Penguin have just published a set of  ‘Great Food’ books, selections of food writing from influential or slightly more obscure writers, in tiny, beautifully designed and extremely covetable format. They’re 3 for 2 at Blackwell’s at the moment; obviously I wanted the whole lot, but managed to restrict myself to Alice B.  Toklas, Brillat-Savarin and Alice Waters. (See the whole list here).

When I got home I started to read Alice Waters’ ‘Recipes & Lessons from a Delicious Cooking Revolution’ (taken from ‘The Art of Simple Food’) and was completely absorbed. An almost terrifying attention to detail accompanies every process (four pages on making stock!) and yet it’s somehow extremely compelling; she makes preparing a vinaigrette seem like a meditation. If you notice, on the price sticker on the back are printed the words ‘Eat Simply, Live Happily’. On the other two, the sticker just features the name of the book. It’s like a secret call to arms! Her ethos comes across so clearly and calmly, it’s one of those books that makes you question the way you cook. Also, it really made me want a pizza.

I tied Alice’s instructions on pizza making in with a rye pizza dough I’d been wanting to try for a while. Several pizza dough recipes include a small amount of rye flour (Alice included), but this one makes rye the dominant flavour. I got it from someone Scandinavian, but I’m not sure who as I rudely omitted their name from the recipe when I cut it out. The topping was really borne out of what was in the house, but I also wanted ingredients that would be assertive enough for a stronger flavoured base – I’m not sure you’d want to use this for a margherita or something really classic. It’s a little heavier than a regular pizza dough, as you’d expect, but turns a lovely dark burnished brown and makes a satisfying mouthful.

Caramelised onion and blue cheese rye pizza

Makes 2 large pizzas, each serving 2 (or 4 smaller serving 4, if you don’t like sharing)

For the dough:
7g sachet fast-action yeast
300g rye flour
150g Italian ‘o0’ flour or strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt

For the topping (per large pizza):
2 onions
50-100g blue cheese (I used Cropwell Bishop stilton)
splash of balsamic vinegar
olive oil

To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in 50ml lukewarm water. Mix 2 tbsp of the rye flour and 1 tbsp of the white flour in a bowl, pour in the yeast and water and stir together to a paste. Cover with a teatowel and set aside for 3o minutes.

Stir in another 250ml of lukewarm water and the salt. Add the remaining flour and mix to a dough, then knead for about 10 minutes on a floured surface until smooth and pliable. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and leave to rise for 2 hours.

Divide the dough in two and form each into a ball. Cover loosely and leave for an hour.

The onions will take around half an hour to caramelise, so start those around about now. Thinly slice the onions (you’ll need to double the quantities if you’re making both pizzas). Heat a generous amount of butter in a frying pan until foaming, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over a medium heat until they start to soften and brown. Turn the heat down if they start to stick or burn. They should eventually turn rich and sweet and almost meltingly soft. Add this point stir in a few drops of balsamic vinegar, if you like.

Flatten each dough ball into a disc about 15cm in diameter and let rest for a further 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to its highest setting. If you have a pizza stone, put it on the lowest rack of the oven. Flour the back of a baking tray.

(At this point, I wrapped one of the balls up and put it in the freezer, where it should keep for about a month.)

Roll or stretch the ball/s into a rustic round shape as thin as possible without tearing. Put it on the floured baking tray and spread the onions over the top. Dot pieces of cheese over the onions.

Slide the pizza off the tray onto the pizza stone and cook for 6-8 minutes, until the base is dark brown and the cheese has melted.

With thanks to mystery Scandinavian and Alice Waters.

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