Monday, 15 August 2011

A simple chard sauce to go with pasta




This recipe was born a few months ago (I'm a bit behind on my blogging aren't I?!) when we over-ordered rainbow chard from our organic farm and there was half a pot of cream sitting in the fridge fantastically close to going off. It's amazing how something thrown together with the intentions to merely using things up can become a favourite and something we'll come back to three more times in the following fortnight.
We ate it each time with pasta. This sauce would also work well with spinach, turnip or broad bean tops or any other wild greens. If you prepare all of the vegetables before you start cooking, your input into the sauce will take no more than a few minutes.


Creamy rainbow chard sauce for pasta (serves 3)

Ingredients
2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g rainbow chard, finely sliced
1 courgette, sliced
200ml double cream
200ml hot vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to season

Method
Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the crushed garlic.
Cook for two minutes until just browning and throw in the courgette slices and strips of chard. Stir to coat in the garlicy oil and allow to the chard to wilt.
Pour the cream over, followed by the stock.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down a little and simmer for 5minutes, stirring otter , until the sauce has reduced.
Season generously with salt and pepper and toss through pasta.






Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Summer Holidays


It's been a blissful couple of weeks. 10 days of holidaying - a sandwich of Florence-Home-Paris - that has left me refreshed and smiling again.
A few days with L, M and Nonno and Nonna in Florence were not unbearably hot, but sadly filled with the buzz of mosquitosand I have come home with a rather furious allergic reaction to their bites that almost puts me off wanting to go back in the summer. We saw all of our favourite sights, drank in our favourite cocktail bar and ate in our favourite restaurants. Then, we went off in search of some new adventures and took M on her first train journey to Pisa and then piled into a little car with Nonno behind the wheel, driving all over the road and ignoring the lanes as Italians seem to do, up to Fiesole, where ancient Roman ruins hide amongst more traditional Italian buildings that overlook the whole of Florence. I took my camera everywhere, looking like a proper tourist, and soon I hope, the restaurant will have a few of my shots up on the wall. One day soon, with the trip fresh in my mind, I will write a dedicated 'Things to do while you're in Florence' page and with any luck, if you ever visit, you'll see us sipping our drinks too across the room filled only with Italian voices.

A few days at home left lots of time for work in the garden, especially picking all of the dwarf and broad beans that had popped up whilst we were away. We also arrived just in time for the start of the blackberry season and got our hands stained picking one and a half kilos in just two days. We enjoyed the novelty of having our own fresh fruits from the garden but I couldn't help but make something a little bit special with them too while I had time. This blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart was so enjoyed by the three of us that I had little choice but to make it again for the restaurant as a special.
We had barely scraped our plates clean when it was time to jump back into the car in the small hours of the morning to make a second trip down to Bristol airport that week.
This trip however, I was to be alone and I fought the tears back as I waved goodbye to L and M to spend the longest time away from them I have ever done.
All this to travel to Paris to pick up sister E, who you may remember has been au-pairing for the last year just outside the French capital. What a year she has had! Aside from phone calls, postcards and facebooking, I've been following her little blog and was really looking forward to seeing everything she has been telling me about.


As her family had gone off camping for the weekend, we were left to our own devices and took the chance to visit some of E's favourite new haunts. I see why she has fallen in love with the city. I think I re-fell in love with France and the French, something I'd forgotten about in my wonderful little Italian inspired world.

There were many highlights to our weekend: pressing my face up against patisserie windows, an hour and half wait to see the riders approach the Champs-Elyses on their last stage of the Tour de France, the best falafels I have ever eaten in the Marais, 

mint tea in the Paris mosque and a couple of visits to Pierre Herme for macarons and a tarte infinement vanille. Of course we indulged in some culture too; a trip to Musee Rodin and then to l'hotel des invalides to see Napoleons enormous tomb - as well as visits to Paris' rich areas where we were well and truely ripped off having a hot drink sitting on a bar terrace. At the end of our weekend alone, we were greeted by E's French family who welcomed me as if I had known them as long as E had.


We cooked, spoke French, watched two very excitable young girls put on their dance shows and then got up the next morning to play even more before the inevitable trip to the train station came along with its tears and goodbye hugs, kisses and promises to be back very, very soon.
It was total bliss, perhaps being an au pair would be a great thing to do for a year given the chance, especially if you end up with a family as warm and generous as E's.

Blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart

Ingredients
400g sweet shortcrust pastry
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts
1 large egg
100ml creme fraiche
zest 1 orange
300g fresh blackberries
a little butter to grease a 23cm springform tin

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and transfer carefully into the greased springform tin.
Place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 15minutes until the pastry is cooked though and just golden.
Whisk together the egg, creme fraiche, half the hazelnuts and orange zest in a small bowl.
When the pastry is cooked, carefully remove the baking beans to their tub to cool down again and take the greaseproof paper away. Fill the pastry case with blackberries and pour the creme fraiche mixture over.
Scatter the remaining hazelnuts over the dish and return to the oven for 20 minutes until the creme fraiche mixture has a little colour and is cooked through.
Serve warm or cold as you like.

Monday, 11 July 2011

More Cupcakes......

Just another little announcement post today. I have been cooking too, but this is far more important and something I really want to tell you all about.

Bella Torta is now hosting cupcake decorating classes! This week, as a thank you to all the girls who work for us (and because L is a little mean and doesn't take them out at Christmas!) I hosted a trial cupcake decorating class. Something I've loved the idea of doing, ever since I went on one myself.


It was (I think) a great success and all the girls went away with 12 cupcakes that they spent a delightful afternoon decorating.

In case you're interested, and maybe even might like to come on one of the courses that I'm offering the details are all listed below. As ever, I'll be updating the Bella Torta website and facebook page with more dates and more styles of classes in the next few weeks. Please feel free to come and visit me in the restaurant premises for a really fun way to spend a day!




Birds, Buds and Bows Cupcake Decorating Class!

Monday 8th and Monday 22nd August

Join us in our relaxed restaurant environment for 5 hours of cupcake decorating bliss, from 10.30a.m. until 3.30p.m. where you will:

• Gain confidence using two types of icing

• Use professional icing colour gels, equipment and techniques

• Style a gorgeous large ruffled bow and make delicate yet full sugar roses

• Use florist paste to make bespoke bows, birds and flowers

• Learn how to top cupcakes with smooth or embossed sugar paste for all your decorations to sit neatly upon

• Get a chance to have all of your decorating questions answered and dilemmas solved

• Take home a unique box of 12 cupcakes that you have decorated from scratch

• Be inspired to go home and make more cupcakes just to decorate them!

The class is just £90 and includes course notes, all ingredients, equipment and materials. Please bring your own packed lunch.

Our cupcake classes are suitable for beginners and we hope that by the end of the class, your head will be full to bursting with ideas and inspiration. If you have any questions before you book, please call in to Ponte Vecchio or call Bella Torta on 07521 161547 or email ciao@bella-torta.co.uk
Booking facilities are available at http://www.bella-torta.co.uk/
























Saturday, 25 June 2011

Che Bella Torta!

               

In all my excitement trying to eat all of the raspberries in the garden (they are still going), I have forgotten to let you in on my latest piece of news.
It's an idea that has floated around in my head for as long as I can remember, but it has only been since my visit to the Blue Door Bakery that I began to question why I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do with my life.

Have you guessed yet?

I've opened up my own little cake making and decorating company!
After weeks of careful consideration and a lot of suggestions, Bella Torta was born! The last couple of months have gone in a whirlwind of buying new equipment, testing out cake recipes, making sugar flowers and decorations and fussing about over a new website. I must just publicly thank my uncle I and aunty C for helping design such a fun little logo that now takes pride of place on a few aprons, letterheads and a rather fantastic self inking stamp. (No, I have not stamped everything in sight......).

                                    


I've already completed my first order - a box of cupcakes with buttercream swirls and various tiny handmade drugs for a doctors birthday and Ill be decorating a wedding cake this week with a very interesting theme. Pictures to follow..

Anyway, I'd really love for you to go and check out my website www.bella-torta.co.uk or facebook page to see what I've been up to. Of course, I wouldn't complain if you decided to put in an order either! Keep checking back too, because in the next couple of weeks I've got a very exciting piece of news that I'm finding it really, really hard to keep quiet about.

                

Thursday, 16 June 2011

An Abundance of Raspberries


We are drowning in raspberries. Every other day we are forced into the garden with a bowl to full with more and more of the little red jewels. It also seems that someone is fed up with the abundance of our new favourite fruit, and is less interested in picking and eating and more interested in squelching and stamping them into the floor. Oh dear.


Thankfully, I was able to get her to eat some in yet another raspberry and apricot themed dessert. This time, a galette without any sugar in the pastry to allow the natural sweetness in the fruits to shine through.

