Menu 3: From Rome to Rouen Photo: The Colosseum, Rome
Caprese Salad Bites (Capri, Italy) - skewers of tomato/mozzarella/basil - the fresh flavours and colours of Italy (vegetarian) Roman Street Pizza (Rome, Italy) – fluffy deep-pan bread based pizza with your choice of toppings (vegetarian option) Lemon Meringue Tartlets (France) – classic lemon meringue pie in an individual tartlet Drink suggestion: A light sparkling Prosecco would take you straight to Rome
Starters - Caprese Salad Bites - from the town square in Capri (vegetarian)
Italian island living, the scent of lemon blossom in the breeze, ancient Vesuvius brooding across the Bay of Naples. Emperors cavorted here, writers retreated to find peace, the stones still speak. As the evening falls, coolness descends with the breeze from the sea. People gather, an aperitif in hand, enjoying the classic combination of ripe tomato, cool mozzarella, the aniseedy hit of basil.
Preparation: 20 minutes, and they will keep in the fridge for an hour or so.
Go for the best little tomatoes you can buy; you want the best taste you can find.
1 x 250g pack on the vine cherry tomatoes
2 x 240g packs mozzarella (or two balls of mozzarella if you buy it loose)
1 bunch fresh basil, or a pot of pesto
Cut each tomato in half around its equator. You probably want about 3 skewers per person so 9 tomatoes if they're on the large side or 18 small ones. Drain the mozzarella balls and cut them into cubes about 1cm on a side. Take the basil leaves off their stems. Using wooden toothpick skewers, make a three-part stick of tomato, basil, cube of mozzarella, another basil and the other part of the tomato - or leave it with just one tomato half if they're quite big. If you haven’t got fresh basil, you can spread a little bit of pesto on the cut side of each tomato half and sandwich the mozzarella up as above, you still get a great taste of basil. Serve: Grind over some fresh black pepper.
Main Course - Roman Street Pizza (optionally vegetarian)
Rome, cold winter evening. The best pizza in Rome is served only outside, trestle tables groaning with the selection. It's gobbled down as soon as it's brought out. Fresh thick bread base, spread with infused passata, topped with cheese, artichokes, grilled peppers, as you like it.
Preparation: 30 minutes initial work, then 90 minutes prove, then 10 minutes work and another 90 minutes prove, then 20 minutes to cook.
This makes 10-12 portions; more than you will need for a party of 6. I have never seen pizza go to waste, so keep the extras for tomorrow's lunch at home or give some to your friends to take away to their families.
For the dough:
500g strong white bread flour
500g plain flour (the normal baking flour)
2 teaspoons sugar
14g instant yeast (2 of the little packets if that’s how you get your yeast)
40ml vegetable oil – you can use olive or rape oil
600ml warm water
Topping: 500ml good passata, infused for an hour with a clove of garlic (peeled but not crushed) and a sprig of basil or oregano or marjoram.
4 x 240g packs of Mozzarella, torn into shreds
300g cheddar, grated
At your choice: sliced fresh tomatoes, sliced fresh red onion, sliced fresh peppers, sliced bottled artichokes, small pieces of sundried tomatoes in oil. You can add anchovies, parma ham, chorizo or whatever you like according to your guests’ preferences.
At least 6 hours before you want to eat, start your dough.
Mix all the dough ingredients and turn out onto your worktop to knead. Knead well for about 5 minutes and then leave the dough under a bowl on your worktop for about 10 minutes. Knead again for 5 minutes. You will have a shiny, springy dough which you can already see starting to fluff.
Leave to prove covered in a warm place until roughly doubled in size – about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the temperature. Prepare your tins – I use metal roasting trays or deep square cake tins to cook this. Grease each tin and line with greaseproof paper on the bottom.
Take the dough out of the bowl, knock it back but don’t knead it much, then put it into your prepared tins, rolling with a rolling pin and stretching it so that it fills the tins about 1cm deep.
Leave covered in a warm place to rise again. I like to put the tins into a big plastic bag which you blow up at the neck and then seal with a clip. This keeps the dough protected from draughts and happy in its work. At this stage, you can play with the timings – if you want to leave it to rise more slowly, just leave it in a cooler place. You should leave it for about another 90 minutes in a warm place at least, and it will again double in size and become very puffed up.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, start to heat your oven to 240°C. You need to give it good time to warm up so the whole oven is hot – like a real pizza oven. Of course, if you have a real pizza oven, fire it up!
Remove the garlic and the basil from the passata. Get the tins of pizza dough and handle them carefully so as not to depress the dough. Carefully spread the passata all over the top of each pizza dough, right to the edge. Whack them straight into the oven for 10-15 minutes until the passata is starting to crust round the edges.
Bring them out, and scatter on your other toppings. I would recommend not too much fresh tomato, as it is quite liquid and you don’t want the dough getting soggy with the juice. These pizzas are not supposed to be too deeply topped, so try not to go overboard. Back in the oven for 10-15 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the toppings.
Serve: Let them cool for just a few minutes before portioning. Eat with your hands.
Dessert - Individual Lemon Meringue Tartlets, sweet and sophisticated
French meringue, lightly caramelised, tops a tangy lemon curd in a sweet pastry shell. Possibly French, possibly Swiss, maybe even English, the lemon meringue pie is transformed into a tartlet for your ease of serving. Go with the flow, pretend you’re in France, land of plentiful dairy, sweet lemons and fabulous parties.
Preparation: 1 hour, and they can be made 1 day ahead. Makes 12 tartlets. I am cheating here and using bought lemon curd for speed.
1 x jar lemon curd (325g), you might use about 3/4 of the jar.
For the pastry:
100g plain flour
50g salted butter
25g ground almonds
2 egg yolks
10g icing sugar
For the meringue:
2 egg whites
75g caster sugar
Pre heat the oven to 180°C. In your mixer using the pastry paddle, mix the flour, butter and ground almonds to a breadcrumb texture – or do this in a bowl rubbing in the fat with your fingertips. Mix in the icing sugar and then mix in the beaten egg yolks, a little at a time. This should bring the pastry together into a soft ball. Roll it up, knead very quickly just to even out the texture, and wrap it in cling film. At this stage you can leave it in the fridge for an hour or so, but you don’t need to chill this pastry.
Grease a 12-cup pie tin, roll out the pastry and cut rounds to fit the pie cups. Place a few baking beans or dried beans in each little pastry round to keep the bottoms flat and bake blind for 15 minutes to give you a very crisp pastry case.
While they are baking, make the meringue. In your clean and washed mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and then tip in the sugar and keep whisking – you want it forming “stiff peaks.” Scoop it into an icing bag with a wide star nozzle. When the pastry cases are baked, bring them out and carefully remove all the baking beans.
Fill each pastry case with a dessert spoon of lemon curd. Top each one with a swirl of meringue piped generously.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes but check to see how brown they are getting.
Take out of the oven and get the tarts out of their tart tins as quickly as you can, as if you leave them the curd will set like glue and they’ll stick in.