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.

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!

Mushroom risotto

People seem to think that risottos are complicated and difficult to make. They really aren’t. There’s a lot of stirring involved, and it’s pretty involved cooking in that you can’t just let the risotto simmer away while you go and do something else, but it’s not difficult cooking. Mushroom risotto is my favourite kind of risotto and the pinnacle of comfort food. Now that the weather’s turned autumnal and the nights are getting cooler, it’s a perfect time to start cooking warming, starchy, cheesy food.

mushroom risotto

Serves 5

500 g arborio (risotto) rice
500 g mushrooms (use chestnut or brown mushrooms – anything other than white button), chopped into big chunks
150 ml dry white wine
25 g butter
125 g parmesan, grated
2 l vegetable stock
3 leeks or one small onion, chopped finely
A handful of Italian parsley
Balsamic vinegar

Heat the veg stock and the white wine in a pot with the lid on and keep on a low simmer while cooking your leeks and mushrooms.

Fry the leeks or onion in the butter and two tablespoons of olive oil on a low heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes before adding the rice for a minute or two. This is where the real stirring starts – add a ladleful of the stock and wine mixture and stir until it’s completely absorbed. Keep doing this until the risotto rice is cooked (no longer crunchy but has a slight bite) – this will take about 30 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the grated parmesan and stir until it’s melted in. Stir in the parsley and serve with a drizzle of balsamic and a crisp rocket salad.