Raspberry and Apricot Galettes (apapted from Tartlette. Makes 5)

Ingredients
For the pastry dough
70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
pinch salt
210g plain flour
2 tablespoons milk


For the fruits
5 apricots
2 tablespoons sugar
2 stems lemon balm
100g raspberries
75g caster sugar
6 leaves lemon balm
1 egg, beaten



Method
For the pastry
In a mixer, whip the butter on medium speed until light and airy.
Add the egg yolks and pinch of salt and beat well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. 
Mix in all of the flour and mix briefly to form breadcrumbs.
Add enough milk to bring the dough into a ball.
Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

For the fruits
While the dough is resting, place the apricots, sugar and lemon balm stalks in a pan with enough water to cover them.
Set over a high heat and bring to a boil before reducing the heat and poaching the apricots until just tender.
Remove from the heat, strain, discarding the cooking liquid and now almost slimey leaves and let them cool on a clean kitchen towel.
Once cooled, peel and halve them, remove the stones and slice the peaches thin.


To assemble
Preheat oven to 180C.

When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board. If the dough tears while you roll, just patch it with your fingertips.
Cut eight 4-inch rounds, I used a saucer, rerolling and using the dough as you go (ig it gets too soft, just refrigerate for a few minutes as you fill the other galettes with fruit).
Arrange the slices of a whole apricot in the center of each round and gather the edges, pleating as you go with your fingertips (don't worry about being even - these are free form). Add the raspberries on top and sprinkle with sugar and some freshly chopped lemon balm leaves.
Place all the galettes on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg and bake for about 30-35 minutes

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A Raspberry and Apricot Upside Down Cake


Suddenly, we are well and truly in the throws of summer. We wear short sleeves during the day, sometimes walk home from the restaurant in the light and are eating the first if the produce from our new garden. I have already mentioned how lucky we are to have bought a house with such an established garden. We have enjoyed the last of the years rhubarb now but our herbs are still very alive despite all the picking we do. It is not uncommon for one of us to take M out into the garden and come back with a few roses from one of the 18 bushes we have inherited (yes, you did read that right!) or a bunch of sage, thyme, marjoram to name a few.


Last week we gleefully noticed that our raspberries were deep red and bursting with juice. We ate them greedily straight off the bush.
This week we had been more restrained and managed to put off picking any for a few days so I would have enough to use them in something special. In the end, we had too many anyway, so found ourselves hoovering the remainder up while we waited for our cake to bake.




Raspberry and apricot upside down cake


Ingredients
5 ripe apricots
100g ripe raspberries
225g unwanted butter at room temperature
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2tbsp almond extract
300g self raising flour


Method
Preheat the oven to gas Mark 3 1/2/ 170C.
Butter and flour the sides of a 25cm springform tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, each with a tbsp of flour and beat well.
Quickly beat in the almond extract, followed by the flour.
Halve and stone the apricots and lay then cut side up into the springform tin. Fill in the gaps between them with the raspberries, making sure the fruit is in a single layer.
Gently spoon the cake mixture out over the fruits.
Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden and springs back to the touch.
Rest the cake in it's tin for 5minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
Peel the paper off once cool and serve with yogurt or cream and some chopped pistachios or almonds.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Knock, Knock at the Blue Door Bakery



A month ago now I found myself taking a deep breath before I knocked on the dark blue door of a house in Hagley, just outside Birmingham. Inside, I was sure that there would be several friendly faces waiting for me, but I was nervous nonetheless.
You have to understand that I am quite shy and rarely venture out alone. This was going to be different though. I knew that everyone I met here today was going to share one of my passions and that we would at least have something to talk about. Phew. I find uncomfortable silences so, well, uncomfortable.


A smiling woman opened the door
"You must be Alice, you're the last to arrive" (I wasn't late - everyone else was early.)
"What a fantastic jumper!" I had worn one of my favourites and it was highly topical.
"Do you want some tea or coffee? There are some biscuits on the table too if you're peckish."
I instantly relaxed and realised I was going to be okay and that I was probably going to have a lot of fun.


I had arrived at the home of Sarah Barnes, owner of the Blue Door Bakery and I was going to spend the next few hours learning about decorating cupcakes!
All seven of us students sat down around a table and examined the mountain of equipment in front of us -cutters, plungers, foam mats, rolling pins and not forgetting a large selection of gel colours.
We spent the day learning about how to make different swirls from the fluffiest vanilla buttercream and how to make sugar roses and all about the proper use of florist paste.



