We have just left, what feels like our favourite place on earth. And it’s impossible to summarise our experience in Italy into a blog post, but I’ll try.
It’s our kind of place. We drove over 5,500 kilometres, met the most amazing people, ate so much food, learnt about so many traditional foods, caught trains and boats, hiked mountains, foraged food, went to too many markets to count…
It’s a place where people are generous and loving. If you are poor, you are rich, because you always have family and always have food. It functions in a style of organised chaos, and everything it does, it does with passion.
Its food is seasonal by default. Its ways, traditional. Its people, kind. I’ve also heard people talk about how frustrating Italy is, for some of these very same reasons. No, it does not run on time. No, you can’t get food out of season in most places. And no, you can't find all your favourite modern treats. But these are all of the reasons that Italy is so special. For us, this is how life should be.
This recipe, is inspired by a mixture of different Italian experiences for us. Firstly, going to the markets was probably our favourite thing to do in Italy, as it tells you so much about each area, the season, and the traditions. At many markets in the south (like Puglia), you can get “porchetta” – rolled, stuffed, roast pork, that they will slice and put into a panini for you, for a quick lunch. The stuffing of the porchetta is actually our favourite part – it is made of an incredible ricotta, caper, fennel seed and herb mixture and it is next level delicious.
Secondly, this recipe is inspired by the north. Here, near a town called Belluno, where Matt's Italian family live (he is half Italian, and I am 1/4 Maltese) we learnt to make a traditional form of ricotta, from a local cheese maker. You could feel her passion and she told us that making cheese was in her blood. It was, truthfully, one of the most beautiful experiences we have ever had. A day we will remember forever.
Thirdly, and finally, there are just so many variations of pizza in Italy. And so many people claim to have the best! In Italy, they would call this pizza "Pizza Bianca" (white pizza), and tell you that there is too much topping on it. But for us, this is an awesome, balanced meal, with some grains and heaps of vegetables. And it would definitely be served with a glass of good red wine.
So this is our recipe. Inspired by many parts of Italy.
Sorry it took us a while to get to you, but for the last part of our trip we were staying with Matt’s Italian family – and there, it was impossible to work in the kitchen. Matt’s aunt cooked us every meal. She cooked us breakfast, then began lunch, and then began dinner. So there was never a window for us to get in there! She served up beautiful polenta, homemade gnocchi, ragu sauces, and there was always fresh cheese, Matt's uncle's homemade salami, and her pickles from last season on the table. As we ate, she would then tell us “mangia mangia” (eat, eat), reminding us over and over again. It was incredible. But also the reason why, until now, we haven’t had a kitchen to recipe test in for you!
Enjoy this dish, as a snack, main or appetizer. The ingredients are seasonal for the cooler months - autumn, winter and spring, and it is easily adapted to be vegetarian, vegan or dairy free (see notes), and the recipe for our wholegrain pizza bases is in our book!
Makes 1 large pizza (To serve 2 as a meal/6 as an appetiser) // Time 40 minutes
½ a large cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 small bulb fennel, cut into thin slices lengthways
1 small-medium red onion, cut into slices
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
A big splash of good olive oil
Good salt, finely ground
Black pepper, ground
1½ large sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped from stem
1 large pizza base (about 30-40cm) *See notes
Good olive oil
2 teaspoons capers
½ a teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground
100 g ricotta, we used firm ricotta but soft would be equally delicious
12 anchovies (about 30g)
A big handful of parsley leaves
½ a lemon
Preheat a fan forced oven to 180 degrees.
Place cauliflower, fennel and onion on a large baking tray, pulling apart onion so it is in rings. Cover with remaining ingredients and toss to combine.
Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, until vegetables are soft and just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, increasing heat to 250 degrees.
Rub the pizza base generously with olive oil.
Lay vegetable mixture onto the pizza base. Sprinkle on capers and fennel seeds, lay anchovies and lay/crumble over ricotta (depending on whether it's a firmer or softer kind). Finish with a little sprinkle of olive oil.
Place the pizza onto the baking tray you have already used (it should have enough oil for the pizza to not stick) and bake for 8-12 minutes. Check often to ensure it's not burning, everyone's oven is different and if yours is hot it will burn quickly! We like our's on the crispy and browned side, but cook to your liking!
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and cover with a generous squeeze of lemon. Serve hot.
*You can find the recipe for our wholegrain pizza bases in our book.
For a vegetarian version: omit anchovies.
For a vegan version: omit anchovies and ricotta.
For a dairy-free version: omit ricotta.