Pizzette – Party Finger Pizzas

This is a very handy and easy dish for parties and get-togethers. In fact, I wonder why I never made it before. Pizzette are a traditional party food back in Italy and my mum would sometimes make these on a Sunday afternoon for me to have a small party all by myself. The handiness is all in the size because, luckily or unfortunately (you decide), you can put one of these straight into your mouth. In Italian we say that ‘una tira l’altra’ (one follows the other) to stress how moreish these are. They also come in hand – pardon the pun – if your guests are already trying to juggle a drink and a plate with other canapés. These go straight for the mouth in one painless gesture. Very handy, you see?

Needless to say, the topping is highly customizable. The one you find here is the traditional Margherita topping, but please feel free to experiment with alternative ones. Anchovies, tuna and peppers are all stables on a party table back in my home country. The recipe is from Trattoria da Martina, although it appears Anna Gennari is the original author. I have slightly modified the topping quantities. Throughout the recipe I will also share with you a couple of tricks I use when making pizza here in the UK. I find the ingredients contain a lot more water if compared to the ones readily available in Italy, especially mozzarella. This also means that when you are baking them, the pizzas always come out soggy due to the amount of water released.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 20ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g polpa di pomodoro (you can find this in any large supermarket, it’s like a coarser passata)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

  1. To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. In a saucepan, heat the milk and water until lukewarm. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the liquid to the flour, then tumble in the egg. Slowly add the butter while the mixture still roughly mixed, then let the ingredients combine thoroughly. The mixture will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry.
  2. Once you have worked the mixture in the mixer for a good 5 minutes, oil your work surface and your hands and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it for a good 5 to 10 minutes until fully combined, pliable and shiny. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and will allow you to knead it. It will slowly be absorbed in the mixture, but don’t be alarmed as this will only add up to the texture and the flavour.
  3. Turn the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Pour the polpa di pomodoro in a fine sieve and drain off the excess water. Pour the remaining tomato pulp in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients but the mozzarella. Drain the latter from its water, then cut in thick slices and pat with kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture. You might need to change the paper twice or even three times, depending on the quality of the mozzarella used. Set the topping ingredients aside.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm, punch back the dough to its original size and tun it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to the thickness of about 5mm. Flour an 8cm round pastry cutter, then use it to cut out small dough rounds. These will be your pizzette. Place these on baking trays lined with baking parchment, then cover with a towel and let them prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Dice your mozzarella into small cubes.
  7. Use the back of a teaspoon to press slightly onto each dough round and make a small indentation. This will host the tomato sauce and the mozzarella. Spoon small amounts of the tomato sauce onto the cavity (be careful not to put too much!), then sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top. Bake each batch of pizzette for 15 minutes, until the dough is nicely golden and the mozzarella on top has melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side, although these are just as delicious when warm.

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Stuffed Tomatoes

This is a perfect example of how you can re-use your pasta sauces to create something which is equally as delicious. Normally I would just make enough pasta sauce to dress the pasta I am cooking, but for whatever reason I was left with plenty extra when I made this, so instead of freezing it, I decided to add my own twist to it and use two very plump beef tomatoes I had peeping at me from the fridge to create a new dish.

I find ricotta to be a very versatile ingredients. This creamy yet dry cheese is perfect in both savoury and sweet dish as it doesn’t have a strong flavour on its own, but it adds this wonderful creaminess to whatever it is used in and it marries beautifully with herbs, black pepper and Parmesan cheese (for a sweet version, try it with honey or jams). I used sausages in this recipe, but the equal amount of beef/pork mince with added herbs would work just as fine.

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Ingredients

  • 6 good quality herbs sausages, skin removed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced.
  • 250g tub ricotta
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 3 beef tomatoes
  • 100g creamy cheese, such as a mild cheddar, cubed

Method

  1. First, prepare the tomatoes. Use a sharp knife to remove the tops, then scoop the flesh out with a teaspoon and discard. Set the now empty tomatoes on a baking try lined with parchment, drizzle with some olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes in a 180C oven, until softened.
  2. In the meantime, put the shallots in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and cook until softened, then add the sausagemat and brown all over, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato puree and stir again until fully combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Tip the sausage mixture into a bowl, then add the ricotta, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix to combine.
  4. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, then tumble 2-3 cubes of the creamy cheese inside and fit snugly at the bottom. Fill the tomatoes with the sausage filling, then top with the tomato top and roast for another 20 minutes, until piping hot.
  5. Serve with some salad or as a side dish.

Artichoke, Mushroom and Olive Pasta Bake

Pure comfort on a cold winter night – yes, I know it’s almost April, but it’s still snowing here in the UK and temperatures are not set to rise until mid next month anyway. Just when you need some solace and some quiet, especially after a hard day at work, this will provide that and more. The recipe comes from the April issue of delicious. magazine and contemplates the ingredients in the title. However, should you feel more adventurous, please feel free to modify it by adding, removing, substituting or even revolutionizing altogether. After all, the dish is a pasta bake and that needs to suit whatever you feel like eating and whenever you feel like it. Last note: the original recipe asked for Provolone, an Italian smoked cheese which my local supermarket clearly does not know of. I substituted that with a British smoked cheese and it worked very well.

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Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 200g mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 400g can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced
  • 50g pitted black olives, drained and sliced
  • pinch of sugar
  • 500g tube-shaped pasta (rigatoni or penne are your best option here)
  • 150g smoked cheese, coarsely grated
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 35g plain flour
  • 600ml lukewarm whole milk
  • 4 tsp freshly grated Parmesan

Method

  1. Start with the pasta sauce. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, then tumble in the onions and soften on a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano, thyme and mushrooms, then cook for another 4 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, then season. Cook for 1 minute, then add the wine. Turn the heat up to bubble the wine away (about 2 minutes), then add the olives, artichokes and tomatoes. Turn the heat back to medium and leave the sauce to simmer for a good 15 minutes. Add the pinch of sugar and season with salt and pepper midway through the cooking time.
  3. Now prepare the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, then take off the heat and add the flour. Mix that in with a wooden spoon, then put the saucepan back on the heat and keep on stirring to cook the flour and butter mixture. This way, you will obtain the so-called roux. Once that is cooked, gently and steadily pour in the lukewarm milk and whisk to combine and remove any lumps. Leave on the heat and mix with the wooden spoon until thickened and glossy. Take off the heat and add the Parmesan. If you’re not using straight away, cover the surface with a sheet of cling film to prevent a skin forming.
  4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Aim for an al dente result rather than extra soft, sloppy mush. Drain and set aside.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, fan oven.
  6. Start composing the dish in a big oven tray. First spread a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the base, then scatter half of the pasta on top, followed by more tomato sauce and half of the béchamel sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, finish off with the rest of the béchamel sauce, then scatter the grated smoked cheese on top.
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside.

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