I was back again a couple of weeks later to learn some more tricks too. It's highly addictive stuff, sitting around, practically relaxing, while you learn all these skills from someone with as much enthusiasm for her work as Sarah. It has ignited a pre-existing passion in me for sugarcraft and cake decoration much more than I could have imagined that it would have done; and since then, well, let's just say I've made a lot of cupcakes and invested a lot of time into decorating them!

If you're happy to sit and look at photos of gorgeous cupcakes, take a trip to the blue door bakery's website here or check out their facebook page. Click on the 'parties and classes' cucpake icon to see if there are any courses you'd like to go on too - but book quickly, these spaces sell like hot cakes!


My finished box of cupcakes, and that jumper.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Italian Classics : Torta della Nonna


Isn't it amazing how powerful and evocative a smell can be? Pine trees, cloves and oranges at christmas. Freshly cut grass and sweet blossoms in spring. Or the simple smell of a custard tart in the oven reminding you of your favourite Italian pasticceria and instantly transporting you back to countless holidays in Florence.


This torta is no exception. Make it and your whole house will smell like a professional bakery.
When I chose to put this on as the restaurant's dessert special for April, I had no idea it would be quite so popular. It is surprisingly simple to make and totally appropriate for our restaurant. L had great fun telling everyone it is a dish that originated in Florence itself.




Torta della Nonna

Ingredients
For the pastry
150g plain flour
60g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter
1tsp baking powder
1 egg yolk
zest 1 lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
For the custard
4 eggs
80g caster sugar
500ml whole milk
49g plain flour
zest 1 orange
50 grams of pine nuts
Icing sugar to dust

Method
For the pastry
Soften the butter at room temperature.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the lemon zest and vanilla extract.
Divide the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the sugar and egg yolk and mix together with your fingers until combined, trying not to over work the dough.
Use a little butter to grease a 26cm springform tin.
Roll the pastry out to the thickness of 5mm on a lightly floured surface.
Transfer it to the tin using the rolling pin to lift it, and press gently in.
Prick the base all over with a fork before placing in the fridge to rest.
Perheat the oven to 150C.
For the custard
Place the milk and orange zest into a heavy bottomed saucepan and just bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, put the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl and whisk. Slowly add the sifted flour with the remaining vanilla. Very slowly, and using a fine sieve, pour the hot milk in while stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, and stir constantly over a medium heat until it boils.
Stir for another 2-3 minutes while it thickens to get rid of the raw flour taste that might remain.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and pour the custard over it, spreading it out a little to cover the dough.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and cook in the oven for around 35 minutes until the custard has just set and is just going golden in a few places.
Unmold the cake onto a serving plate and let cool.
Dust it with icing sugar to serve.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Orange and Kumquat Cupcakes


It's a universal fact that we Britons love our tea. If there's ever a problem, no matter how big or small, a cup of tea will surely solve it. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of all of it - should the milk be put in first or last? A slice of lemon in place of the milk? Should there be one teabag in the pot per person and then one for the pot too?
Essentially, it's all down to preference. I will drink any type of tea apart from the regular ones, prefering a slightly floral note as opposed to a greener or smokier one . No milk, no lemon and certainly no sugar. I get my sugar fix from whatever I decide to take with my tea.


Last week, after I had made the candied kumquats, I could resist putting them into some orange cupcakes and sharing them with everyone at work. I am on a bit of a cupcake high - this week I am off on a days cupcake baking course and I could not be more excited. With any luck, I'll be able to post some pictures of what I learn in the next few weeks.


Orange and candied kumquat cupakes (adapted from Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery, makes 12 cupcakes)


Ingredients
For the cupcakes
110g unsalted butter
225g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g self raising flour
125g plain flour
90ml milk
grated zest 1 orange
2tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 batch candied kumquats
For the icing
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
500g icing sugar


Method
Preheat the oven to 170C/ gas mark 4 and line a 12 hole cupcake try with paper cases.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a free standing mixer until pale and smooth.
Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tbsp of the flour and beat well.
Add a third of the flours and beat again. Pour in half of the milk, mix well and add another third of the flour and beat well. Add the remainder of the milk, beat and the remainder of the flour, the orange zest and beat well a final time.
Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, placing a kumquat slice in the centre as a surprise filling if you wish.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
For the icing
Sift half of the icing sugar into a large bowl and beat together with the butter and orange juice until smooth. Gradually sift the rest of the icing sugar over the buttercream and beat again until smooth and creamy. 
Once the cakes are cool, ice with the orange buttercream and decorate with the remaining candied kumquats.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Trip to Birmingham



