Home-made pizza is never perfect. The main problem is of course the home oven temperature. Mine doesn’t go further than 250°C, so the crust I love is never slightly burnt on the sides and its taste is never as good as at some pizzerias. In spite of all that I enjoy my home pizzas a lot. Making the dough, waiting for it to rise, choosing one’s own ingredients and their amounts and, last but not least, using the cheese one wants… All this makes me prefer sometimes to wait three hours rather than go to the pizzeria around the corner. Home-made pizza is simply different, not worse.
Thanks to Nami (Just One Cookbook) I have recently discovered Alterkitchen, a very inspiring Italian blog (in English and Italian) and realised it has been ages since I posted an Italian recipe. Giulia from Alterkitchen mentioned smoked scamorza, one of my favourite Italian cheese varieties, and reminded me I still have a huge chunk of another Italian smoked cheese, provola.
Provola is – like scamorza – a spun paste (pasta filata) type of cheese produced with cow’s milk, but harder than mozzarella. The cheese originated in Campania and according to wikipedia its name comes from “pruvatura” or “pruvula”, the ancient cheese tasting events held in San Lorenzo in Capua monastery. Provola’s oldest appearance in texts dates back to the XVIth century, making it more ancient than mozzarella. Provola exists in two versions: “natural” and smoked, but the latter (provola affumicata) is by far my favourite. Easy-melting provola is very good in hot dishes and in… pizza!
How did I have the idea to use it for the first time? I simply believed Heston Blumenthal, who in his “In Search of Perfection” discovers that many Naples pizzerias use smoked provola instead of mozzarella. As soon as I read it (In Search of Perfection is a captivating book, better than the tv series) I went to look for smoked provola. The resulting pizza was the best I have ever made and since then provola has become my favourite pizza cheese.
The pizza dough recipe comes from My Little Italy by Laura Zavan (I have the original, French version, but suppose the English one is equally good. Even though the whole process take 3 hours, it is very easy, especially if you use a food processor to knead the dough. The below ingredients’ amount feeds 2 – 3 people and fills the huge, 35cm diameter tart dish I once bought for 1 euro and which since then has become THE pizza baking dish. Pizza was also the first occasion to use the nylon blade pizza cutter I am very proud of and which doesn’t scratch any surface, not even non-stick types (see below). I garnish my pizza every time in a different way and often make two different halves. (This time it was ham, red onion, green olives and canned artichoke). Fresh basil is not necessary, but I think its smell adds a very pleasant fresh touch.
Preparation: 3 hours
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
150-200 ml warm water
15 g fresh yeast or 6 g dried yeast (not baking powder!)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
200g smoked provola (cut into small cubes or grated)
chopped canned tomatoes (drained)
(garnish depends on your preference, this time I used: ham, olives, red onion and artichokes)
If using fresh yeast, dissolve it in warm (not hot!) water, add the sugar and leave it for 15 minutes in a warm place.
Combine it with the remaining ingredients.
If using dry yeast combine it with all the remaining ingredients in a food processor and mix it (kneading function) or knead it with your hands.
The dough should be elastic and smooth.
Form a ball, put it in a greased bowl, cover with a damp kitchen towel (or with cling film).
Leave the dough to double its size in a warm place (25°C – 30°C is the best temperature).
Preheat the oven to 240°C.
Grease a baking tray (or a huge baking dish if you have one) and spread the pizza dough with your fingers, leaving a bit more dough on the borders, especially if your baking tray is bigger than the pizza.
Cover the surface with the chopped tomatoes, leaving the crust empty on the borders.
Sprinkle with oregano and put all the garnish ingredients apart from the cheese and fresh basil.
Bake the pizza for 15 minutes.
Take it out, cover with thin slices of provola and put it back for another 5 minutes in the oven.
Garnish with hand-torn basil leaves before serving.