The ultimate veggie pizza

I love homemade pizza, and nothing beats a homemade pizza cooked in a proper pizza oven. I made this in Italy, with beautiful Italian tomatoes, seasonal summer veggies and fresh mozzarella. Bliss.

For the dough: (this is Jamie Oliver’s recipe)

  • 1 kg strong white bread flour
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 x 7g sachets dried yeast
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 650 ml lukewarm water

To make the dough, sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.

For the tomato passata:

Fry a crushed clove of garlic in a slug of olive oil. Add a tin of good-quality Italian chopped and peeled tomatoes and simmer slowly until reduced. Add a tablespoon or two of chopped fresh basil and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Toppings:

My favourite pizza toppings are thinly chopped mushrooms, courgettes and aubergines, balsamic-and-garlic-reduced red peppers, goat’s cheese, fresh basil and rocket and cherry tomatoes.

If you’re cooking in a pizza oven you need to start heating the oven up at least three hours before you cook. In a conventional oven, whack the heat up to 220 C. Cook the pizza for about 12 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Bruschette

Another of my Italian favourites – tomato bruschette. Nothing tastes more of summer than this antipasto – hints of garlic, ripe sweet tomatoes, fresh basil and lashings of olive oil. I could eat these every day in summer. For some reason, they taste better in Italy than they do at home. I think it’s something to do with the tomatoes – they just seem to have more flavour. I think bruschette are best when made in summer with fresh, ripe tomatoes rather than ones that have been in cold storage and taste a bit bland.

All you need to make tomato bruschette is a French baguette or ciabatta, which you slice, rub with a cut garlic clove, and toast under the grill (I love those charred grill lines). Cut up loads of tomato, and mix with lashings of good quality olive oil and a handful of roughly chopped basil. Pile the toasted bread up with the tomato mixture and that’s it. Simple and delicious.

Peach crostata

There’s such beautiful fruit in season in Italy right now – plums, peaches, apricots, melons, cherries – all my favourites. As much as I love eating unadulterated fruit, I love cooking with it. Perfectly ripe, sweet fruit needs little embellishment to make a fab dessert. Italians make the most delicious pastries and puddings with fruit. One of my favourite Italian sweets is fruit crostata (tart). This peach crostata is so easy and simple and makes the most of sweet peaches. You could also use other stone fruit in season – I reckon apricots and plums would work well too.

This recipe is taken from My Amalfi Coast.

Peach crostata

  • 250 g strong plain flour (I used Italian ‘OO’)
  • 125 g sugar
  • 125 g butter at room temperature, chopped
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 500 g fresh peaches, sliced (this is about 5 big peaches)

Tip the flour onto a clean board and mix with the sugar. Rub in the  butter with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and egg yolk. Mix with your fingers to break the yolks and then lightly knead the ingredients together, making sure not to overwork the pastry. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Heat the oven to 180 C. Roll out the pastry into a rectangle in a baking tray. Arrange the peach slices on top and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

Parmigiana di melanzane

This is one of my favourite Italian dishes, and the best way to eat aubergine. My sister and cousin made this on our first day in Italy, and it was a great introduction to beautiful Italian summer food – gloriously tomatoey and thick slices of aubergine.

I haven’t found a healthy way of adapting this classic recipe (there’s a lot of oil and cheese involved) but it’s definitely worth the indulgence.

Parmigiana di melanzane

Serves 6

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tins of peeled whole tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • A generous handful of grated Parmesan
  • A cup of grated mozzarella, or two sliced mozzarella balls

Slice the aubergine into rounds, salt them and leave to drain in a colander for an hour. Wash the salt off the aubergine slices and pat dry with a towel.

Fry the slices of aubergine in olive oil until golden (about 4 minutes on each side). Aubergine loves oil and will soak it up quickly so keep adding olive oil when it gets dry. Using a non stick pan will help a lot. Drain the fried aubergine on paper towels.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion in olive oil until it starts to soften and then add the garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes, and add a handful of basil leaves and pepper, and leave to simmer for about twenty five minutes. Add a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to season.

Spread a spoonful of tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish and follow with a layer of aubergine. Cover with more sauce, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of Pamersan. Continue layering with aubergine, sauce, basil and parmesan and finish with a layer of sauce. Top with the  mozzarella.

Bake in a 180C oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad. It also makes for great leftovers on a sandwich the next day with some basil pesto. Delicioso!