an initial rest period without salt added (autolysis) and light kneading. Isn’t it beautiful!Then, it was left to almost double (bulk fermentation) and then, taking care to avoid degassing much, divided into 2, preshaped and then shaped into boules and left to proof a bit for about 30 minutes or retarded in the fridge until ready to use and then brought to room temperature before stretching.

pizza dough

If you do make the pizza dough yourself following any other recipe I do have a few recommendations:

1)I think much of the success is about using the right flours (or it has been for me), I find it best not too use a flour that is too strong unless you like a really chewy crumb!

2)if you like neapolitan style pizza, with some  cornicione and those burst slightly charred bubles, take into account that the more hydrated the dough, the more holes in the structure, so make a dough as hydrated as you can handle to shape comfortably for your experience. I’d say no less than 65%…even for this recipe I often add a bit more water (but that depends on the flour).

3)If you like the above mentioned texture and look, do not  use a rolling pin to stretch out the dough. You will get rid of all the work from the yeast by forcing all the gas out and get flat “sides” (unless that is what you are looking for, that is). You do not need to know how to flip the dough in the air or any fine moves, just generously dust both sides with flour to avoid stick and lift the disc of dough (after lightly flattening the center of the ball of dough) with both your knuckes and let the own weight of the dough do the rest. It does take a bit of practice…but who cares if it is not perfectly round, I find it tastes soo much better!;)

4)for a darn good crust a high oven temperature is key (most pizza ovens are about 400ºC) so get your oven as high as possible, so the dough puffs up and charrs on the surface as quickly as possible without drying out! Check out Jeff Varasano’s site for some excellent info and watch the Heston Blumenthal video that follows for the cast iron pan trick that really works (he is not an experience pizzaiolo for all those who might have criticised him, but the point is that the trick to get as close to that temperature without playing with your oven pirolysis system does work! I used this until I got a decent stone to retain good heat). Here’s the youtube link in case you experience any problems or want to watch the other 2 that precede.

Anyway, as for the toppings go, I use my favourite quick tomato confit sauce, similar to the one I used here either peeling and deseeding or not the tomatoes (depends on how much time I’ve got :) either is good! I often prefer to peel by blanching and not bother deseeding because the skin dries up a bit and is more noticeable, but if not, you can leave as it is or pass through a food mill.

So, slowly fry the chopped up garlic cloves (or leave whole, just lightly crushed to release their flavour if you cannot bother with chopping) just make sure the heat is low so they release their flavour but don’t colour. Then, add the chopped up tomato, raise the heat, cover so that the tomato flesh softens quickly, then, remove the cover to evaporate until the oil begins to separate again!Tasty & quick!


Time to get your pizzas ready for the oven, full blast (mine goes up to 275ºC (or so it says in the thermostat! but if I can get it to 250ºC I’m happy) I just preheat the stone and place it on the top third so it is closer to the grill.

For the squash blossom one, once the dough is stretched cover lightly the bottom with the cooled tomato sauce, distributing it so it is a thin layer and leaving 2cm off the edges clean so the cornicione raises properly. Scatter knobs of ricotta here and there, place the thoroughly washed blossoms over in a pattern you like or just not arranged and season with some salt, pepper and a light drizzle of olive oil. Also,if you like some finely grated lemon rind and some shaved parmesan.

pizza blossom

In it goes while we prepare the next one!

Cover the bottom with ricotta, also a light hand. Then, charr your tomatoes using a torch! An excellent idea I learnt the blog Ideas in Food and used to get that charr flavour and look in this pizza that won’t be enough time in the over to give that colour!


I was amazed with the results! The tomatoes get a bbq flavour but become soft and this brings out their sweetness (Ok, these were good tomatoes) but the flavour and texture this charring exposed is beautiful!

Since I was left with some tomato sauce, I scattered that bit around and then the tomatoes. Finally I seasoned with the pepper and oregano (some fresh herbs would be nicer!but didn’t have any at the time!) a drizzle of oil and ready for the next batch after the first one came out!


In and out it goes!

pizza burnt cherries

I didn’t get to take a photo of the crumb, but here’s one of the previous batch. I’ve been needing a lot of comfort food!:)



Anonymous said...

Amazing! has tardado en volver a hacernos la boca agua pero lo has conseguido! que lujo de tomates... no he visto una pizza asi en Buenos Aires :( Tendré que esperar a que me hagas una tú!

