Last weekend I went on an expedition to deepest, darkest Herefordshire. I say this as a Londoner. Entering Herefordshire is always something of an expedition and fraught with the possibility of getting lost. I was on the way to my daughter Nicola’s Hen-do. Fourteen of us were to be housed in a huge 8-bedroom house in the middle of Herefordshire. I picked up her friend Taina at Richmond station at 3.30pm on Friday afternoon. The Google maps app on my iPhone offered three routes with time estimates. The fastest by far – 3hrs 9mins – was longer by only about 12 miles than the shortest route which was estimated to take nearly 4 hours at the time we left. We took the slightly longer but quicker route. I realised the time estimate was wildly optimistic when it took us 2 hours to reach Cherwell services where we sought sustenance in the form of a Costa coffee. It was a journey that normally takes me 1 hour. However, from there we whizzed up the M40, onto the M42 and thence to the M5 speedily with no hold-ups. Soon we turned off the M5 and onto an A road towards Leominster and our destination. Well, that wasn’t so bad … OK, ‘never count your chickens before they’re hatched’ or, never count your journey time until you’ve arrived!
Herefordshire is a beautiful county, its rolling hills offering vast stunning views when you rise through tree-lined narrow roads to the sight of verdant fields and more hills beyond. The roads pass through pretty villages with misshapen timbered houses that are obviously very old. It’s all lovely and quintessentially English (though we’re bordering Wales here too, so I’d better be careful what I say!) … but once you turn off the motorway, mobile phone reception falters and eventually disappears. Which also means no satnav. However, Taina’s excellent navigational skills with my old-style map book took us – albeit it now much more slowly than when on the motorway – to Lyonshall, supposedly the destination. But when we stopped and asked a passing woman where The Sherrifs was, we discovered that it wasn’t actually in Lyonshall (despite the address) but some way outside. We were given instructions … along that road … right at the end … left a little way further on … Well, you know what I mean. Some time later we were seriously lost. OK we must be close but close isn’t necessarily helpful. Occasionally when the road rose to a little bit of height mobile reception kicked in momentarily. Not long enough to activate the satnav; long enough to pick up Nicola’s texts: Where are you? Are you and Taina OK? I tried to ring to say we were OK but lost. No answer; straight to voicemail. Because the mobile reception in the house was a bit hit and miss too. And anyway, we hadn’t a clue where we were so how could we get directions. There was no sight of anything we could identify. No road signs. No pubs. No shops. Nothing to say, We’re here … Tainia suggested we knock at the door of a house we’d just passed. I turned the car round. Parked in front. Two enormous dogs – that looked alarmingly like bears they had such round heads and thick fur – bounded up to the gate. No way were we going in there. Fortunately a woman saw us and came over. We were given directions. And finally, five and a quarter hours after setting off, we saw Nicola waving at us from the top of a lane that led to the house. It may be selfish to say it, but it was some comfort to find that nearly everyone else had got lost too! Even a local minicab bringing someone from the station. It was definitely time for a glass of fizz. Bottles of prosecco were opened. Some of the group had prepared wonderful things to barbecue with salads to go with it all. The night was still young … and there was fun to be had. After a great breakfast the next morning, cooked by more of the ‘team’ we set off for a nearby National Trust property – Croft Castle – with a delicious picnic made up from the previous night’s leftovers.
Croft Castle – named after the Croft family who lived there for 1,000 years! – was beautiful. The surrounding countryside offered amazing views and the gardens had a lovely large walled garden with fun topiary and even a vineyard.
Back ‘home’, it was Taina’s and my turn to take to the kitchen and prepare a meal. It had been decided that we should have pizza that evening. Originally the plan was that everyone put topping on their own individual pizzas but then it seemed a better plan to make large ones from which to cut slices so that everyone could eat at the same time. I’d never made pizza dough to feed 14 before. I was slightly nervous it might go wrong; not rise or whatever and we’d have no supper. And there certainly wasn’t a pub within walking distance to decamp to. I’d eschewed the pizza dough recipe I’d used in an earlier pizza outing on the blog (click here) which was a Paul Hollywood recipe. It worked OK but I thought it more like focaccia than a pizza base. I decided to go with Gino d’Acampo instead and photocopied his pizza recipe from a book I have just before setting off. I was hoping it worked! And it did. Brilliant. Definitely better. While the dough rose, Taina and I started cutting up vegetables for the topping; slicing mozzarella and ham and chorizo.
We were ready to go. It was all a success and lots of fun. Fourteen people had been served pizza, salads and wine.
Back home I wanted to recreate the Capricciosa again as it’s one of my favourite pizzas and often my choice at Ruben’s Refettorio. I’ve always thought the name refers to it coming from Capri (though I should have remembered that would be ‘Caprese’) but actually ‘capriccioso‘ means capricious. In the case of pizza it’s less about ‘sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour’ (Oxford Concise Dictionary) than a free and impulsive interpretation, i.e. whatever the pizzaiolo (or in this case, pizzaiole, being two women) fancies putting on the top of the pizza. That said, while there are variations, usually Pizza Capricciosa contains a topping of tomato, ham, artichokes, olives and mushrooms.
I decided to go with the recipe in Gino’s Italian Escape again. Gino comes from Naples and so the pizza was going to be more like a thick, soft-centred Napoli kind than a thin, crisp Romana. First of all I made the dough.
200g strong plain white flour, 7g dried yeast, pinch of salt, 140ml warm water, 2 tablespoons olive oil
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the warm water and olive oil. Mix together then gather into a ball and knead for about 5 minutes on a well-floured surface until smooth and elastic. You can check by gently pushing a finger a little way into the dough. If the dough pops straight back out again, it’s ready. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Leave for about 20 minutes at room temperature until about double in size. Now divide into 2 and shape each half into a ball. Take a ball and press gently in the middle. Push outwards gently until you have a circle of about 25cm. Now you’re ready to add the toppings.
Toppings for Capricciosa Pizza:
Passata, mozzarella, shredded ham, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts in oil (sliced if too thick), olives, dried oregano, a little olive oil and seasoning.
Spread some passata over the base of the pizza, leaving a margin round the edge of about 1 inch (2cm). Lay slices of mozzarella over it, then the ham, artichoke hearts and sliced mushrooms. Add olives, a sprinkling of oregano and season with salt and pepper. Now drizzle over a little olive oil. Put into a preheated 200C/180 Fan oven for about 16 minutes until nicely browned round the edge and the topping bubbling slightly. (I thought the oven temperature a bit low for pizza but went with Gino’s instructions until about 5 minutes from the end when I turned the oven up a bit as the edge wasn’t browning.)
I served it with a green salad on the side. It was a fabulous pizza. It had smelled wonderful while cooking. Who can resist the smell of bread baking – and pizza is basically bread with topping. And those toppings smelled wonderful too. The base was slightly crisp on the outside, soft but cooked through inside. I’m generally a minimalist when it comes to pizza toppings. After all, the topping of the iconic Marinara pizza in Naples is only tomato, garlic and oregano. Capricciosa goes just about as far as I like in topping-heavy pizza but the combination of ingredients is so good, how could one resist? I love it. If you try it, I hope you love it too!