I work in a Medical Research Institute, and the nature of research is that people travel a lot for their careers. My current Divisions include scientists and students from France, Germany, Switzerland, Algeria, China, New Zealand, Sweden, The Netherlands, The Cook Islands, Afghanistan, Japan, Brazil, England, the USA, Serbia, Spain, Iran, India, Scotland… oh yes, and a few Australians. (I’m sure I’ve missed a country or five in there, actually). And of course, at least half of the Australians – myself included – in the lab have parents who were born overseas.
So tomorrow we are celebrating Australia Day a day early by having a lunch for our two Divisions, with everyone bringing a dish from home. Wherever home is for the person in question. (I wish I could say this was my idea, because I think it is absolutely wonderful, but one of the RAs came up with it, and more power to her.)
As it happens, I’m one of the few people in the lab who is of Italian extraction, and since food from home often means food of one’s childhood, I’ve decided to have another go at making my Nonna’s pizza recipe. So far tonight, it’s been a case study in why you should add the water gradually, but we’ll let that pass for now.
Nonna, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, had two traditional pizzas she made for us when we visited – one topped simply with oregano (green pizza), and another topped with tomato passata (red pizza), and maybe the odd olive or anchovy or pepper. (It’s the cuisine of poverty – you don’t have many ingredients, but you make the best of the ones you do have.) But she was also very fond of spoiling her sweet-toothed grand-daughter, so when I was quite little, she invented a sultana pizza which she would make at the same time. I’ve never really grown out of it. I’ve also never made it successfully, largely because until recently, the only recipe I had for Nonna’s pizza was extremely vague – Nonna knew all the quantities by feel and cooks pizza ‘until it is done’, which is not very helpful to the novice cook! The recipe I have now (via my aunts) has actual quantities for everything except the water, and, as I will explain later, I’ve learned this evening just why the water measurement is as vague as it is – so I’m hoping I’ll get it to work (I’m writing this while I wait for it to rise the second time). I’m also going to make oregano pizza, of course, but what I’m truly hoping to feed my colleagues tomorrow is my Nonna’s sultana pizza – pizza Serafina!
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2 small potatoes (about 165g)
1 kg bread flour
1 tbsp salt
35 g fresh yeast (the kind that is a beige, spongey block, not the powdered kind)
100 ml olive oil, plus more for your hands. Oh yes, definitely more for your hands.
‘Enough water to make a sticky dough’. This is somewhere between 450 and 550 ml. Which is to say, it was 550 ml a couple of weeks ago, but tonight that turned out to be way too much and my dough is impossibly sticky and I couldn’t knead it properly at all.
2 tbsp oregano, or 175 g sultanas and 2 tbsps raw sugar, or about 500 ml passata, or pick two of these options and use half of the quantity.