Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: wood fired pizza oven

Grana Padano competition – round 1

One of my bucket list goals is one day to buy a whole wheel of Parmesan and keep it in my cheese store at home (obviously I’d be in my dream country house that has a cheese store) so I can shave a bit off whenever I have the urge for some cheese. So it is perhaps no surprise that I was quick to accept an invite to take part in a cooking competition featuring the king of cheeses. The premise for this first challenge is simple; create 2 courses of my choosing that capture the taste of Italy and where Grana Padano is the star ingredient using the selection of food sent to me plus any store cupboard items I wanted. The competition is being judged by Francesco Mazzei and the second round takes place in London where we get to spend a day with the man himself.

With a pizza oven in my garden and the forecast for a weekend of glorious September sunshine I of course opted for pizza for one of my courses, plus parmesan is a key ingredient in the greatest of all pizzas; Prosciutto Crudo. I love this pizza because it’s the perfect combination of flavours, you have the rich tomato and mozzarella base which is then offset by the peppery rocket and the salty parmesan. I actually prefer it with English ham because I think prosciutto adds too much salt to the mix but either way it’s delicious.

I’m not sure there are any deserts that feature Grana Padano so for my second course I decided on a starter and something that would be perfect before quite a rich pizza. Butternut squash soup in my mind perfectly captures the Autumnal feeling in the air now in an Italian dish, it’s light and full of flavour and can be easily made in the time it takes to get the pizza oven up to temperature.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup

Ingredients

Large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded and chopped into chunks

Couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped

Large onion, diced

Chopping veg for soup2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock

A large pile of grated Grana Padano

Method

  1. Put a good chunk of butter into a large saucepan and melt, once melted add all the vegetables and slowly sauté until the onions are beginning to soften.
  2. Add the stock to the pan and simmer for 60 minutes with the lid on.
  3. After an hour the vegetables should be really soft, pop the mixture into a blender or food processor and give it a blitz until the vegetables are broken up but not so it’s completely smooth. I like to have a bit of substance to a soup rather than something completely smooth.
  4. Serve piping hot with a big pile of Grana Padano in the middle, the cheese slowly melts into the soup as you eat it and is delicious!

Butternut squash soup close up

Prosciutto Crudo pizza

Ingredients

For the dough;

250g Strong white bread flour

250g 00 grade pasta flour

6g dried yeast

5g salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

325ml warm water

For the topping;

Passata

Mozzarella

Rocket

Ham or prosciutto

Grana Padana shavings

Pizza oven fired up

Method

  1. If you happen to have a pizza oven then the first job is to get that going, light a small fire with newspaper and twigs before adding some thicker sticks and small logs. My oven takes about 2.5 hours to get up to pizza cooking temperature so needs to be lit nice and early.
  2. Red Kitchenaid mixing pizza doughThen it’s time to make the dough, my recipe is based on a River Cottage one, but I’ve started using half fine pasta flour on the recommendation of a guy at a food festival who was cooking and selling pizzas. It gives the base a really delicate, thin crust which makes all the difference. For the dough I use our KitchenAid; simply mix the water, yeast and oil together and leave for 5 minutes for the yeast to get going, mix the dry ingredients together in the mixer then slowly add the yeast mixture. Once all combined you just leave it to mix for 10 minutes on a medium speed.
  3. Leave the dough to prove for an hour somewhere warm. Keep feeding the fire with logs so the temperature gradually builds up.
  4. After an hour knock the dough back and separate into 4 equal sized balls. If you’re using a conventional oven now’s the time to turn it on at the highest temperature it will go to.
  5. My oven was now up to temperature so I pushed the fire to the back and threw some smaller logs on to keep it burning.
  6. Now it’s time to make the pizzas, I prefer using a passata on the base rather than tomato puree and if I have time I make my own so I can cram a load of vegetables (courgette, onion, carrot, tomato, mushroom) into it without the kids knowing. Roll out the base until nice a thin, I use semolina flour to roll onto as it seems to really help stop the pizza sticking to the worktop or the pizza peel.
  7. Spread a layer of passata on the top, sprinkle with chunks of ham and then break up a ball of mozzarella and spread all over the pizza. Cook the pizza like this until the base is crispy (2-3 mins in my oven. 5-6 in a hot conventional oven).
  8. Take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the rocket and a healthy covering of Grana Padano shavings.

