Saturday, 23 January 2010

Italian Style Pizza from scratch.

In May 2008 the Mrs and I had a touring holiday in Northern Italy. We stayed in a different town every couple of nights including Pisa, Firenze, Roma, Lido de Jesolo and Riva del Garda. The cost of eating out was very high so we went for peasant food most nights, mainly pasta or pizza. Almost every restaurant that we went into had this igloo shaped structure in the corner of the kitchen that we soon learned were wood fired ovens. Pizzaolo guy would kick off with this squash ball sized piece of dough which would be hand stretched and shaped, slapped on the worktop and covered with tomato sauce, meats, vegetables and mozzarella. This would then be placed on the floor of the oven for about two minutes before being retrieved puffed up, scorched, sizzling and absolutely delicious. Most pizzaolo dudes were quite friendly once I had bought them a beer and I managed to get a basic idea of how they were made.
First off, you need heat, lots of heat. These wood fired ovens can give a floor temp of anything up to 600c. For the sauce you need tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and sugar.
For toppings, good mozzarella, cured meats, olives and various vegetables.
Most of us dont have the luxury of a wood fired pizza oven in our kitchens so tend to make do with shop bought. If you follow this recipe you can make something very similar to that of the Italian Pazzaolo.

For a evening pizza, best to start first thing in the morning.
In a large mixing bowl, put half a bag of strong white flour, 400ml warm water, a dessert spoon of salt, a tablespoon of good extra virgin olive oil and a satchet of yeast.
For the sauce you will need a can of chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar.
Put all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl.
Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients together and knead, in the bowl, with your fist for about 5 minutes turning and folding regularly. Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge.
Yes the fridge.....
For the sauce, gently fry 3 or 4 cloves of chopped garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and allow to reduce by a third. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and sugar until it tastes the way you like it. When cool put it in the fridge.

After 8 hours or so it should have risen to more than double its earlier size.

Using your fist, knock all of the air out and place on a floured board.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Take the first one and using your hands (or a rolling pin) flatten and stretch the dough until it's large enough to fit into the bottom of a large non-stick frying pan.
Put the pan on a medium heat for a few minutes until it starts to bubble and puff up.

Then put it under a hot grill for a couple of minutes until it just starts to brown.

The browning helps stop the sauce from soaking into the bread too quickly. Cover the base with sauce, then whatever toppings you may want, and lastly the mozzarella.

A few minutes under the grill and it should look like this.

This is the second one, see how it's puffed up like a football. Not a problem, just slap it down.

This one has pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, red onion, and fresh green chilli.

Thin crisp base, and all those flavours mingling. Nice with a chilled Asti Spumante.....

The dough mix can be used for chiabatta loaves, rolls, flatbreads etc.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Years Day trip to Loch Oich.

A couple of weeks back my Mrs informed me that she would be working over 31st December-1st and 2nd of January. I decided there and then that this would be a fine opportunity for a canoe-camping-pike fishing trip to the Highlands, namely Loch Oich. Madame suggested that I seek some counselling, and scoffed that when the time came I would have surely changed my mind. However, when she arrived home from work on the 31st to find the canoe on top of the car, and the car filled with camping and fishing gear, she wished me well and suggested that I "bundle up", and make sure to have plenty of hot drinks and dont let anything happen to the dogs!. Anyway, next morning I was up at the crack of dawn, well 0730, it was New Year after all. A last minute check to make sure I had'nt forgot anything and we were on our way at 0830. The first pic was taken at Drumochter Pass. A herd of red deer had come down off the mountain in search of food, and were just a couple of hundred yards from the road.

