For the last week or so the blogosphere has been alight with talk of Da Polpo, the new venture in Russell Norman’s ever-expanding restaurant empire. The fourth to open in half as many years, it builds on the menus of Polpo and Polpetto, adding an expanded list of pizzette alongside incredible sounding variations on an italian classic, the meatball. Not surprisingly for the brainchild of one if the first restaurateurs to truly harness the power of social media, Da Polpo has been a highly trending topic on Twitter as bloggers race to get their bums on the seats and reviews on their sites.
Having read a number of reviews over the last couple of days, I was left feeling three things. Number one? Hungry. Not surprising given the mouth-watering menu, great photos and gorgeous descriptions provided by some of my fellow bloggers (for some stomach-grumble inducing snaps take a look at reviews from Eatlikeagirl, Crumpeats, Londoneater or The Skinny Bib). Two? Jealous. I’m off to Barcelona next weekend and trying to save pennies for some serious tapas-fuelled budget-blowing, so trying new restaurants isn’t really on the agenda for the next few days. Three? Itching to get in the kitchen.
While the food at Da Polpo sounds incredible, it’s definitely comfort food of the kind your resident cuddly Italian mama would dish out for dinner of an evening (if only she existed). As a number of reviewers have said, this is not a place for cutting edge menus – it’s a place to share snacks and stories, where the company is as important as the cicheti. Delicious? Absolutely. Out of the league of your average good home cook? Possibly not.
With this in mind, I decided to have a go at making my own Italian pizza and meatball feast. I don’t have a wood-fired oven, but the recipe below still makes delicious pizza if you use a normal baking sheet and whack the oven on full blast. And the pork and fennel meatballs are immense (both in size and taste). They’d be delicious in their own right, served with crusty bread or spaghetti, but I was in full-on feasting mode so Carniverous Boyfriend and I happily tucked into four different pizzette plus the meatballs. As a side I threw together a simple fennel, radish and little gem salad dressed with smashed anchovy, lemon, garlic and olive oil.
This is the perfect meal for long summer evenings, enjoyed with crisp, cold wine and shared with friends. Russell Norman is doing fantastic things for the London restaurant scene, and I’m not planning to take him on any time soon (!), but if you’re not going to make it to Da Polpo for a while, have a go at the recipes below. I guarantee they’ll put a great big smile on your face (and possibly a small bulge in your belly…)
(makes 8 pizzette or 4 individual pizzas)
500g tipo ’00 flour (or strong white bread flour)
5g powdered dried yeast
1tbsp olive oil
325ml warm water
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Pour in the yeast and warm water and mix to a sticky dough. Add the oil, mix it in, then turn the dough out onto a smooth, flat work surface and knead until smooth and silky (approx. 10 mins). Shape the dough into a round then leave to rise somewhere warm in a clean bowl, covered with a black plastic bag, until doubled in size. For the ultimate guide to kneading bread, see the River Cottage Bread Handbook.
Preheat the oven as high as it will go. A wood-fired oven is the best option for perfect pizza, with a baking stone your second best bet. But a standard baking tray (sadly all I have at the moment) will also do the trick; your pizza will cook more slowly, and won’t be quite as beautifully charred, but it will still taste amazing.
Turn your dough out of the bowl and knead firmly for a few minutes to knock the air out. Take a piece about the size of your fist (well, my fist to be precise – if you’re a man or have huge hands maybe something slightly smaller), flour the work surface and roll into a 5mm thick round (approx.). Leave to stand on a baking sheet for a few minutes before adding the toppings.
This is beautiful, thin, crispy pizza so treat it with due respect. The best toppings are light, punchy and delicious. On this occasion I made four different pizzette, all with a garlicky homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, but you can be as creative as you like to suit your taste.
Italian salami & oregano
Anchovy, black olive & capers
Classic margherita with basil & olive oil
Courgette, chilli & mint
Pop the tray (s) into the oven and bake until the crusts are crisp and the cheese melted and bubbling – about 2 mins in a wood fired oven or 7-10 mins in a domestic one. Remove from the oven, cut into slices and enjoy.
Pork & fennel meatballs:
50g stale bread, whizzed into crumbs
2 small cloves garlic
1tsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted
Scrunch salt & pepper
300g free range minced pork
1 small shallot or onion, finely chopped
Small handful chopped flat leaf parsley
25g parmesan, coarsely grated
1 free range egg yolk
Olive oil to fry
Homemade tomato sauce to cook
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Cover the breadcrumbs in milk and set aside to soak for a few mins. Meanwhile crush the garlic, fennel seeds, salt and pepper into a paste in a pestle and mortar.
Scrunch together the pork, onion, oregano, parsley, parmesan and fennel mix in a large bowl. Mix in the egg yolk and stir to incorporate then fry a tiny piece off to check the seasoning. Once you’re happy, shape the mixture into six large balls.
Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides. Pop into a heavy bottomed casserole, pour over just enough tomato sauce to cover and pop into the oven for around 40 mins until cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. Serve with crusty bread, spaghetti, or pizzette, as above.