DonQui is pleased that he has just about mastered the art of making a good pizza base but what about the toppings? DonQui’s current favourites are tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil, olives, capers and anchovies.
While he will vary these from time to time, the key is the tomato sauce.
This is how he makes it:
Ingredients for 2 individual pizzas
1 400 g tin of San Marzano tomatoes
a pinch of salt
1 crushed garlic clove (optional)
a bunch of herbs — basil or oregano (optional)
San Marzano tomatoes are a unique southern Italian variety grown on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius near Naples. They are meatier than most other varieties with less seeds and less acidity. They, therefore, make perfect pasta and pizza sauces. Even though tinned, the taste is so sweet and fresh that DonQui prefers not to pre-cook it before putting it on his pizza.
DonQui orders his from Amazon and although more expensive than normal plum tomatoes they are not a hugely extravagant purchase.
The variety is protected in the EU by the denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). This protection does not extend to some non-EU countries. In the USA many of the canned tomatoes sold as ‘San Marzano’ (often at very high prices) are nothing like the real thing.
If using garlic (he does not always add it), DonQui likes to gently fry it in olive oil until it becomes fragrant but before it colours. This takes down the pungent rawness that can be a bit overpowering in a sauce.
Drain the tomatoes and put them in a food processor/blender along with the salt and any herbs. If using basil you can use stalks as well as leaves. Add the garlic along with the oil it was cooked in.
Whizz it all up until it is blended. It does not have to be completely smooth.
If you do not have, or do not want to use, a food processor you can crush the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.
Tip the mixture into a strainer to drain a little more. If the sauce is too watery then it may make a thin dough crust a bit soggy. You could thicken it up with a bit of concentrated tomato purée (tomato paste) but this will alter the taste as the highly processed concentrate can take away from the fresh taste of the San Marzano tomatoes.
Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza base with the back of a wooden spoon.
Add your favourite toppings and put in the pre-heated oven at maximum temperature (250º+), ideally on a pizza stone (which radiates the heat). Then bake for 6 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and bubbling but before it burns.
Can there be any food be any food more completely perfect than pizza? DonQui Oaty thinks not. Therefore he has decided to learn how to make it himself from scratch.
DonQui’s first step is a pizza-making course at the Two Magpies bakery in Southwold, Suffolk. Well known for miles around for its incomparable breads and pastries the Two Magpies has extended its sourdough know-how into pizza making. DonQui is keen to learn more.
The evening course begins with a discussion about flour, sourdough and pizza. DonQui learns the importance of ‘hard flour’ with a high gluten content. This is essential to achieve the elasticity needed for a good pizza base. Using sourdough rather than yeast is a slower and better leavening process that alleviates the problems some people have with gluten. Then it is into the bakery to learn how to make and work the dough.
He works the dough feeling how, with kneading, it turns from a sticky ‘shaggy dough’ into a smooth, elastic mass. After leaving it for 20 minutes the elasticity increases and he kneads it some more. He learns that resting is important because immediately after kneading some of the elasticity is lost. Like muscles strained after a run, it needs rest to strengthen.
When the dough can be gently pulled apart without breaking it is ready to be formed. DonQui learns that the way to do this is too gradually stretch it out — not by rolling it with a rolling pin.
The first step is to take a 250g ball of dough, gently flatten it out on a board (lightly floured to prevent sticking) and press around the edges to create the cornicione or edge.
Then slowly stretch the base out as thinly as possible, careful not to break it. Holding it up over two fists to let the edges fall down while gently turning is a good way of doing this, if feeling confident one could toss it up into the air and spin it around like a professional pizzaiolo. DonQui has yet to master this skill.
With the benefit of adult supervision and a blistering hot professional baker’s oven (350º+), DonQui’s first pizza is a great success.
His first attempts to try this at home are OK but not brilliant. The base ends up a bit ‘doughy’ rather than light and crisp.
Even with the addition of a pizza stone, his home oven with maximum temperature of 250º does not quite do the job.
With further experimentation he finds ways to overcome this. Blind baking the base for 3 minutes before putting on the toppings is his first break-through. This gives a crispy crust at the lower temperature of his home oven. Adding a small amount of dried yeast as well as sourdough levain aids rising and makes the base lighter.
Perfection, however, is only achieved when he tries using strong Italian 00 (super-fine) semolina flour. This flour — made especially for pasta and pizza — utterly transforms the dough. It is almost immediately elastic and the resultant base is as good as he has ever tasted anywhere.
Here, below, is DonQui’s recipe based on the Two Magpie’s original instructions with his own modifications.
It makes two small individual pizzas or a single large one.
250g strong white bread flour
½ teaspoon dried yeast
95g sourdough levain (starter)
5g salt (a good teaspoonful)
10g olive oil
Combine the flour, yeast, water and levain by hand into a shaggy dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth non-sticky dough has formed.