I always stop for a brew at Laggan Dam. Last time I passed this way five of those pipes were scooting out millions of gallons of water every hour because there had been so much rain. Not so today though, as everything is frozen, the rivers, the loch, everything. Next stop is the Little Chef at Spean Bridge for a Olympic Breakfast, toast and a mug of coffee.
We arrive at the loch to find about 14 inches of snow. I must stop at this point to say that my hat goes off to the snow plough crews of Scotland. They're on the go 24/7 right through the holiday period and do a great job. Unsung heroes they are.
Anyway, we find a nice spot to quickly pitch the tent, collect some firewood, unload the boat and off for a paddle. This is Meg, my English Springer Spaniel. Meg loves to come out in the canoe and is happy to sit and watch the birds and enjoy the fresh, highland air. Milly, my Basset Hound also likes to join me in the canoe, but unfortunately, she is not prepared to sit still. On the contrary, she likes to do her bark, howl, fart rendition, at every bird, passing boat, car, truck while running up and down, side to side. She had to wait in the car. In fact, the poor girl had to spend most of the time in the car due to her legs being only four inches or so, and the snow going higher than her head. Also the ice on top of the snow was likely to give her an injury to her lower bits.

No fishing today, just out for a paddle around the gin clear water in flat calm, -8c conditions.

After a couple of hours exploring we notice that the sun is going down rapidly so decide to head for camp, and get a fire going. We are joined by another lone pike fisherman called Stu. Stu has brought a chicken rogan josh and a couple of bottles of red wine, and we have a one pot rustic Boef Bourguignon, a four pack of Italian Moretti beer, and a cheeky wee Laphraoig.
By 2230 the fire is low and no more firewood, so we decide to hit the sack. I'm in a camp bed with a roll mat and my four season sleeping bag, and the dogs are on a roll mat with their own basket liners so hopefully insulated from the snow/ice under the tent.
As I'm dropping off to sleep I can hear the snow landing on the roof of the tent.
Disaster strikes at about 0330. A load of snow has fell from the tree above us directly onto the tent, smashing the poles and the whole thing collapses in a heap around us.
All I can do at this point is gather up the two bewildered, panic stricken dogs, beds and sleeping bags and head for the car. I start the engine and the temp on the dash shows -11. The next thing I knew it was 0730, so pulled my boots on and went to assess the damage. Broken poles, ripped pole pipes, a write off. While waiting for the kettle to boil, I dismantle whats left of the tent, roll it up and dispatch it to the bin in the lay-by. A strong cuppa, three paracetamol and a Zantac and I'm ready for anything. The frying pan goes on with sausages, black pudding, bacon, eggs and tattie scones for all three of us, thats me, Meg and Milly. Out in the field my troops eat at my table. Milly's had breakfast, a pee and a poo so she's off to the car for a few hours while Meg and I paddle to the east end of the loch for hopefully, some serious pike fishing.

Unfortunately, the part of the loch that has produced some nice winter pike to 36lbs for me in the past is frozen solid, and we are stuck with fishing from a featureless bank that I would'nt normally give a second glance. Needless to say, we blanked.
Acres of ice.
My first ever SOTP shot.
Grey Owl Voyageur paddle that I recieved from Santa Claus, well, Sandra Claus. This bay looked pikey but too much ice.
The wee boat belongs to Stuart, who we celebrated the New Year with last night.
Nice upside down shot.
Looking east towards Fort Augustus and Loch Ness.
We've started heading for home now but could'nt resist a shot of Loch Lochy and the nice backdrop of a very cold looking glen.
Laggan Dam again with the Nevis range in the background.
Loch Moy completely frozen over.
Huge icicles hanging from the cliff.
Shot of the mountains above Loch Trieg.
Brew stop.
Above and below are shots of the castle on the banks of the frozen Loch Laggan. This is the are where the series, Monarch of the Glen was filmed.
Nice frozen waterfall, and trees so heavilly laden with snow that they are bowed over.
Stretch the old legs.
More roadside deer at Drumochter. There were hundreds of them all the way to Pitlochry. I stopped at the Chinese takeaway in Pitlochry and had chicken with peppers and black bean sauce with extra chilli, and fried rice.

A great wee winter trip for us, and the best part is I dont start back to work until Tuesday so, long lies and chill out tomorrow.....