This is a dish that my Tuscan husband's grandfather, who was from Puglia in southern Italy, would make for himself on days when he came home late from work. In fact, it works just as well as a late night supper for one as it does for an emergency quick lunch for a clan, just adjust quantities and go with what you have – if you don't have scamorza, you can use fresh mozzarella (be aware that it will release more liquid, so you may want to reduce the tomato to a thicker consistency) or provolone. But really, any good melting cheese could work well for this.
I'd been searching for a name for it because in the family this dish doesn't really have a name, it was simply a homely quick meal that Nonno Mario used to whip up – but it turns out there is a name for this kind of melted cheesy goodness. In general it's known as *alla pizzaiola* (“in the manner of the pizza-maker” because of the use of the same ingredients as a classic pizza margherita), but I discovered many Italian families have a version of this – usually with mozzarella – in their repertoire and it can also be called “pizza pazza” (crazy pizza), “pizza alla povera” (poorman's pizza) or mozzarella in padella (simply, mozzarella, or whatever cheese you're using, in a pan). Some like to put a touch of heat in it, others sprinkle over dried oregano -- take this as an idea and make it yours to suit your taste. —Emiko
whole garlic clove, peeled
extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
(250 ml) of tomato puree (passata) or tinned chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
(about 150 grams) or a fist-sized ball of scamorza (or mozzarella)
In a wide pan, heat the whole clove of garlic to a gentle sizzle in the olive oil. Watch it doesn't burn, you simply want to infuse the oil with the garlic for a minute or two.
Pour over the tomato passata and add salt and pepper to taste,
along with a splash of water -- note, if you're using fresh mozzarella which will release a lot of liquid you may not need the extra water, instead you will want to reduce the sauce a little more than normal. Let simmer rapidly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until thickened and reduced slightly. Taste for seasoning.
Cut the scamorza into thick slices and lay them in the sauce in a single layer. Continue simmering a further 5 minutes or until the cheese is perfectly melted. Give the cheese one quick stir to distribute it evenly (some prefer to leave the cheese 'whole'). Serve with herbs over the top and either pour over toasted bread or serve in a shallow bowl or plate with bread to dip into the sauce. More ground pepper and an extra drizzle of olive oil are nice finishing touches.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.