Add salt and continue kneading until all granular traces have gone. Slowly add the oil and work it in until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and strong.
Leave the dough to rise for 2 hours in a lightly oiled, covered container at warm room temperature (22-27ºC).
Cut the dough in half (makes approximately two 250g portions). Shape each into a tight ball and either use immediately or wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a maximum of 48 hours. The dough balls can also be frozen.
To use, bring the dough back up to room temperature (if refrigerated), work it a few times to check elasticity by gently stretching and folding. It should be possible to do so without the dough immediately breaking apart.
Let rest for 20 minutes then stretch into shape on a lightly floured surface. The final stretch is best done on parchment paper so that the base does not end up sticking to the board.
Blind bake at maximum temperature in a pre-heated oven (250º C at least) for 2-3 minutes on the parchment paper. Using a pizza stone will give a crispy base but be sure to put the stone in a cold oven or it will crack.
Remove from the parchment paper. Put on toppings when cooled.
Bake at maximum temperature for 6 minutes directly on the pizza stone. This will give a crispier finish than if it was left on the paper.
Pizza dough is best made with Italian Tipo ‘00’ durum wheat flour. It is finer ground than normal and has a high gluten content. It will give the dough an incredibly smooth, firm, texture.
If using white bread flour, make sure it is a strong one that’s high in gluten. It is the high gluten which gives the essential firm elasticity. Look for Canadian flour which has a higher gluten content than most European ones. Normal all-purpose flour will simply not do the job.
Some millers in the UK are now producing pizza flour which combines Italian style fine grind with local high gluten wheat.
DonQui has the opportunity to try his hand at Sicilian cooking under the watchful eyes of the chefs from Duca di Castelmonte, near Trapani.
Duca di Castlemonte is an old farm estate now converted into an excellent country restaurant and guest house.
DonQui Oaty’s first lesson is in making a traditional Sicilian spiral pasta (busiate).
This is done by rolling out a thin finger of dough then gently rolling it around a wooden stick to produce an elegant spiral. The stick is first dipped in flour to stop the dough from sticking to it.
DonQui takes his time with the first one, learning that it is best to make them quite thin and not too long.
Once he gets the hang of it he is able to produce them with confidence but it is a time consuming process which would be best done with several willing helpers. DonQui is fortunate that the dough (hard flour and water — no eggs) is pre-made for him.
The sauce is a Trapanese tomato pesto. The ingredients (for two) are:
2 pealed garlic cloves
approximately 2 tablespoons of blanched, lightly roasted almonds.
a small bunch of fresh basil (torn up)
a pinch of salt and pepper
a generous glug of olive oil
pulp of 4 red, ripe tomatoes; peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
To peel and seed the tomatoes: score the skin in quarters, cover with boiling water for about 5 minutes then let cool. The skins will peel off easily. To de-seed, squeeze the tomato over a bowl and the seeds and excess liquid will come out leaving just the pulp.
Prepare the pesto by first mashing up the dry ingredients and garlic, with a mortar and pestle, until it forms a sort of paste. Add the torn basil and pound together a bit more until well blended.
Add the tomato pulp and olive oil then mash it all together until well mixed. Set to one side.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water (You don’t necessarily need to use home-made pasta). Drain and tip out into a bowl and mix in the pesto.
Serve with a good sprinkling of chopped roasted almonds on top then enjoy.
It is one of the most divine pasta dishes DonQui has had the opportunity to taste. In his view it does not benefit from the addition of cheese.
Continuing his enthusiasm for great veal dishes DonQui offers his take on the classic north Italian osso bucco. Originating from Milan, osso bucco translates roughly as ‘bone with a hole’ which is probably why it is never translated on menus.
Osso bucco is made from thick slices taken from across a calf shank with the bone in the centre filled with delicious marrow. This dish is all about the sauce and the marrow. It is frequently served in restaurants in a tomato based sauce and the first time DonQui tried osso bucco it was served this way. The classic version, however, is cooked in a white wine reduction without tomatoes and DonQui resolves to try such a version.
For once DonQui takes notice of the quantity he uses in his recipe, although his measurements are typically quite approximate. He is making this just for himself so the measurements are for one person. This should make the mathematics of scaling it up for several people relatively easy — even for someone as numerically challenged as DonQui.
1 slice of veal shin. If you ask a good butcher for osso bucco he should know what you mean.
a tablespoon of flour seasoned with salt and ground white pepper for dusting the meat
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1/2 a celery stick, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
a handful of mushroom stalks, skins or bits finely chopped (optional)
a few chunks of pancetta or speck (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil and a knob of unsalted butter for frying
zest of one lemon
4 sage leaves
150ml dry white wine
150ml chicken stock
2 teaspoons of cornflour mixed with a little water for thickening the sauce (optional)
salt to taste.
