A couple of summers ago, we drove to Tuscany for lunch. It was our first visit to this much-lauded region, beloved of the English; we prefer Umbria for its peacefulness, superb full-bodied wines, piquant, earthy olive oil, and its hill-top villages, ancient and fascinating. However, just an hour’s drive away from our base in Assisi is Cortona, a charming little walled town in the Valdichiana Valley, in the province of Arezzo in southern Tuscany. After exploring its shady Medieval vicolos, inspiring artisan food stores and the small but extremely interesting duomo, we settled on a street side table at the Bar 500 Cortona, named after the ubiquitous Cinquecento (make sure that your sound is turned down if you hit this link, you have been warned!). A carafe of ice cold Italian rosato wine was slowly sipped whilst we chatted over the menu and watched the world go by. In addition to a mountain of tomato & basil salad and olives, we ordered a pizza bianca liberally sprinkled with fresh rosemary leaves. Up until this point in my life, pizzas had come with tomato sauce so the simplicity and freshness of this version was a revelation to me, so much so that I’ve never looked back and recreate it often in my kitchen. However, my husband’s absolute favourite pizza is a Fiorentina which he loves so much that I’m not often allowed to deviate. Seriously, I come up with all sorts of ideas which, when gently suggested to him, are refused. I call this my 500 Cortona Pizza in memory of a lovely luncheon with an even lovelier him.
For the dough:
400g pizza flour, I recommend Divella 00
100g fine ground semolina flour
Half tbsp fine sea salt
x1 7g sachet of dried yeast
1 tbsp natural unrefined golden caster sugar
For the topping:
300g spinach, wilted
x2 mozzarella balls, drained and cut into cubes
x2 free range eggs
60g Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
Extra-virgin olive oil
A generous pinch of dried green jalapeño flakes (optional)
How I make it
To make the dough, mix together the flours and sea salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.
Add the yeast and sugar to 325ml lukewarm water, mix together and leave to bubble for a few minutes, before pouring into the well. Mix everything together until you get a rough dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface (preferably marble or granite because their natural coolness makes a real difference to the kneading process). Knead for 10 minutes until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise to double in size (I usually leave it out all day and then let it ferment in the fridge overnight).
When you’re ready to bake, heat an oven to 275C (that’s the hottest setting for my oven)
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two to knock out most of the air. Divide into two or four balls (see note below). Roll out each ball into a large circle. Place each circle on a pizza stone or a perforated metal pizza pan and brush with extra virgin olive oil.
Scatter each pizza with the mozzarella and spinach leaving an empty 5cm circle in the centre. Bake in the oven for around five minutes, until the edge of the pizza starts to turn golden.
Remove the the pizza stones or pans from the oven and crack an egg into the centre of each pizza and dress with with the jalapeño flakes and sumac. Continue baking for a further 6-7 minutes, scattering the parmesan over the top two minutes before the end of the cooking time.
Serve with a lemony salad.
A note on the dough: This quantity yields enough dough for four large pizzas, so I freeze half of it and leave it to defrost and rise again in a warm room when I’m ready; I love doing this because we get all the pleasure of fresh pizza with zero effort. Savvy!