Woohoo! My new pizza stone has arrived!
I do have one already, a fire clay one that takes forever to heat up and cool back down. It’s too chunky to leave in the oven all the time, so needs moving about a bit too much for my liking. It creates a great pizza crust, but I’ve had larger pizza’s spilling over the edges, because it is just a tad too small for my mega freestyle pizzas.
So I wanted one at the maximum size my oven could handle. And that I could leave in the oven without it being too obtrusive when not in use.
For weeks I poured over the interweb to investigate the debates between pizza stone, baking steel, fire clay, cordierite, glazed for easy cleaning or unglazed for moisture absorption. Top Rated Kitchen and Pizzacraft give a decent summary of my own findings.
In the end I settled for a cordierite stone from Basil & Grain, which was a bargain on Amazon.
One tip when measuring your oven for a pizza stone or baking steel: take account of any lip at the end of the oven shelves. Mine have a considerable lip. Luckily the Basil & Grain stone has “feet” which lift the actual cooking surface just over the lip, so I can maximise the depth of my oven.
The other thing to account for, is the fan at the back of a fan oven, which again can reduce the available depth for a pizza stone or baking steel. And in a gas oven, it’s apparently advisable to leave a 3-4 cm space all around the stone to allow for heat circulation.
Last note on pizza equipment: it’s handy to get a pizza peel to easily manoeuvre your pizza creations in and out of the oven. Mine is made of steel and has a foldable handle for easy storing. I used to have a “wooden” one, but I found the “wood” peeled over time and it was a little too thick to easily get underneath the pizza to get it out of the oven again. Something to consider.
Forgive me, but I was so keen to try out my new toys, that I didn’t make my own dough this time. Shock horror! In my defense, I used a very decent shop-bought dough from Northern Dough, which only has natural ingredients similar to what I would use myself.
I promise I will publish my own favourite home made doughs soon, including my go-to wholemeal & semolina crust and a gluten-free buckwheat one with veg added into the dough. Yep, you read that right. Maybe now you’re secretly happy that I didn’t make my own dough.
So let’s concentrate on the topping this time instead. Not every pizza has to have tomato sauce as a base! I kid you not. I’m often drawn to so-called white pizzas. They tend to have more inspiring toppings than the bog-standard pizzas, as if they are making a special effort to tempt you to pick them over the classics.
So for my white base I took inspiration from the Alsatian “Flammkuchen“, which is a pizza-like rectangular flatbread topped with a mixture of fromage blanc (“white cheese” AKA “platte kaas” in Flemish), creme fraiche, bacon lardons and onions.
Fromage blanc is hard to come by in the UK, so I used a mixture of creme fraiche and ricotta left over from my ricotta gnudi. If you’re looking for a more authentic Flammkuchen effect, quark is a semi-decent substitute, which may be easier to find outside France.
Next I found some Christmas Stilton that was getting a little too blue for its own good. And in anticipation of the arrival of my pizza stone I had stocked up on organic buffalo mozzarella. Three cheeses. Sorted
Sticking with the Flammkuchen inspiration, I decided on caramelized onions. Red ones. To go with my next move. An Italian move: amazing purple-red radicchio di chioggia. The bitterness of the leaves works beautifully with the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the saltiness of the creamy Stilton.
I threw some sprouting broccoli on it too, left over from my salmon pie. Stilton and broccoli are a classic English combination after all. I’m glad I did, as it added that extra little bit of colour, texture and contrast.
So there you have it: my gorgeous France-meets Italy-meets England pizza!
Three Cheese White Pizza with Radicchio, Broccoli and Caramelized Red Onion (30 cm pizza- V RSF)
220 gr pizza dough (I used 1 ball of Northern Dough Wholemeal)
4-8 radicchio leaves, depending on size
2 tbsp olive oil
80 gr ricotta, home made or shop bought
40 gr creme fraiche
Stilton or another blue cheese of your choice
broccoli, lightly cooked and dried
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 plump clove of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
a sprig of fresh rosemary
a sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 tsp unrefined sugar such as coconut palm sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
freshly grated nutmeg
flour for the work surface
If using a pizza stone or baking steel, heat the oven as high as it will go or the material of your pizza stone allows, with the pizza stone or steel in it on a high shelve. A stone especially needs to heat gradually in the oven, else it may crack. Most stones and steels need at least 30 minutes to heat up, mine needs 45-60 mins. Better to heat longer than needed rather than not long enough.
If you are using a standard oven tray or pizza tray, it is still worth heating it in the oven to as high as the tray allows (usually 220 C).
Meanwhile, put the radicchio leaves in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous amount of salt. Squish it about a bit, cover with cling film and set aside for minimum 40 mins.
Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until translucent, about 5 mins. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Season and allow to cook on medium low until nicely caramelized, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Mix the ricotta with the creme fraiche. Season generously with black pepper, but not too much salt, if any, as all the toppings are already seasoned and the Stilton in particular will add extra salt. Grate in some nutmeg and set aside.
Flour the work surface and either roll the dough out or pull your dough into a circle or whatever freestyle rustic shape you like. Pick it up once in a while to gently stretch it, although I don’t expect you to whiz it around like a professional pizza chef. I know I certainly don’t. I like an ultra-thin crust, but do what you feel like.
Put a piece of greaseproof paper on the pizza peel, or on the work surface if you haven’t got a peel. Sprinkle over some semolina, optional, just in case you’re scared the dough might stick. Place the dough onto the grease-proof paper.
At this stage of the pizza-making process, I usually set the grill element in the oven to medium-high. This is to ensure the topping cooks in the same time as the crust. In this case, it depends on the dough, the thickness of the dough, whether you’re using a pizza stone or not as to whether you need it. Today’s toppings doesn’t need cooking, just heating and melting. So you likely won’t need the extra grill blast this time. Or perhaps just a medium boost. But it’s a great trick to bare in mind for future toppings that need actual cooking.
Spread the ricotta base thinly over the dough, leaving a little edge of dough free all around. Think I’ll spread it a little more generously next time, as it more or less disappeared on me by the time the crust was done.
Then scatter over the caramelized onions. Follow with the radicchio leaves and broccoli.
Next crumble over chunks of Stilton. Tear the mozzarella in rough chunks and divide them here and there over the pizza. Finish with a good grinding of black pepper and a drizzle of the remaining olive oil. I had wanted to add some toasted pine nuts for added texture, but I forgot.
Carefully transfer the pizza to the oven tray, stone or steel, with greaseproof paper and all is probably easiest. It won’t affect the baking of the bottom crust too much.
If you’re using one of those round pizza stones that only barely fits your pizza, carefully remove the stone from the oven, gently slide your pizza from the greaseproof paper onto the stone, and then carefully move the stone with the pizza to the oven. be careful, the stone will be extremely hot.
Cook for 5-8 mins or until the crust is cooked and the topping is oozing. Turn the pizza 180 degrees half way through to ensure even cooking (which should be reasonably easy with the grease-proof paper and the pizza peel. But be careful, it will be HOT).
Keep an eye if you’re using the grill as well. It may need adjusting depending on how the topping is doing compared to the crust. For this particular topping, I find medium-low is enough, as there aren’t any raw toppings to cook.
If you’re not using a stone or steel, it may take a little longer to cook the base. So you may not need the grill to keep things cooking at the same speed. Trial and error to get to know your oven and your material will be required. But then, Naples wasn’t built in a day.
One last thing: let your pizza rest for a minute or so once you’ve taken it out of the oven. I know you want to dig in, but be patient: it will cut much better and be easier to eat with your hands. All good things come to those who wait.