White Pizza or Pizza Bianca. No tomato, basically.

Pizza Bianca

It wasnt all that long ago, I’m afraid to say, I only really ate pizza if it had meat on it (ham, salami, prosciutto – that sort of thing). Without it, it just didn’t seem enough somehow, even in the most caricatured of Italian pizzerias . I suppose I saw it the same way I view low alcohol-beer, skimmed milk or that chemistry lab low-fat ‘butter’. Pale imitations of what they could be.

But then we did a vegetarian January this year when, admittedly hand forced by a limited choice, I plumped for a simple stone baked Margherita at an Italian restaurant. It was a decent place and therefore I assume, decent ingredients, which no doubt helped, but I was proven very wrong. So much so that I don’t honestly think I’ve ordered a meat pizza since. I loved the simplicity of it.

We don’t eat, nor make pizza too often at home as it’s a bit of a lengthy process having to prove the dough. And then there’s the mess of course. It less ‘Italian Piazza’ and more ‘Winter Wonderland’ once I’ve finished. But it’s a simple pleasure to make once in a while.

Last Saturday, with Helen out shopping with her Mother and an arse-whooping against the All Blacks in the rugby coming on the TV soon, I took the opportunity to make some bread and whilst I was making a mess anyway, thought I’d sneak some pizza into the equation at the same time. Consolation for what was to come, I reasoned.

I was inspired by the Pizzetta in my excellent Polpo cookbook for these, particularly the potato topped version that I made with Bour garlic and herb soft cheese, which I preferred. Both were good though. It made a change not to use a tomato base to be honest, it allowed the other flavours to come through a bit.

I won’t go into the dough recipe, it’s everywhere, but I use the usual ratios of 500g strong flour, 300g water (70%), 10g salt (2%) and a sachet of yeast and a good lug of olive oil

Once the dough is ready, split into two. Keep one half for bread and split the other into two again. Make a ball, flatten with your fingers then roll them out onto the work surface.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow......all together now...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow……all together now…

For the ‘Pizza Bianca’ style one:

  • 2 new potatoes, thinly sliced and blanched for 4 minutes.
  • A few small heads of broccoli, split and blanched with the potato
  • 1 smallish red onion, gently fried until soft with some thyme
  • Boursi Nice soft cheese with garlic.
  • Rosemary and more thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Uncooked pizza bianca

For the Roast Pepper version:

  • About six-seven small, sweet peppers, roasted and skins removed (plunge in cold water afterwards)
  • 1 ball of mozzarella, split apart and as much water removed as possible
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Roast Peppers

Uncooked Roast Pepper Pizza

I baked them both using a pizza stone. It was noticeable how much better the second rose than the first, suggesting I hadn’t got the stone hot enough first time. The secret is as hot an oven as possible. Mine goes up to 275°C/530°F which is pretty respectable.

Pizza oven

Getting a nice air bubble there. It’s the little things….

They only take minutes at this temperature.

Pizza Bianca and Roast Pepper Pizza





Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash and Muscat

Duck with butternut squash

As the days continue to shrink, I instinctively, like most of you, go after heartier food whether we need it or not. After all, most days of the week I leave my central heated home, in my heated car, to a warm office and then repeat in reverse. I mean, it’s not like I’m toiling in the fields or anything. If you are toiling in fields though, then you’d totally get this I suppose.
Maybe it’s the dark nights, I don’t know.  I thought I’d try and do something simple and filling but with a twist here though. This is a typical bistro dish at heart so my apologies for the simplicity of it, but if you try it, you won’t be disappointed.

The duck legs take a little time to cook but end up beautifully tender, full of flavour and with great crisp skin. The butternut squash mash is arguably tastier and healthier than regular mash as you can keep butter and cream to a minimum, if any at all. I simply flavoured it with ginger and cumin seed for a bit of edge and it works beautifully with the duck.

It was finished with a light gravy made from the cooking juices, some sweet Muscat wine and herbs which rounded the whole lot off nicely I thought.

I really should say ‘bon appetit!’. But I won’t.

Serves two:

  • 2 duck legs
  • A little oil for frying
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger
  • About 20g butter (leave it out if you prefer, health fans)
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 2 handfuls of green beans
  • 1 small glass of Muscat wine
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • A handful of thyme
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 130oC/260oF

Well season the duck all over. Get an oven proof frying pan on the hob with a little oil until hot. Don’t add too much as plenty will render out the duck – it’s just to stop the skin sticking, which if the pan its hot enough, it shouldn’t do.

Yes, I know there are three - I squeezed in an extra one  for a work lunch salad....

Yes, I know there are three – I squeezed in an extra one for a work lunch salad….

 So add the duck, skin side down and brown well for a few minutes. Turn them over and put the pan in the oven for a couple of hours.

Browned duck legs

Turn the oven off, remove pan from the oven, remembering NOT to touch the handle with bare hands afterwards – as I often do – and return the duck on a plate to rest. Don’t cover or the skin might go soggy.

Keep all the goodness in the pan for the gravy later.

Peel the squash and chop into pieces. Bring to the boil in a pan of water and cook for about 15 mins until soft. For the last five, I added the steamer insert above the squash and steamed the green beans, otherwise, steam or boil them gently for a couple of minutes in a separate pan until tender.

Drain the vegetables and keep the beans warm. Leave the squash to steam-dry a bit in the colander. In the same pan (sorry washing up fans), heat a little more oil.

Grate in the ginger and add the cumin. Fry gently for a couple minutes and then mash in the squash. Add the butter, if using and season to taste. Cover the pan and keep warm.

Heat the frying pan back up. When warm pour or spoon out most the duck fat on the surface. Deglaze the pan with the Muscat until thick. Add a little more water than you need to bulk it out, lay the rosemary and thyme on top and allow to reduce over a low/moderate heat to infuse. Once reduced you could (or is that should?) add a little butter at this point, making it lovely and even richer, but either way season to taste.


Duck light gravy and Muscat with Herbs

I did find the gravy went a bit opaque, so I’d normally strain it through some muslin cloth, but it doesn’t change the flavour one bit.

 Service! Ding-ding.

Duck with butternut squash and muscat