Colette said...

:) gracias!otras cosas mas ricas habrás probado por allí!q yo lo sé! Pero cuando vengas, una cae seguro!!1besazo!

Sissi said...

I am ashamed of the pizza I have been making. The crust is never so crunchy and bubbly, the sauce cannot even compare to yours... Before seeing your pizza I didn't know home-made pizza can be sophisticated and elegant! I have read (and seen on tv) Heston Blumenthal's trick, but have never tried it (even though now I have two iron, heavy pans and could probably do it). Heston is my idol. His books are like detective stories. It's a pity he doesn't edit more... I also remember him saying that tomato greens add an excellent aroma (also have never tried it).
Since I learnt (from Heston B. too) that smoked provola is used in many pizzerias in Naples, I have been using it too. I prefer it 100x more than mozzarella. Your cheese choice also sounds much more appealing!

Colette said...

Thank you Sissi! I gotta tell you I love pizza...I mean neapolitan style pizza and always dreamt of recreating it at home. But though I tried and tried never got quite there...until little by little it clicked (dealing with the dough as I began baking my own bread, learning the different effect of flours, getting the stretching right, raising the oven temperature) and has finally worked out fairly close to my ideal and more consistently (fairly recently I must add!!:) ). So, you'll see that slowly you'll get to your ideal pizza (whichever that may be) in a home oven!

It's funny you mention having read the cast iron pan trick and about adding the tomato vine ,which McGee also mentions in his bible, and I find does work (I also love Heston and His Search for Perfection!) ..because I feel like that way too often. Lately I've realised that I get accross so much info and only so often get to try it, put it into practice to really learn from it! There's so much valuable info that too many times just stays there in stand-by in the "to try" list (or I forget about until I come across it again) rather than getting it really tested to move forward as it's only with time and practice that I find I truly learn. Anyway, sorry for the dissertation, I guess I am just thinking outloud!

Back to pizza, to me it's a more about the dough (not any particular recipe, but more about getting the key points right) and to keep it simple with few tasty ingredients (not those pizzas that are filled with toppings and cheese and cannot even see there's a bread base underneath). So, once the dough is right, it's much easier to experiment with your favourite toppings, be it with or without tomato, w/ or w/out cheese etc, always getting a good pizza.

Sooo, all this just to say: u'll see u can get fairly close to your ideal pizza in your home oven and... never stop that inquisitive mind putting into practice those great ideas! ;)

Sissi said...

Thank you for your encouragement and for the "dissertation" ;-) I love reading your advice and tips, since you are a real professional and passionate cook, not a clumsy home-cook... I learn so much here!
Do we have the same cook books? I also have McGee's book (but I must say I disagree with him on certain points...). Actually I also read so many passionate chef's or gourmet's books and then forget about their tips, but there is one recipe I have tried and have been making for years: Jeffrey's Steingarten's ketchup (from The Man Who Ate Everything). It's the best ketchup I have ever had in my life and also a very sophisticated and elegant sauce. While I offer my jams, pickles and pepper jellies to everyone in my family and friends' circle, this ketchup is only for a small group of people able to appreciate the time, money and effort it costs me.
You made me think I should re-read Heston's recipes and bookmark certain tips! It's a pity I forget his precious advice so quickly.
For me pizza is also about the dough (unfortunately I prefer to think the other way round about the one I make at home, since the dough is really not pizza-like). When I go to my favourite, "perfect-crust" pizzeria with a friend who regularly cuts of the outer crust, I always finish it with big pleasure.

Colette said...

Wow, I gotta look into that ketchup recipe! I haven't got the book and you got me intrigued! But I agree with you that some recipes are best kept for those who appreciate the time and effort (and sometimes money) put into making them. It's happened on various ocassions and I admit it is more than frustrating! But I learnt my lesson!:)
About McGee, I love the book, my copy is worn out from the use as a reference when I'd like to learn further into Why of things, which I find is basics to understand and then improvise and create. But I also disagree with some info and contrast it with other sources. He is a scientist and not a chef afterall. Have you looked into Shirley O. Corriher's books "cakewise" or "bakewise"? They are sort of on the line, just not as complete and thorough from what I've read but worth considering (I've surpassed my Amazon expense this semester, so maybe in the future!:) )

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