Christmas may be upon us but since 2020 is a very different kind of year and we will be just us, I feel we can do something kind of different for Christmas too. Homemade pizza is something we have always loved making but to make it special I thought I might put truffle on it so we came up with this rather unusual combination — but oh it works so well!
We recently moved from Florence to my husband’s hometown, San Miniato, which is half an hour from both Florence and Pisa. It’s a charming hill top town that I’ve written about often, even before moving here, and one of the main attractions, other than the views and affordability, is the fact that this is the heartland of Tuscan truffles.
I’ve been testing out some different truffle products that are on offer in San Miniato (spoiler alert, we are hoping to very shortly share with you a special, curated box of delicious things, including truffle products!) and one of the things that got me curious was an artichoke and truffle paste. The first thing I thought was — what a Tuscan combination! Artichokes and truffles are two classic Tuscan ingredients available in the winter. The second thing I thought was, how have I never thought about this combination before?! We smothered it onto a pizza base in place of tomato sauce, added some anchovies (because I love anchovies, especially on pizza, and did you know anchovies and truffles go hand in hand as well?), and fresh mozzarella right at the end. It was spectacular!
I also wanted to share this recipe for an unusual pizza dough (to add to our other pizza dough recipes, including this Roman style pizza dough, and this Florentine ‘bar style’ pizza dough from my cookbook Florentine), which we changed from our usual favourite because we were working with an interesting flour that has very little gluten. It’s grown organically and stone ground here in San Miniato with a ‘tipo 2’ wheat called ‘Gentil Rosso’, an ancient Tuscan grain which a century ago was grown widely all over Italy but has now almost disappeared because of the fact that it has very little gluten in it and it was replaced by more productive modern grains.
An aside on ancient grain flour and its strength
This ancient grain flour’s strength, measured by W index, is only 42 (a soft ‘tipo 00’ flour could have a W index of around 90-180, regular all purpose flour around 250, while strong flour like Manitoba flour has a W index of 400). So there are a few things to consider when using a very ‘weak’ flour. The stronger the flour, the more resistant it is to leavening and needs to rise longer, so technically this weak flour doesn’t need a long rise (but we did, a couple times, and we liked the results). The stronger the flour, the more water the flour can absorb too — Manitoba can absorb 90% of its weight in water, while a tipo 00 can take more like 50%. We pushed this too, and the result is a sticky, wet dough that you will mould with yur hands rather than roll out.
In general the weaker flours are more ideal for making biscuits and cakes, while stronger flours for things like sourdough bread (and the ones in between for pizza). But we went ahead and tried this very weak ancient ground flour out for pizza anyway! My husband Marco (the passionate baker in the house), aimed for a 65% hydration at the suggestion of Emanuele Bianucci, the producer of this Gentil Rosso flour. Marco used his sourdough starter (boosted by a pinch of dried yeast) but you could use directly yeast too.
We loved it because it made an absolutely delicious, perfumed, soft style pizza crust that, as Italians like to point out, is more easily digested. We also made schiacciata from this dough, scented with rosemary and olive oil, and it was impossible to stop eating it!
Truffle, artichoke and anchovy ancient grain sourdough pizza
If using regular flour or you don’t have sourdough starter, you may like our Roman style pizza dough recipe, but if you are attempting a pizza dough with a weak, ancient grain, low gluten flour, give this dough recipe a go! It is best made the morning before you want to cook the pizza. I used an artichoke paste but if you can’t get the paste, use quartered marinated artichokes and chop or blend them yourself into a paste.
For 2 x 30cm diameter pizzas
For the sourdough pizza:
100 grams sourdough starter
290 ml water
pinch of active dried yeast/instant yeast
420 grams ‘tipo 2’ ancient grain flour (we used ‘Gentil Rosso’ W42)
60 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
10 gr salt
For the pizza topping:
350 gr buffalo mozzarella (or burrata) at room temperature
180 gr artichoke paste (or marinated artichokes in quarters, see note)
8-10 anchovy fillets (the best quality you can afford)
1 small truffle, thinly sliced
To make the dough by hand, combine the starter with the water and a pinch of dried yeast in a large bowl and whisk together. Add half of the flour and whisk into a batter. Add the olive oil and salt and combine. Add the rest of the flour little by little until well incorporated – switch to a spatula, wooden spoon or hands to mix at this point. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, then mix the dough, from bottom to top, almost like folding it, a few times, every 30 minutes for a total of 4 times/2 hours. Cover and leave to rise in the fridge 8 hours (or overnight).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 230C (450F).
Divide the wet dough into 2 portions and plop them onto well-oiled pizza trays and spread out evenly with (oiled) hands. Place spoonfuls of the artichoke paste here and there all over the pizza bases and then, with the back of the spoon, roughly spread the paste around the base to cover lightly. Add anchovy fillets (I like to keep them whole and use them as ‘markers’ where the pizza will be sliced but you can chop and scatter if you prefer) and a good drizzle of olive oil.
Bake in hot oven (remember to swap the pizzas around so that they get even time on the lowest shelf; if baking one at a time, keep it on the lowest shelf) for 18-20 minutes of until the crusts are golden brown and the toppings are sizzling furiously. At the last moment, throw over the mozzarella and leave 1 more minute, just enough for it to go lovely and soft but not melt. Remove from the oven, scatter over the truffle slices and serve immediately with another good drizzle of olive oil.