A few weeks ago I turned 28. Yikes. 28 is meant to be one of those ‘turning point’ ages, right? An age where you’re taunted by the looming vision of the big 3 0 and constantly fielding questions about mortgages, your marital status and babies. Happy birthday to me! Maybe I’m in denial, but I chose to ignore the dark side of turning 28 and viewed it just like any other birthday – an amazing excuse to catch up with my nearest and dearest. No scary questions or pressure, just a week of feasts, parties and bubbles with all my favourites. Now that’s more like it.
The only sign that age was creeping up on me were the presents. Thoughtful as ever, my friends and family paid homage to my increasingly gluttonous ways by sticking to a distinct food theme in their gifts. There were glorious bottles of ‘the good wine’, customary jars of nutella to fuel my addiction, and even a rather nifty salad spinner from my brother. I can practically hear my 18 year old self mocking me. But let her mock, because she’s got ten years to wait before she’s gifted with one very special food item indeed; the first of its kind to ever grace my kitchen with its ethereal presence.
My past encounters with truffle have been few but special. There was a truffled pecorino and rocket panino at a hole in the wall bar in Florence, a white truffle pizza in Lisbon with shavings of truffle AND truffle oil, and the almighty truffled Barncliffe Brie at The Greedy Pig’s ‘Roots to Shoots’ pop up. The most notable experience was at The Samling earlier this year, when a canapé of truffled polenta on a truffled mayonnaise nearly reduced Rob and I to tears. And just as I thought I’d managed to get it together, they whipped out the truffle risotto. It was emotional.
And now I was in possession of an ingredient whose sole reason for existing was to evoke the sheer majesty of the truffle experience? Oh MY. For a week, the truffle oil sat unused in my cupboard, mocking my other inferior ingredients. I gazed at it adoringly each day, letting its necklace of enticing Italian words curl around my tongue. I savoured the satisfying pop of its stopper as I opened it, inhaling the seductive perfume that it released. And I fantasised about the moment that it would finally splash onto my tongue, transporting me into a state of euphoria that only the truffle knows how to conjure.
My truffle oil obsessing was getting ridiculous. I was getting ridiculous. I couldn’t wait any longer, so I turned to my new culinary bible, Nikki Segit’s The Flavour Thesaurus, for inspiration on how to give my truffle oil the ending it deserved. All the usual suspects were suggested as pairings – blue cheese, garlic and cauliflower; you know the sorts – but they all seemed too fussy. I needed something simple, something that wouldn’t compete with the truffle oil, but instead act as a delicious blank canvas to showcase it in all its glory.
Then it came to me. Pizza. I adore pizza; nay, I’m OBSESSED with pizza. A stellar example of Mr Whittingstall’s ‘three good things’; the combination of freshly-made dough, creamy mozzarella and rich tomato sauce is magical. But while there are few greater dishes than a pizza done really well, pizzas in restaurants often disappoint. There are of course exceptions to this, (Dough Boys and Franco Manca, I’m looking at you), but it comes down to another three good things. Passion, love and care. Without them, the end result is a flabby mound of bread topped with a collection of ingredients that fail to perform the job they were asked to do. This pizza staves off hunger for another couple of hours, but magical it is not.
Now I don’t proclaim to be a pizza-making expert, but I care. I have passion. And I LOVE. I love the process of making pizza almost as much as I enjoy eating it. I love the alchemic method of combining flour, water, yeast and olive oil; watching it transform from a floury moat to a spongy, elastic ball. I love the surprise of checking back on that ball after it’s been left to relax in a warm place to find it’s doubled in size. I love filling the kitchen with the aroma of garlic, basil and sweet tomatoes as I make the sauce. I love choosing and preparing quality ingredients that will top the pizza in a complementary, not competitive way. And I love watching the pizza cook; those toppings dancing and shimmering under the oven’s red glare. Pizza, you’re the one.
Today, I present to you the best pizza I’ve ever made. The Mushroom and Truffle Oil Pizza. Mere words are not enough to describe how good this pizza is. We’re talking a light and crisp base, delicately swathed in a sauce that tastes like warm Italian sunshine. It’s topped with creamy buffalo mozzarella, thinly-sliced chestnut mushrooms seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a shower of finely-grated pecorino. And truffle oil. Glorious, decadent truffle oil; drizzled sparingly across the pizza to create pools of rich, earthy pungency. I’ve tried to wean myself off the word ‘epic’, saving it only for the most fitting of occasions, but this may just be it.
It’s over to you now. Yes, I know truffle oil is an extravagance (thanks again, Amy and Georgie – you girls are the best) but if you can get hold of some, a little goes a long way and TRUST me, you will not regret it. Now excuse me while I go and sniff the bottle again…
RECIPE: Truffle Oil and Mushroom Pizza
Dough (makes approx 4 pizzas, so scale down/up accordingly)
500g strong white bread flour/tipo 00 flour
1/2 tsp salt
7g dried yeast
1/2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
325ml lukewarm water
2 cloves of garlic
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tin of plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper to season
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large chestnut mushroom or three small chestnut mushrooms per pizza, sliced wafer-thin and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper
Half a ball of buffalo mozzarella per pizza (normal mozzarella will do if you can’t get hold of buffalo)
Grated pecorino – a good handful per pizza
Truffle oil – 1tbsp per pizza
I always use Jamie Oliver’s basic pizza dough recipe. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and all that.
1. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the middle.
2. In a measuring jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, before pouring into the well.
3. Use a fork to slowly bring the flour in from the sides and mix it into the liquid.
4. Keep mixing until it all starts to come together. Discard the fork and use clean, flour-dusted hands to bring it all together.
5. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.
6. Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl (I use the same bowl to save washing up!) and flour the top of it.
7. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place somewhere warm room for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
8. Flour a clean work surface and knead the dough on it to push the air out.
9. Use immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required.
10. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – you’ll get about 4 medium-large pizzas out of this amount of dough.
This sauce is so simple, I almost feel embarrassed labelling this post as a ‘recipe’.
1. Roughly chop two cloves of garlic and a big handful of basil.
2. Fry on a medium-high heat until the garlic starts to turn a golden colour. Add the plum tomatoes, and smash with a wooden spoon.
3. Fry for a couple of minutes, then take off the heat and blitz in a food processor or blender until smooth.
4. Return to a low heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste.
Tip: If you don’t use all of the sauce, you can freeze it.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. Roll the dough out as thin or thick as you like it, then place on a pizza tray.
3. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the base. Don’t use too much, especially near the centre, as your pizza will be soggy.
4. Add your toppings evenly across the pizza, except the pecorino and truffle oil.
5. Cook for 10-12 minutes, but keep checking after 8 minutes. You want the mozarella to be bubbling and the base to be crisp.
6. Finish with a sprinkle of pecorino and a tablespoon of truffle oil drizzled evenly across the whole pizza. Garnish with basil leaves.
7. Prepare to enter a state of food euphoria.
What do you think? Fan of truffle oil? Got a killer pizza recipe? Leave a comment and let me know!