Pizza making at La Taverna Dei Corsari – Lazio

There’s a myth that if you are a ‘foodie’ (a word I hate) you are therefore an excellent cook. I can cook yes, but prefer someone else to do it hence my love of restaurants. They are clearly better than me and there’s no washing up afterwards.

As part of my recent trip to Italy we were given the chance to go to a pizza making workshop in a real restaurant, taught by an actual chef. Yikes…

Battling an ongoing virus that manifested itself in menopausal like temperature bursts hotter than the sun, standing in a kitchen next to a 300 degree pizza oven was…not the top thing on my list to do. But I’m a professional and was going to do this illness or not.

La Taverna dei Corsari is situated in the Lazio countryside (about an hours drive from Rome) surrounded by ridiculously breathtaking views. Pizza Hut certainly need to up their game.

We were greeted by the friendly and rather handsome Christian whose English was excellent we were relieved to discover. My GCSE Italian and knowledge of a few swear words wasn’t going to be of any help I feared. We discover Christian had recently worked in Bristol (my mum’s birthplace and the University city of my friend) so we felt reassured somehow and more at ease.

The restaurant had been opened especially for us so no audience to put us off our game. The Foo Fighters new album provided the soundtrack to our grafting and off we went.

  • 1kg Flour (00)
  • 750ml Water (not cold)
  • 10g Live yeast
  • 25g Sea salt
  • 25g Oil

So this is the recipe given to me which I’ve yet to try since returning home. I’ve attempted to remember the order of proceedings and hope I haven’t missed anything crucial.

Now for the science bit. Yeast and salt are enemies. So mix the water and yeast together first, and then add to the flour and salt. Work with your hands in a bowl and when combined drop the ball onto a floured worktop.

Knead for a few minutes until dough feels elasticky. Make a well and add the oil and knead again for a few minutes. The dough should begin to feel silky at this point.

Next you need to divide your dough. Each ball needs to be about 250g less if you want a thinner pizza. You’ll then need to shape said balls, so they’re round and smooth on top and pinch and tuck the bits underneath on the flat side. Like an upside dumpling (sort of). Set the dough balls aside on a tray – not too close together and cover with a damp tea towel (not wet) and leave for a few hours until they have doubled in size.

 

Ok when the dough has risen you need to give it a good dousing in semolina which will give it a nice texture. Back onto the floured work surface you need to flatten your dough ball leaving a rim around the edge. You flatten the inside in a circular motion – pressing and turning at the same time. We were told to imagine working a steering wheel. Try not to rip a hole in it. Obviously we didn’t do this…..

On to toppings. We were making a classic Margarita so used one ladle of tomato sauce per pizza, which was clearly homemade. Then add a generous sprinkling of fresh grated mozzarella and a few fresh basil leaves and you’re done.

Now came probably the hardest bit – getting the thing off the bloody work surface and into the oven. This step probably wouldn’t apply to most of us as we don’t have a pizza oven in our kitchens. After several attempts of sliding the pizza paddle under my creation (and some damaged dough and use of Italian swear words) I managed to get it into the oven and even give it a little turn mid way though. If you’re making this at home I would whack oven up as high as it goes and make sure fully hot. You can also get a pizza stone which is worth looking at.

Pizza 6

After five or so minutes here it was. My friend and I felt a massive sense of achievement and Christian was encouraging and kind even when we were struggling somewhat.

The highlight after this was sitting outside overlooking the mountains with a glass of vino with pizzas made for us instead. Pear, walnut and Gorgonzola (I don’t like this cheese but loved the pizza) and another of pig’s cheek, smoked mozzarella and chicoria which is a leafy spinach like vegetable that grew nearby.

Finally we were presented with a sweet pizza. Dark chocolate, creme patisserie in the crust and fresh fruit and cream. The pizzas had to be taken back home in boxes due to the sheer amount we were given, but they were so delicious and obviously far superior to our attempts.

PIzza 8

We had a brilliant afternoon and I can’t wait to give the dough a try at home. If you’re ever in this part of the world and fancy giving pizza making a shot, you can get in touch with my Italian based friend Libby Greenfield for the details. Ciao!

 

 

 

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Pianostrada – laboratorio di cucina – Rome

I was in Rome for less than 24 hours and hadn’t been for years. Despite battling a virus and having a reduced appetite (no, I didn’t believe it either), I was determined to sample some of Roma’s finest culinary offerings.

I was on holiday with a friend, and visiting her sister who praised-be is a chef and now living in Italy. Her friend had recommended Pianostrada – so reservation made off we trotted via the fabulous (and cheap) Bar San Calisto for a 3 euro Aperol Spritz.

The restaurant is run by four women – two friends and two daughters that belong to one of the women. They were all blonde, and looked related so we couldn’t really tell who was who.