A few weeks ago, L suddenly realised his passport was close to running out. Just fill in the appropriate form, sign a cheque and send it off, you say?
Wrong!
L of course, has an Italian passport, which means trips to the Italian embassy are in order. But, even then, it's not a simple process - our marriage and M's birth have to be registered, as does our change of address. Once certificates have been authenticated and translated, only then can he make the trip down to Lodon to actually apply for his passport. What a chore it has been - and we're only half was through the process!

L could have made the return journey to the Birmingham embassy in three hours and been home in time for Lunch. But then I am not one to miss out on an opportunity to go and visit the Birmingham food markets.
With M on my back in the papoose, we embraced the crowds and the sights and smells of the stalls. We watched baby lobsters scuttle across the counters of the fishmongers, pulled disgusted faces at the chicken feet at the butchers and listened to the days offers from all of the stallholders. I wished I had taken more cash with me. There were so many new and exciting things to try and many things I couldn't even name. In the end we came home laiden with lemons, tomatoes, kumquats, plantain, figs, purple anya potatoes, radishes and a cho-cho.

We also stepped very briefly into the Bullring shopping centre itself and spent forty-five minutes going up and down the escalators in Selfridges. L had to tear me away from my favourite pair of Louboutin shoes that they were selling for £505.

Thank goodness I don't have a credit card.

While I have plenty of ideas for what I'm going to do with all of these things, the kumquats had to be dealt with first. Of course, a few many have found their way into my mouth, but the majority were candied to be used a few days later, in the recipe that I'll post next time.




Candied Kumquats

Ingredients
50ml water
40g caster sugar
100g fresh kumquats, cut into threes

Method
Place the water and sugar in a heavy medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add the kumquat pieces, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 -15 minutes until the kumquats are tender and a thick syrup has formed around them. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Poured into a sterilised jar, these will keep for up to one month in the fridge.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Leonardo's Rhubarb Obsession


Rainbow Chard.  I love it.
If I see some at the farmer's market I simply cannot buy fewer than two bags. I love it steamed, the younger leaves in a salad, sauted with olive oil and garlic and now like this, with my least favourite vegetable, rhubarb.
I have only recently rediscovered that rhubarb is a vegetable. I'm sure I learnt it a long time ago but pushed it right to the back of my mind. It's a shame, it would have made a great quiz question for the few that I've put together for various family members over the last few years.
L and I sit on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to rhubarb. I would quite happily dig the plant up or just let it go to seed whereas L has been on my case ever since we moved: 'Please could you make a crumble or a pie tonight?' 'Why don't I go and pick some rhubarb for you to cook tonight?'
So I have humoured him and he has had one crumble, some rhubarb and cinnamon muffins, a huge batch rhubarb and custard ice cream for the restaurant and rhubarb stewed with blood orange and some meringues that I whipped up using the egg whites left over from the ice cream. I have also been thinking about making some rhubarb and white chocolate macaroons.
Mostly however I have been freezing the pink stalks ready to use later in the year.
And then of course, on rediscovering that the bitter pink stalks are a vegetable, I decided to use it as much as possible in savoury cooking.
This little contorno is all I've been able to do so far, but as soon as I spotted in it Jamie Oliver's magazine (which I only bought because it was the Italian issue), I knew I had to make it. It was delicious. A sort of Italian sweet and sour. Jamie uses spinach for this, but I think that the chard adds a bit more colour, especially if your rhubarb isn't the bright pink forced kind like mine.



Warm Rainbow Chard and Rhubarb Salad (serves 2)

Ingredients
200g rhubarb, diagonally sliced
40g sugar (I used Xylitol)
1tbsp white wine vinegar
200g rainbow chard, leaves chopped in three
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method
Put the rhubarb and sugar in a large frying pan and add 150ml water. Bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes, until the rhubarb is just tender.
Remove the rhubarb to a serving dish with a slotted spoon.
Add the vinegar to the pan and turn up the heat to reduce the liquid to about 2tbsp. Pour the reduction into a jar and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste.
Put another drizzle of olive oil into the pan and tip in the rainbow chard. Cook until wilted, about 3 minutes, stirring occassionally, before tipping it onto the serving dish with the rhubarb.
Mix the two together a little before drizzling with the dressing and serve warm.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Kitchen Courtyard


The Ponte Vecchio courtyard is looking rather sorry for itself at the moment. The pots are empty and devoid of anything except their compost and a few winter pansies that are leggy and look a little lost having survived the long cold winter we are finally out of.

