You know you’ve developed a bit of a reputation/problem, when it gets to the point on a Saturday morning when the boy asks if he should pick something up for dinner “or are you going to make something crazy?”. Call it what you will. I’m sure some people think I deep fry everything in sight, from vegetables to butter and ice cream. I can assure you I don’t – well, a little bit… In fact most of what I eat mid week, through necessity, lack of inspiration, time, health etc is really pretty dull. Give me some good sourdough, posh salted butter, maybe a bit of salad, and always avocado to ward off the old scurvy, alternate with a myriad variations on the old vegetable fritter and I’m good. Weekends however are my time to play!
I’ve been wanting to make pizza fritta for an absolute age, but then my grill broke and I made pizza doughnuts instead. ‘Deep fried pizza’ has filthy connotations akin to the deep fried mars bar, served out of Scottish chippies and in my mind not far removed from such abominations as the kebab pizza and various other wrong foods served to the very drunk after a night on the sauce. That’s why I use their Italian name, pizza fritta, these have an ethereally light and crisp texture, far more delicate than their Scottish counterpart. Even so, there’s something that feels inherently wrong about deep frying bread, I know that’s essentially what doughnuts are but, I dunno, just feels like something I shouldn’t be admitting to….
Pizza fritta is, I’d imagine having never eaten it in such a way, the ultimate street food snack, originating in Naples and sold by the side of the road. Yet, I’ve not seen it done here. I wonder why that is? With a base that’s puffed up and light with a crisp golden finish, topped with vibrant sauce, fragrant basil and molten cheese. Honestly what’s not to love? I can see me making these often. I’m already thinking they’d be great smeared with a little fresh hummus, pine nuts and crispy fried onions.
I couldn’t resist reserving a couple of the bases for a sweet twist; I spooned on dots of ricotta, little slices of oozy fresh fig and scattered with candied lemon before grilling. I imagine they’d be just as good doused in cardamom infused sugar.
Now you can make these in a large frying pan, flipping half way, but I quite like the idea of little ones, and it means I can deep fry them if I’m careful not to make them too wide, why break that habit eh?!
Pizza fritta – makes 8
250g ’00′ flour
pinch of salt, pinch of sugar
sachet of fast action yeast
175ml warm water
tin of chopped tomatoes
1 ball mozzarella – I used a beautiful unpasturised buffalo mozzarella from Laverstock Park
salami or prosciutto (optional)
fresh basil leaves
Stir yeast and sugar into a jug of hand warm water, weigh out 250g ’00′ flour into a large bowl, add salt then stir yeasted water into a well in the centre. Stir with a fork until the mixture can be turned out onto a clean surface. Knead for around 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Place back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for around 1 hour, it will double in size.
Make your sauce by frying a chopped garlic clove in a little olive oil, when it starts to release it’s aroma chuck in the chopped tomatoes, oregano and seasoning. Fry until slightly thickened.
Knock back the dough, divide into 8 balls and roll and pull each one out to a rough circle, lay onto baking paper and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile heat up your oil, you want it around 180%. Carefully fry the pizza bases 1 at a time for about 20-30 seconds each side, you need to be careful when the dough puffs up that it doesn’t split on the top before you’ve flipped it or it will fill with oil and become horrible and greasy. Watch carefully and hold out for as long as you can as the dough inflates, then quickly flip over, you can let it inflate happily then as you don’t need to turn it again, it will split at a small single spot and then deflate slowly like a subdued puffer fish. Pat off any excess oil and transfer to a grill rack.
Smear a large spoonful of sauce over each base, tear over ham or salami if using, daub with blobs of mozzarella and grill until the cheese bubbles and dough becomes golden. Finish with fresh basil leaves and cracked black pepper.
Eat warm with multiple Negroni’s and dream of warmer weather.