Sunday, 21 November 2010

Kitchen Challenges: Less Chicago, More Calabria

There's something I didn't tell you about Monday. I wasn't feeling well. Something was 'coming on'. I could possibly blame my lunchtime failure on the lurgy my body was courting, but that really was just the product of procrastination. By Tuesday morning my chest and throat felt like they'd been having a party with an industrial-standard pack of sand paper and, while I have of a habit of going to work when I'm feeling ropey, I really felt so terrible I had no choice but to grudgingly stay home.

As a result, all I could manage for Tuesday: Lunch was the leftover chicken noodle soup. By the evening I was feeling annoyed with myself that I hadn't made more of an effort to stick to the plan. I soldiered on by making an authentic Italian-base pizza, minus the wood-burning oven, for Tuesday: Tea. I've made loads of pizzas from scratch but whether I intended it or not they all turned out to be deep pan American style pizzas. Delicious, but not what I was after in this instance.

To ensure my base didn't become a big pillow of puffiness I only left the dough to prove for maybe 15 minutes before stretching it out and spreading on the sauce. I would normally make my own sauce but the inclination to cough every 10 seconds dampened my enthusiasm for slaving over a pan of enhanced passata. I wanted pizza and I wanted it quick, so I combined pesto, tomato puree, brown sugar and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl and spooned it over my base.

Resisting the urge to overload the pizza with distinctly un-Italian ingredients a la Domino's, I exercised some restraint and covered it with a sensible amount of Parma ham, red onion, black olives, sunblush tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and hunks of non-uniform mozzarella. 15 minutes in a very hot oven (not on a terracotta tile as Gary Mehigan suggests) and a grating of Parmagiano later, my little piece of Italy was ready for devouring.

Less Chicago, more Calabria. I did not ask any Italians to verify this, by the way. It was merely my own smug conclusion. With a big ball of now fully proven dough expanding gently under a chequered tea towel, I couldn't stand the thought of chucking it out for the birds. A genius-creature suggested I made some cinnamon balls, rolling pieces of dough in melted butter and sprinkling each nugget with cinnamon and sugar. With more dough to use up than expected, I decided to make some cinnamon rolls, using the same method as said genius-creature had suggested but rolling each piece into a sausage, dunking in melted butter, lavishing in a heady amount of cinnamon and a generous amount of brown sugar, then coiling it back up.

If you like cinnamon, you have to do this. They were best about an hour after baking, split in half with just a little butter spread over the still warm insides. The dough lacked a tiny amount of sweetness, which I plan on countering next time by puncturing it with a few raisins.

Still on a roll and with a fairly battered looking piece of dough left, I realised I had nothing for tomorrow's lunch. By this point I was flagging and feeling rather light-headed, but I didn't want to stop without making something for tomorrow. I spread out my last piece of dough as thinly as possible, slicking it with extra virgin olive oil and dotting it with fresh rosemary, some thin slivers of red onion, salt and garlic pepper. My intention was to make myself a big Italian flavoured Cream Cracker.

I whipped up some guacamole (more on that in the next post) and set it all aside in foil and plastic for tomorrow's extra smug lunch. Then I spent two hours watching Gordon Ramsay declare that two strange boys from Bristol have the best restaurant in Britain. I disagreed with this choice. I'm coming to see you some time, Prashad. Start warming the naans.

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