Pat dry the meat and dredge it with the seasoned flour
Brown the pancetta or speck in a little of the oil then take out and set aside. This will add a bit of a smokey taste to the sauce which is not absolutely necessary and not part of a classic recipe but DonQui likes it.
Add more oil and brown the meat on both sides over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole. Then take it out and set to one side.
Add the butter along with the chopped onion, celery, mushrooms and one of the chopped carrots, reserving the second carrot for later. Cook together over a medium heat until the vegetables soften, reduce and begin to colour. Then add a sprinkle of salt, the sage and the lemon zest.
The mushroom bits are not essential but as DonQui has some leftovers in the fridge he decides to use them to give added depth to the sauce.
Turn up the heat, add the white wine and let it reduce by about half.
Place the meat on top of the vegetables, add the stock, bring it to the boil. Then cover and let it simmer very gently over a low heat for one and a half to two hours. Check progress and gently turn the meat every 30 minutes or so until the meat is very tender.
Up to this point you can do everything in advance, leaving it off the heat to finish the final steps later.
Ten to 15 minutes before serving, gently take the meat out of the sauce and place to one side. Then strain the sauce and discard the vegetables. This is not an essential step and a classic recipe will not call for it. DonQui, however, is not keen on vegetables which have been cooked for a couple of hours. They have done their job by imparting their flavour to the sauce.
Put the meat and the strained sauce back into the pan along with the second chopped carrot. Bring it all back up to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the new carrot bits are cooked but still retain a little crunch (this is how DonQui likes them!).
Taste for seasoning, adding a little more salt or pepper if you think the sauce needs it. You might also wish to considering it reduce a little more uncovered. Then, if you prefer a slightly thickened sauce, add the cornflour/water mixture and bring back up to just boiling so that it thickens.
Traditionally Italians tend to eat a meat course on its own without any accompaniment but DonQui likes to serve it with pasta or, perhaps, a saffron risotto. He spoons the carrots with some of the sauce on top of the meat with a sprinkling of gremolata on top and the remaining sauce on the side.
Gremolata is simply a mix of chopped parsley, finely chopped garlic and lemon zest with a bit of salt.
DonQui thinks this version of osso bucco vastly superior to one cooked in a tomato base. Done this way the delicious flavour of the slow cooked veal shin comes through. Adding tomatoes tends to overpower it in his opinion.
DonQui likes this unpretentious, family run, neighbourhood restaurant.
Antipasto has been serving up traditional Italian food in Battersea for over 25 years and DonQui has been eating it for nearly a decade. Whenever he finds himself in SW11 he likes to try to manage at least one visit, and that is what he does this evening. Arriving at around 7pm the restaurant is still fairly empty but it fills up fast and by 8pm most tables are full.
The specials on the blackboard look very good and DonQui is tempted. However, he has a favourite staple which he is glad to see still on the menu since he has been looking forward to it for quite some time. Every so often he will order something else but he usually keeps coming back to his favourite — calf’s liver with butter and sage.
It is simply prepared— the liver slightly pink as DonQui likes it, with the lovely rich tastes of butter and sage permeating the dish. The accompanying vegetables are also unfussy but perfectly cooked, still retaining come crunch. The roast potatoes are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, just as they should be.
DonQui is quite hungry so before getting to the liver he decides to order the mackerel fillet starter from the specials board.
Three lovely fresh tasting grilled filets are served with a balsamic glaze, lemon and small green salad. It is a pretty substantial portion for a starter and DonQui thinks it would have been enough to share between 2 or 3 people. He has frequently shared starters at Antipasto in the past as they do tend to be on the generous size. He once made the mistake of ordering garlic bread as well and by the time his main course arrived he was pretty well full up.
DonQui glances over to a nearby table where a man is being presented with the ‘Italian charcuterie’ starter which is a long wooden board filled with various cold cuts and bread — practically a meal in itself.
However he still has room for a desert and is in the mood for some ice-cream — in this case a tartufo with zabaione centre, gianduia outer and sprinkled with cocoa and chopped hazelnuts. Just the ticket, DonQui thinks as he tucks in.
Rounding off with a proper Italian-strength espresso at the end, DonQui leaves feeling quite satisfied.
His wallet is not lightened too much thanks to Antipasto’s rather odd pricing system. Not so long ago they used to offer 50% off all food three days a week. This made it a real bargain on those days and tended to leave the place relatively empty on the others. Now they offer 40% off food (excepting deserts) every day of the week. This does make DonQui wonder why they don’t just reduce the base prices by 40%. Presumably the prospect of 40% off draws in more people than if the prices were lower. Whatever the logic, the end result is that a meal here is very good value for money indeed.
The understated service is friendly and efficient and the courses come quite quickly. Sometimes if he wants to linger over a meal here DonQui will order one course and wait to order a second once he has finished it. This is something he learned to do in Italy where it seems quite common to order your meal as you go along.