Make your own Valentine pizza
- Credit: PA
We’ve seen him hunting for mushrooms in the English countryside and flinging rods into Britain’s waterways, but one of Valentine Warner’s food passions comes straight out of Italy.
The outdoorsy TV chef, who grew up on a farm in Dorset, likes nothing more than the pleasure of a pizza fresh from the oven.
“It’s one of those simple joys,” he says. “Like cake or a cup of tea, you know what you’re entering into. The delicious, crispy dough and cheese or tomato - you get comfort just from the thought of it.”
During the Nineties, Warner worked as a waiter for the popular, no-frills restaurant chain PizzaExpress.
Now, with a string of books and TV shows under his belt, he’s a household name - but he also designed two limited edition pizzas for the chain’s menu, last year.
One was packed with fennel (an ingredient Warner says he is “mad about”) and uses a version of finocchiona - a Tuscan fennel salami - made by a charcuterie in Wales.
For the other, the pasta sauce puttanesca is used as topping, which will “make a lot of Italians gasp in horror”, Warner jokes.
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“But it works brilliantly,” he adds. “It’s very grown-up and is a bit love-it-or-hate-it. This pizza has a lot of anchovies, which people tend to be divided about.”
Warner was also keen to introduce something a bit different onto British menus.
“When I’m in Italy, I often gravitate towards pizza that might have cheese but no tomato, or tomato and no cheese. But I’m sure some people will be asking for it with cheese.”
Here are Warner’s pizza recipes, along with one from his latest book, for you to try at home...
PizzaExpress dough recipe
(Makes two pizza bases)
150ml tepid water - 27°C
15g fresh yeast or 2 level tsp dried yeast
225g plain flour (plus extra for working)
1½ tsp salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Measure the water into a bowl. Add the sugar and crumble in fresh yeast with your fingers then swirl the liquid until the sugar and yeast are dissolved. If using dried yeast, sprinkle over the surface of the water and whisk it in with a fork. Allow the mixture to stand for 10-15 minutes in a warm place until froth develops on the surface.
Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre then pour the yeast liquid into it. Lightly oil or flour your hands before gradually mixing the flour and liquid until they bind together - to create your dough.
Sprinkle your work surface generously with flour then tip the dough onto it, scraping out any that’s sticking to the bowl. Begin kneading - after about 5-10 minutes the doughball should become silky-smooth, soft and supple.
Leave the dough to rise, then ‘knock it back’. This releases large air bubbles which otherwise make the pizza uneven. To do it, rub a little oil or flour onto your fingers and slide them down the side of the bowl, reaching underneath the dough. Gently lift it up then punch it down again.
Divide the dough into two equal sections - you should have two lumps each weighing about 200g. Roll them on your palm until you’ve created a sealed ball. Place on a lightly floured work surface and cover each ball with an upturned mixing bowl, damp cloth or foil and leave to rest for 10-20 minutes.
When the dough balls are soft to the touch but not too springy, they are ready to be stretched and spread into pizza trays.
Valentine’s Puttanesca Pizza
(Makes 1 pizza)
One pizza dough
120g (8 tbsp) PizzaExpress passata
½ clove garlic, crushed
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tsp fresh red chillies, finely chopped
Pinch of dry thyme
30 capers, squeezed
50g black and green olives. squeezed and chopped
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of fresh oregano, roughly torn
Pre-heat oven to 220°C.
Make pizza base by stretching the dough - start with plenty of flour on the table and give the dough ball a sharp slap. Flatten using your fingers and a gentle amount of pressure (avoid using your fingertips as too much pressure will kill the yeast). Spread with a rolling pin into a round shape until it’s approximately 11 inches wide. Dust off any surplus flour and place the base in a lightly oiled pizza pan or on a mesh screen or pizza stone for cooking. During cooking the dough expands slightly so make a rim round the edge to hold the filling. Do this lightly and evenly, tapping the rim about 1cm from the edge.
Spread passata evenly over base.
In a separate bowl, combine the crushed garlic with extra virgin olive oil and mix well, before drizzling evenly over the base.
Then do the same with half lemon - grate the zest, squeeze out the juice and combine both with extra virgin olive oil. Stir well and drizzle evenly over the base.
Scatter on the chopped red chillies and season with dry thyme.
Next place on the anchovies and evenly scatter the squeezed capers and olives.
Season the pizza with black pepper and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Once cooked (it should be lightly browned and crispy around the edges and underneath), place the pizza on a plate and sprinkle with torn fresh oregano and enjoy!
Valentine’s fennel and salami pizza
(Makes one pizza)
1 pizza dough
80g (5½ tbsp) PizzaExpress passata
Two pinches of fennel seeds
Pinch of dry chillies
8 slices of fennel salami
65g hard mozzarella, chopped into cubes
Pinch of black pepper
10g grana padano, grated
50g fresh fennel, finely sliced
2½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 220°C and create your base (as above).
Evenly spread on passata and sprinkle fennel seeds and dry chillies on top.
Place on sliced fennel salami and scatter mozzarella evenly.
Season with black pepper and cook for 10-12 minutes.
While pizza is cooking, grate zest of the half lemon into a bowl and squeeze out the juice - add both together with extra virgin olive oil and stir well.
Place sliced fennel and rocket into a separate bowl, add the lemon juice, oil and zest and toss together until the fennel and rocket are thoroughly coated.
Once pizza is cooked, place on a plate and sprinkle with grana padano. Scatter the salad over the pizza and serve.
Roasted squash with sage and pecornio
1 large butternut squash
olive oil, for roasting
flaked sea salt
scattering of dried chilli flakes
1 medium red onion, halved and finely sliced
20 large sage leaves
30g pine nuts
1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for shaving
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Cut the flesh into sickle-shaped pieces around 2cm thick. Flip some oil all over the bottom of a baking tray (big enough to hold all the pieces without them having to be stacked) then throw a little salt over the oil. Lay the squash segments down in one layer.
Scatter more salt and some dried chilli flakes over the top, and splash with more oil. Roast for about 40 minutes.
While the squash is cooking, toss the onion slices in a little oil to coat them and season with salt. Halfway through the squash’s cooking time, lift one of the segments - the flesh that is touching the tray should be taking on some good dark colouring and browning on the edges. If they’re not, cook for longer.
At this point, turn the pieces over then scatter the onions over the top; the idea is that they will crisp and brown.
Toss the sage leaves in a little oil. About six minutes before the squash slices are ready, scatter the leaves over the top to dry and crisp. Toast the pine nuts if you prefer them this way.
When the cooking time is up, take the tray out and arrange the segments on a nice plate with the sage and onion scattered all over. Splash over the balsamic vinegar and scatter over the pine nuts. Take a piece of Pecorino or Parmesan and, using a potato peeler, cut shavings from the cheese to float down and finish the dish.
The roasted squash with sage & Pecorino recipe is taken from The Good Table by Valentine Warner published by Mitchell Beazley. Available now.