Skye McAlpine’s courgette pizzette
Photograph © Skye McAlpine
Christmas is my favourite time of year. I love it: the lights, the music, the decorations, the hustle and bustle in the shops. The chill in the air and that feeling of anticipation. The hot chocolate laced with whipped cream and the mulled wine; the figgy pudding, the mince pies, the brandy butter and the panettone – which I long for year-round and indulge in with gay abandon through the month of December. Christmas, for those of us who love food, is sheer bliss – a licence for utter indulgence.
It’s not just the food itself that is so delectable, but also the nostalgic mythology that surrounds it. Christmas lunch is perhaps – somewhat ironically – the one meal of the year I never cook. We are always with my mother for Christmas and there I revert to the almost childlike role of peeling potatoes and chopping cabbage, very strictly as instructed. The funny thing about Christmas food, you see – the turkey, the sprouts and the stuffing – is that it tastes best when it’s cooked exactly as last year and the year before that (even if that means the potatoes are slightly burned in patches and the meat rather more dry than would under any other circumstances be acceptable). Christmas lunch is not a moment for culinary innovation, broadening your horizons or recipe testing – it’s about comfort and nostalgia. And there is no joy quite like it.
The build-up to Christmas, however, during these last few weeks before the day itself, is a whirlwind of cooking, be it for a seasonal dinner with friends, catch-up drinks before the year ends or festive parties. I am constantly looking for inspiration for what to serve. A particular favourite at the moment are these pizzette, which I serve warm straight from the oven with a bottle of chilled prosecco for drinks before dinner. They’re always a hit – and made with shop-bought puff pastry, they‘re also delightfully quick to knock up. Top them with whatever you fancy: I rather like the festive colour scheme of grilled green courgette and rich red tomato; but gorgonzola and walnut make a lovely wintry combination, as do tomatoes and mozzarella topped with half a salty anchovy or a single black olive.
Pizzette di zucchine (courgette pizzette)
Pizzette with a buttery puff-pastry base are a ‘thing’ in Venice, and they are beyond delicious. You will find pizzette with a dough base and ones made with puff pastry on offer in most bars but I always prefer the puff version. So although this recipe is wonderfully easy to make, you needn’t think of it as a cheat’s pizza – unless, of course, you count cooking with ready-rolled puff pastry as cheating.
1 small courgette, cut into rounds 3–5mm thick
320g ready-rolled puff-pastry sheet
400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes, drained, chopped, then drained again
25g mozzarella, chopped
50g pecorino, grated
A small bunch of thyme
A sea salt
Heat the oven to 200°C. Heat a griddle pan. Arrange the courgette slices on it and cook over a medium-high heat for about three minutes, until chargrilled and blistered on both sides. Season with a little salt. Remove from the griddle and set aside.
Lay out the puff pastry on a work surface and use a pastry cutter to cut out seven- to eight-centimetre rounds (roughly the size of the base of the tomato tin, if you don’t have a cutter the right size). Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, leaving plenty of space between each one. Using a sharp knife, score a circle on each pastry round to make a one-centimetre border – be careful not to cut right through. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden.
Remove the pizzette bases from the oven and gently push down the pastry if it has puffed up at the centre – you need to create a hollow. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of drained tomatoes into the hollow of each one. Combine the mozzarella and pecorino in a bowl, then put a generous spoonful on the tomato, so that it is almost completely hidden under a snow-white layer of cheese. Top with a couple of slices of grilled zucchine and a few thyme leaves.
Return the pizzette to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden. They are best eaten straight from the oven but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container – all you need to do is reheat them before serving.
‘A Table in Venice: Recipes from my Home’ by Skye McAlpine (Bloomsbury, £26) is out now.
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