Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Zucchini, Chilli and Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza

The inspiration for this came partly from Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook of Sortsby Russell Norman, which I've gushed about before, and partly from the smoked buffalo mozzarella I came across in the specialty Italian deli in town. For me, good pizzette (small pizzas)or pizza in general, is characterised by a thoughtful selection of a few fresh, quality ingredients and a good thin - slightly chewy, slightly crisp around the edges - base.

In this case, the smoked buffalo mozzarella was my starting point. From there, I selected a zucchini, red chilli and freshly grated parmesan to complement. In Polpo, Norman has a recipe which includes all of the above, but with mint and, instead of lovely, soft, fresh mozzarella, he recommends the cheap, hard, standard supermarket kind. This is a great option for when cheese is intended as a backdrop, but for this, I wanted the smoke of the mozzarella to sing. I omitted the mint also, as I had none on hand, but used chopped fresh parsley for freshness and as a garnish to finish.

For the pizza base, I turned to my quick flatbread recipe (not dissimilar to a standard pizza dough recipe), which has become a staple in my kitchen for it's ease, convenience and never-disappointing results. Once you've made it a few times, you'll know what I mean.

Zucchini, chilli and smoked buffalo mozzarella pizza

To accompany the pizza, I made spiced kumara (sweet potato) fries with a lemon-spiked yoghurt dip. And apart from making the base from scratch (use pre-made pizza bases or flatbreads if you wish), this took little effort to put together. 

Zucchini, chilli and smoked buffalo mozzarella pizza with spiced kumara fries and lemon-spiked yoghurt dip

Spiced kumara fries with lemon-spiked yoghurt dip
If these are in the oven before the pizza base is started, they should be about ready by the time the first pizza is ready to go in. 

3 medium-sized kumara, peeled if you wish (I generally allow for 1 1/2 per person)
1/2 tsp each of ground cumin and smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 180degC/350degF and position two oven racks evenly within (one lower to the bottom, while the other 2/3 up). Chop kumara into roughly even-sized wedges (about a 1/2 inch at its widest point) and in a large baking tray, toss together with spices, oil, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Place tray on top rack and bake for 15-20 minutes (check after 10 minutes, turning wedges over at this point), or until a rich golden brown.

For the dip
Into 1/2 cup of natural unsweetened yoghurt, squeeze and stir in the juice of a 1/2 lemon in. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sprinkle smoked paprika over to serve.

Zucchini, chilli and smoked buffalo mozzarella pizza makes 2 approx. 24cm pizzas

Wait for the kumara fries (if cooking) to be ready before you heat oven to maximum (250degC/475degF). Prepare two heavy-based metal trays* with a little oil.
*I use my large 28cm cast-iron pan for this, and as I only have one, I just make one pizza at a time.

For the base
130 g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
100 mL warm water
1/4 tsp dried active yeast
3/4 tsp olive oil

In a medium-sized bowl, add flour and salt. Mix the yeast into the warm water, allowing it to dissolve. Gradually add water to flour, mixing with your hand as you do. Knead dough to allow ingredients to come together, and if it's still a little too tacky at this point, add a little extra flour and work in. Finally, knead in the olive oil. Split into two evenly-sized balls and set aside while preparing pizza ingredients.

For the pizza
1 medium sized zucchini
1 red chilli, halved, deseeded and chopped into a fine dice (kitchen scissors could be useful)
2 handfuls of freshly grated parmesan (I usually grate this straight onto the pizza using a microplane)
1 large ball of fresh smoked (or plain) buffalo mozzarella
Fine sea salt
Fresh mint or parsley, chopped roughly (optional)
Freshly ground pepper and extra virgin olive oil, to serve (optional)

Slice zucchini into thin discs ideally using a mandoline or a good peeler (in this case, you would want to cut zucchini into diagonal slices for ease, 'peeling' slices away from you). Place zucchini into a sieve/colander and sprinkle with fine sea salt to draw out the moisture. Allow to sit for a minute or so, while rolling out the first pizza base as thinly as possible, on a floured surface, and to a size which fits your prepared tray. Squeeze as much water out of zucchini as possible using a paper towel, clean teatowel or muslin. Set aside, with all other pizza toppings, near the stove top.

Place the first rolled-out pizza base on top of a prepared tray and transfer to the largest burner on your stove top over medium-high heat (if your tray is thin, use less heat). Evenly distribute half the parmesan over the base, followed by a single layer of zucchini (with some overlap for texture). Scatter over half of the red chilli and mozzarella, tearing off small chunks and placing on the pizza as you go. Place in the preheated oven (take care as tray will be hot) on the bottom rack, as you prepare the second pizza, repeating the above steps* and using up the remainder of the pizza toppings.
*If using a cast iron pan, simply remove the cooked pizza from the hot pan and carefully replace with the second pizza base. The retained heat within the cast iron will be enough to pre-cook the base, so there's no need to turn the heat on again, but please take care and use dry teatowels and/or oven mitts at all times when handling the pan - I usually just leave teatowels over the handle as a precaution while I lay out the toppings. 

Bake each pizza for around 8-10 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbling, and the edges of the pizza have turned a light brown. After removing from the oven, scatter fresh herbs and freshly ground pepper over, and drizzle with e.v. olive oil to finish. Slice into quarters (using kitchen scissors is a favoured method) and serve with kumara fries and lemon-spiked yoghurt dip on the side.

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