The restaurant moved about a year ago from the other side of the Tiber to the buzzing Trastevere area. From reading up, the previous location was tiny so the new site seems to have been welcomed by regulars who now have more space to enjoy their food.

A former factory the interiors were warm and inviting – industrial with softer touches such as fresh flowers and plants , great lighting and linens on the table. Although we didn’t see it I understand there is an outside terrace for the summer months.

We had a reservation sitting at the bar overlooking the kitchen. We’re probably about a metre or so away from ‘the pass’ and it was fascinating to watch all the chefs at work. It was a quiet workspace – no raised voices, no visible stress just each person working attentively on their designated area. Every dish that left the kitchen was finished and checked with love and care – it all looked incredible but not fussy or pretentious. If you’ve ever been to a Barrafina in London it felt a bit like that, sitting right amidst all the action.

Wine first. Working in marketing and being an interiors nerd, I was thrilled at the wine list presented in colour order by way of a Pantone chart arrangement. Due to the volume of wines on offer this was actually pretty impractical in reality, so chatting with the waitress about our preferences we chose a well priced Pecorino which was delicious, especially when presented with homemade crisps.

The menu here focuses on small plates – sandwiches and fritti (fried things) in particular. Their speciality is a fish burger served in a black squid ink bun, confit tomatoes and courgette flowers. Despite classing things as street food all the portions we ordered were generous.

Ingredients predominately come from the Lazio region (where Rome sits) and bread is baked on the premises. As you’d expect the menu changes often to reflect seasonality and availability.

 

 

Due to the sheer size of the menu and the restaurant having a nonfunctioning website I only have my memory to remind me of what was eaten. All I can say is everything we ate was delicious, innovative and clearly using top quality ingredients.

We shared a burrata, tartare and incredible plate of ham with homemade bread and tomato to start with.

I then had a beef dish (see above) which was amazing. Cherry tomatoes, stringy Italian cheese, beef, rocket and courgette flowers. I couldn’t finish it all, but it was delicious. My friend had what looked like the perfect portion of pasta with tomato and cheese, and her sister had a raw fish dish served with pickled vegetables and a lemon sorbet which got the chef’s seal of approval.

The vegetarian options looked really good too for any non meat eaters.

The last time I ate in Trastevere I seem to recall an abundance of red and white checked tablecloths and menus geared towards tourists. Pianostrada is cool, clearly a hit with actual Romans and with an interior that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in London or New York, the Rome food scene is looking very exciting indeed. If you’re in Italy’s Capital do give it a try – I’ll certainly be going back.

Ciao!

Jacob the Angel – 16 1/2, Neal’s Yard

As the old saying goes, you’re never more than 6ft away from a Pret in Central London. I jest – you could do a lot worse than Pret a Manger when you’re looking for a quick sandwich on your lunch break.

However, one of the perks of working slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden is that there are new places popping up all the time and not all of them in the crowded Piazza.

Jacob the Angel has just launched – set up by the people behind The Palomar and The Barbary (next door), by siblings Zoe and Layo Paskin.

Jacob the Angel (JTA) is weeny – just ten seats inside and three outside in bustling Neal’s Yard. JTA is classed as an English coffee-house focusing on take away freshly baked cakes, sandwiches and seasonal salads. My visit with a friend fell in the soft launch week, so we were poised ready to be met by a packed house but miraculously there was a table for two free.

As a gin lover, a tuna sandwich containing gin pickled cucumber didn’t fail to pass me by. It was really delicious – the organic bread coming from the Dusty Knuckle Bakery in Hackney, who work with young people who have struggled to find meaningful employment – have a read.

Coffee comes from the Square Mile Roastery, cheese from Neal’s Yard round the corner and charcuterie from Cannon & Cannon.

I normally opt for tea over coffee but feeling reckless I ordered an Americano. The charming man behind the counter recommended their filter coffee instead, which he brought to the table when ready and it was really delicious.

My friend, a veggie picked a few of their salads which I sampled for research purposes. Carrots, with harissa, feta and almonds and another with rice noodles, cabbage and celery with peanuts. Both portions were really fresh and generous and bursting with flavour. After my huge sandwich we momentarily regretted ordering a cake (short-lived).

They make just 30 individual coconut cream pies each day and in a rare display of sloppy journalism I forgot to take a photo. If you like coconut you’ll love it – like a little lemon meringue pie. A summery nectarine cake is also shared bursting with seasonal fruit and perfect to keep my coffee company.

Jacob the Angel is light, airy and friendly. The quality is top class and as menus will be changing regularly you can probably go often and mix it up a bit.

I think the prices are really good too, particularly for an area not overrun with good value interesting places.

If you’re wanting a quick sandwich, coffee or cake do try JTA. If you can’t get a seat there’s lovely Lincoln’s Inn Fields nearby for a sit. Heavenly.