Here I am, feeling a bit nervous about writing my first blog post! Technically, it’s not my first, as I find myself writing or setting up quite a few at work. But this post about montanare marks the beginning of a special journey: one that started last November when I decided I would write a cookery book. I wonder what kind of cocktails I had that night before going back home…
But I already wrote at length about how it all started. Check out the About Coochinando section for the whole story.
Now, 150 recipes later, it is time to share a piece of my life with you all, out there – lovers of good and simple Italian food, keen to try out recipes that belong to a long family culinary tradition of which, I shall admit, I am so very proud.
I was not really sure which recipe to start with. But then I thought of my favourite ingredients: tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella, parmesan and scrumptious home-made pizza dough. The choice all of a sudden became crystal clear: le montanare!
When my mum used to make them on a school night for me and my brother it was a big deal. If you are entertaining, you will serve them ready to eat. But my best memories are of me and my brother putting together our own pizzette on the plate: a bowl with ragù, one with cut, cubed mozzarella, one with parmesan and one with basil. We would compete to see who could put together the perfect montanara without ending up in a big mess when eating it. And because my brother is unable to have his say, I will candidly admit that I would end up winning, every time…
This is a dish that can be served as a starter (one piece each), or as a main, really for an informal meal with friends. It is Neapolitan street food, but when it is home-made it is pure poetry. It sums up the soul of Naples. The tomato sauce, the dough, the mozzarella and the basil and what a friend of mine once defined ‘ketchup for Italians’ in a conversation: parmesan.
An Italian friend who also lives in London, Marilu, tested this montanare recipe for the first time a few months ago. She is from Naples, too, but she had never made them before and she genuinely found them easy to make. The dough is quick to make, but you will need to have a bit of patience while it rises. But when that is done, you are good to go and you won’t regret waiting for a couple of hours!
For the dough
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4g dried active yeast
- 30ml warm water
- 250 ml warm water
- 500g bread flour (00 ideal) or all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin oil (60ml)plus two for the pan
- 1 table spoon coarse sea salt
For the tomato sauce
- 750g bottle of tomato passata
- 2 table spoons oil extra virgin olive
- 1 garlic clove
- 500ml Peanut oil
- 250g mozzarella, well drained
- 40g grated parmesan
- a few basil leaves
Get a medium bowl and add 125ml of warm water, add the yeast and sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Leave it to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, get another, larger bowl and sift the flour and the salt into it. Create a well and add the yeast mixture previously prepared in the middle and two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Start mixing it in the middle with your hands while slowly incorporating some of the flour on the edges. Do so for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth.
Add the rest of the warm water (175ml) and keep mixing it all gradually in the middle until it gets firmer and absorbs all the flour in the bowl. Make the dough into a compact ball shape, before moving it to a surface lightly sprinkled with flour. Let the fun part begin: the kneading!
Press the dough down with your knuckles and spread it. Take the far end of the dough and fold it at a short distance toward you. Push it away with the heel of your hand. Repeat this operation for about 10 minutes until you obtain a dough that is smooth, elastic and springs back when you try to flatten it with your fingers.
Get a large bowl, oil it and place the dough in it covered by a towel. Store it in a dry place for 2 hours. Once the dough is ready, you will need to make 12 small pieces out of it. Each piece should be rolled to about 10cm in diameter .
While the dough is rising, prepare the sauce. This won’t take longer than 15/20 minutes.
In a medium-sized saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and the garlic (I never chop it; I just take it out of the pan at the end). On a low flame, sauté the garlic, letting it dance a bit, until it is a pale golden colour – not too dark, as this means it has burnt and the sauce will absorb the bitter taste.
Add the passata, an abundant pinch of salt (you will need to taste it: what is sweet for someone can be quite salty for someone else!) and a bunch of basil leaves.
Let it simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes. Towards the end increase the flame until the sauce becomes thicker and you can no longer see any watery content on the surface. Taste and season according to your taste. And no, no other spices are needed. It is good when it is simple!
When the dough has doubled in size, get the (deep) frying pan ready: these little babies are going to be deep fried. If you are even thinking of cooking them in the oven, you are going to lose half the pleasure they can offer. So perish the thought. I can hear you thinking, but no! Go ahead and deep fry them.
Pour in 600ml of oil and heat it up. When it is very hot, carefully place three of the 10cm dough discs (depending on the size of the frying pan) in the oil and cook until they become puffy and bright gold. They will cook relatively quickly, so keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get too dark and burn.
Take them out as soon as they’re ready and place them on kitchen paper. The next step is to pour one or two table spoons of very warm ragu on top, followed immediately by 2 or 3 mozzarella cubes, little leaves of basil and a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan.
To be eaten immediately. Caution: montanare are are moreish!