The perfect ham parmesan and rocket pizza

There you have it, my idea of the perfect afternoons cooking and eating. All 3 children loved the soup, particularly having the melted cheese stirred through it, but the pizza was less successful ‘I don’t like this green stuff daddy’. They had a salami pizza instead plus my famous garlic pizza which is always the first pizza to go in the oven. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this challenge, a great excuse to fire the pizza oven up for perhaps the last time this summer, now I just have to wait and see if the amazing Francesco Mazzei agrees with my menu choices.

A wood fired pizza oven cooking day

One thing you learn when you have a wood fired pizza oven is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get it fired up and at the right temperature for cooking, so once it’s hot you might as well maximise the use of it. It takes me about 2.5 hours to get mine hot enough to cook a pizza, then less than 30 minutes to cook 8-10 pizzas for a pizza party. Which is probably still worth it as the pizzas are awesome but why not keep the fire going and cook more?

Which is exactly what we did last weekend; we cooked some pizzas for dinner with the kids and then kept the fire going to cook some tapas in the evening for just the adults. It takes a bit of prep work but then if you want instant cooking using a pizza oven probably isn’t for you. We had a friend over for the weekend so once the fire was burning nicely we set to work on the prep, checking on the fire occasionally to add an extra log or 2.

Pizza oven fired up

We mixed up some dough for the pizza and also for some pita breads to go with the tapas. I’ve been wanting to make bread of some kind in the oven for a while and these seemed like a good starting point, I’m also itching to make naan breads which should puff up perfectly. Once the doughs were proving we got the tapas ready, on the menu was; lamb koftas, lemon and chilli scallops and some marinated squid. All cook really quickly so although the prep takes a while the cooking bit is easy and of course you just serve straight from oven to table.

Pita breads cooking

Our cooking weekend also timed nicely with the delivery of a pizza challenge from Morrison’s, they’ve launched a new in store pizza service available until 21st June to celebrate father’s day where children can build their dad’s face on a pizza. My challenge was to make a pizza that looked like me with a little help from Matilda and Henry. Now while the Morrison’s pizzas taste great, I bet none are quite as good as the ones cooked in a real wood fired pizza oven. There was much debate about how to make best use of the vegetables supplied to create a pizza, I’m particularly pleased with our use of the black part of the mushrooms to make eyebrows. The result I’m sure you’ll agree is an uncanny likeness, they do say you are what you eat….

Pizza in the shape of my face

Making a day of the cooking was so much fun, quite tempted to expand it to brunch also, the choices really are endless and while it’s a steep learning curve understanding how to cook in an oven that doesn’t have dials it really is a fab way to spend a day. This tapas cooking could easily be extended to include many more dishes and by cooking one course at a time then eating it make a great evening dinner party with friends.

The combination of the rich lamb with the spicy scallops was perfect and the pita breads were amazing. The dough for them was quite weird but once they were in the oven the just puffed up perfectly. They’d be really good with some slow roast lamb in them and some good homemade coleslaw (I’m salivating a little just at the thought of it!)

pizza oven tapas feast

I would also thoroughly recommend the wood fired oven cookbook, it has some great recipes in it and instructions on how to use you oven, but it also gives you some ideas for menus and cooking days so you can maximise the heat in your oven. This was our first real attempt and I learned a lot about how to maintain the fire and the size of log that was most effective to add to it each time, there’s definitely an art to cooking this way.

Disclosure – Morrisons sent me the ingredients to make pizza, but all words and opinions here are my own.