The humble wrap gets a bad rap. So often the soggy, pallid and unappetising ‘healthy option’ at the convenience store food-to-go counter, wraps are a way of making the unsuspecting public feel like they’re eating less bread while still providing a viable vehicle for their otherwise totally virtuous hoi sin duck, chicken and bacon club or egg mayonnaise. Arranged cunningly in its packaging to look like a veritable cornucopia, positively brimming with delicious filling, the pre-packaged wrap so often tapers out into a tragic nothingness, like the Waiting for Godot of sandwiches, leaving you with a few mouthfuls of mealy, chewy dough and nothing else, dreading your 3pm hunger pangs and wishing you’d plumped – operative word there – for that hearty three-tier BLT on granary instead.
Head over to Italy, though, where they find a way of sneaking luscious, lardy animal proteins into even the most unlikely food products, and you’ll find your wrap to be an entirely different beast. Quite literally, in fact, because it will be made with a hearty quantity of strutto, or pork fat. I’m talking about piadine: thick, pillowy Italian flatbreads from the Emilia Romagna region that are about as far removed from our miserly supermarket offerings as prosciutto di Parma is from Spam. Enriched with piggy goodness, these wraps are fluffy and toothsome, perfect blankets with which to envelop a decadent array of Italian treats (not a hoi sin duck in sight).
The classic piadina encompasses prosciutto, a cheese called squacquerone (which is pronounced SQUACKEROHNEE and sounds rather like it should be the name of a comedy board game), and fichi caramellati. You might think that you ‘caramelise’ some figs when you stick them in a pan with a little butter and honey. You would be so wrong. These figs have embraced caramelisation as a religion and achieved nirvana. Having been cooked with sugar and perhaps a little lemon juice for hours and hours, they are almost as black, soft and sticky as bitumen, with an intense, winey dried fruit flavour. The dark, rich sweetness of this tangled ambrosial mass, peppered with the pleasant crunch of seeds, marries with the soft lactic ooze of the squacquerone cheese and the salty rasp of prosciutto. This would be excellent enough on its own, but when this happy ménage a trois is cosseted inside the duvet of a grilled, chewy flatbread, you have an edible mandate for shunning vegetarianism. Of course, you can actually request a piadina ‘senza strutto’ (without lard) in some shops in Italy, but this would be a little like asking for pizza without the dough, or Venice without the extortionate prices, or a photo of the tower of Pisa without some idiot pretending to hold it up.
So enamoured was I of this local delicacy that I bought a jar of those figs (those figs) to take home from a market in Bologna, and they’ve been sitting in my kitchen cupboard for years. Recently finding them still as dark and unctuous as the day they were purchased, I decided to finally recreate those Italian taste memories in my own kitchen. I made some thick flatbreads with standard sourdough bread dough and stuffed them with these figs, goat’s cheese and fresh thyme before heating them in a hot pan until the outside crisped up and the cheese melted. I then decided to go one step further and combine pizza and piadine into a molten, crispy love child strewn with basil and laden with the salty-sweet flavours of Emilia Romagna.
These pizzas use a sourdough crust, but it’s a cheat in that you add a little yeast too, so you don’t have to wait forever for the dough to rise. You get all of the amazing sourdough flavour, a robust vehicle for these decadent toppings, with much less patience required. You could, of course, use a standard pizza dough recipe. There’s no tomato sauce, but instead a liberal scattering of prosciutto, slivered red onion (to cut through all that richness, and for crunch), clouds of soft goat’s cheese (in homage to SQUACKEROHNEE, which you can’t get over here, perhaps because no Brit can pronounce it without smirking and you’d cause riots in the supermarkets), those figs, and a generous handful of fresh basil for zest and perfume. The cheese melts into the crispy dough, the prosciutto crisps up a little, the onions soften and the figs give everything an utterly moreish burnt caramel undertone. The actual pizzas take minutes to assemble and bake in the oven, but the salty, crispy, sticky-sweet flavours are complex and unbelievably satisfying.
Based on a wrap worth getting in raptures about, I can guarantee this glorious pizza will be savoured with rapid rapaciousness.
Sourdough pizza with goat’s cheese, prosciutto and caramelised figs (makes 2 large pizzas or 4 smaller pizzas):
For the pizza base:
- 300g strong white bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp instant yeast
- 250g sourdough starter (from the fridge is fine)
- 100-120ml warm water
For the pizzas:
- Fine polenta, for dusting (or more flour)
- 2 tbsp garlic infused olive oil, plus extra to serve
- Half a jar of Italian caramelised figs (or 10 fresh figs, quartered)
- 10 slices of prosciutto
- 150g soft goat’s cheese
- 1 red onion, very thinly sliced
- A large handful of fresh basil leaves
First, make the pizza dough. Put the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook (or a large bowl, if not using a mixer), then put the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the sourdough starter and 100ml water. Bring the dough together with your hands, or the dough hook, and knead until you have a soft but not sticky dough (you may need a little more water if it really isn’t coming together) – around 7-10 minutes.
Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size. Depending on your starter/the warmth in the room, this can take 2-6 hours. I left mine in the kitchen all day while I went out and it was perfectly risen when I came back; you could also rise it in the fridge overnight. If it’s slightly over-risen, it isn’t the end of the world as you’re going to knock it back down anyway.
When the dough is ready, pre-heat the oven as high as it will go – mine goes up to 270C. Put two large oven trays in the oven to pre-heat too.
Divide the dough into two (if making large pizzas) or four (if making small pizzas) equal pieces. Then roll each piece into a circle as thin as you possibly can, around 5mm thick (use a rolling pin). It doesn’t matter if they’re not perfect circles – mine never are.
Assemble the pizzas. I do this on a chopping board dusted with flour or polenta so I can easily slide the assembled pizza off and onto the hot oven tray (cooking the pizza on a tray that is already hot ensures a crispy base). Drizzle a little garlic oil over each disc of dough. Crumble over the goat’s cheese, then scatter over torn pieces of prosciutto, followed by thin slices of red onion. Finally, dot dollops of the figs over the top (or place the fresh fig quarters on top).
When the oven and oven trays are hot, scatter the trays with polenta/flour, then slide your assembled pizzas onto them. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and crispy and the topping is bubbling and slightly scorched in places – keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn.
Remove from the oven, scatter with the fresh basil and serve immediately, drizzled with a little extra garlic oil.