At this time of year, I start getting excited about the seeds I will sow for the coming summer months.
We will fill most of the boxes with tomato plants, not one of them to produce a red tomato though - only yellow and purple ones here. Last year I also started to experiment with edible flowers and we put nasturtiums, borage and radish flowers in salads.
This year I hope to continue along these lines, perhaps with a few herbs and some alpine strawberries to add to the collection.

For now, this is the courtyard, bare and grey; but we hope to update the pictures over the coming months so you can see the progress and some of our courtyard produce in action.



Monday, 4 April 2011

Just Like Bruno Used to Make....


Pizza is something we indulge in roughly once a fortnight. We all love it. Although we still eat it at the table, it is a less formal meal than usual. No cutlery or napkins, just kitchen roll and the pizza slicer; no tablecloth or tablemats, just our plates the board that the pizza sits on; no water jugs or expensive carefully matched bottles of wine, just a cold Peroni each and of course some juice for M.


Of course, we all have our own favourite topping too - spinach and olives for M; mushrooms, red onion and chilli oil for L and more often than not, four cheeses for me. Each and everytime we have pizza, I make it from scratch. At around four o'clock, you'll find me in the kitchen and a dining chair at my side with my little helper on tiptoes trying to pour the flours into the kitchenaid bowl and stirring the yeast into the warm water. She is the second generation of Hereford-based pizza makers in the Pavi Degl'Innocenti family and already takes the preparation just as seriously as the eating. Though she is not prehaps old enough to understand that its not necessary to eat the preparation before it is cooked.


Nonno Bruno is of course the first generation and is famous throughout Hereford. 16 years as the face of Ristorante Pizzeria Firenze, you know before he speaks that he is Italian and that he takes his food very seriously. A large part of his repertoire is exactly how 'mamma used to make it', although he can definitely claim pizza as his own.



Imagine sitting in the pizzeria with its green walls and informal lively atmosphere watching those famous hands form your dough base and then scatter on your toppings. Children used to clamber up to the marble worktop to get a closer look and sometimes a piece of dough to knead for themselves.

Firenze days are ones that we all treasure, and it shows in the number of people we meet in town who pull us to one side just to ask how Bruno is.




For those of you who ever dined at Firenze, remember this, Bruno's signature pizza, the 'Firenze'? Hand stretched bread dough with tomato, gorgonzola piccante, artichoke hearts, chilli and garlic. Next time you have pizza, try this one, it will become your usual.

Bruno's Firenze Pizza (makes 3 8'' pizze)

Ingredients
For the dough
300ml lukewarm water
7g sachet dried yeast
250g wholegrain spelt flour
250g strong bread flour
1tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
For the chilli oil
vegetable oil
dried chilli flakes
For the topping
up to 6 tbsp tomato passata
1 400g can artichoke hearts in water, drained
250g gorgonzola, piccante if possible
homemade chilli oil
6 cloves garlic

Method
For the chilli oil
Mix together some vegetable oil and chilli flakes in a jar. Do this to your own tastes, put the lid on and give it a good shake. Keep in a cool dark place for 2 months and use as you please.
For the dough
Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle using the back of a spoon.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and leave for five minutes to foam a little.
Pour this into the well along with the olive oil and combine until a dough has formed. Knead for 5 minutes in a free standing mixer until the dough is silky and elastic.
Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for two hours until doubled in a warm place
Preheat the oven to as high a temperature as it will go - gas mark 9/250C.
On a well floured surface, divide the dough into three and roll out each dough ball to 7'' - 8'' onto three lightly greased baking sheets and transfer them over using the rolling pin to help.
To top
Spoon up to 2 tbsp of the passata into the centre of each base and using the back of the spoon, circle the passata around the base until it has covered all but the outer inch of the dough.
Crumble the gorgonzola piccante amongst the pizze and pull apart the artichokes before scattering the leaves onto the top.
Sprinkle with chilli oil to your taste and crush the garlic cloves evenly over the pizze.
Place into the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the vegetables are golden on their edges.
Eat immediately, washed down with Peroni or any other Italian lager.