I do believe it would be completely possible to write a whole blog solely about that ultimate, homemade and super fast-food and it be possible to post ad infinitum on the wonder that is… pizza. The techniques for making the dough could occupy many a post in themselves not to mention the innumerate ways to combine a sauce with a few toppings to produce something potentially unique every time you make one. Hungry Hubby and I have
selflessly eaten our way through many of the potential combinations for you and today I present a very simple pizza but also I discuss how to create your own version of perfection in a pizza at home.
It took me implausibly long to discover how to make the pizza base itself which delivered the results I was after. An Italian friend called Lu gave me her recipe and I blogged about it early on in the history of this little blog. Be kind when you judge the writing and photos, I was just starting out back then. Anyway, I’ve refined it and the method I use over what must be more than 5 years now and that is what I’m sharing today. We are share bears, me and Hungry Hubby (for those who remember the Care Bears, you’ll recall that most generous of all the little bears – Share Bear) and we like to make one pizza that we slice and share. As opposed to the way you are usually served in restaurants with one pizza per person. I’ve experimented and I find 200g worth of flour is just right for two. You’ll be satisfied without being stuffed afterwards. I always serve a homemade pizza with a large salad to compliment the flavours in the toppings (or more truthfully, depending on what salad leaves I have in the fridge!).
A few simple rules I follow are as follows, with regard to making the base:
- I make the dough with tipo 00 flour and cold water – the extra finely milled flour gives a super soft dough and the cold water means more flavour as the prove is slowed right down.
- I prove the dough for several hours. Often this means I make it at breakfast to eat for dinner around 6-7pm. The dough will have that sourdough tangy vibe and will be all the more tasty for it.
- When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven as hot as it goes – proper Italian pizzas will be made in wood fired ovens significantly hotter than our domestic ovens. You want it to cook hot and fast.
- Punch down and shape the dough then leave it on your tray for at least 20 minutes to relax, prove a little more and also form a bit of a skin to prevent a soggy bottom when you add the toppings.
- Fine cornmeal or polenta is the best thing to use to pat your dough out onto before you bake it. It is brilliantly nonstick and helps transferring the pizza with ease. If you don’t have any, use a heavy dusting of flour instead.
- I don’t get on with pizza stones. If you do, excellent. Carry on! I’m very happy with my method of shaping the pizza on a cold baking tray and cooking fast in a blisteringly hot oven. My tray is quite thin so it does pop and warp in the heat but on cooling, it returns to normal. One day I will buy a heavy duty one when I find a good one!
- Remember less is more when selecting your toppings and beware of watery sauces. The simplest tomato sauce is achieved by straining a can of tomatoes through a fine sieve until only the solid tomato pieces remain then adding some garlic, herbs and seasoning. Usually this is enough to top two pizzas of this size.
Once you have these basic principles in mind, it’s time to get creative. The beauty of making your own pizza is you can stretch out really small amounts of toppings to make a delicious, affordable and filling meal. Leftover meat from your roast dinner, a few slices of charcuterie, a can of tuna even are perfect and frugal toppings. When it comes to the cheese component, I’m not a fan of heaps and heaps of the stuff as it detracts from the meat or vegetables you’re trying to make the star of the show but add as much as you like. I do love to use either a heavy grating of parmesan (which usually ends up around 2 tbsp worth) or crumbled up chunks of feta the most (about 50g usually but I never weigh things for pizza making). A little mature cheddar gives you plenty of bang for your flavour buck too. If you like mozzarella on a pizza, I’d recommend buying the stuff which is either ready grated or comes more or less dry and leave those snowy white orbs of buffalo mozzarella to enjoy raw in the summer with absurdly ripe tomatoes and freshly ground pesto. It’s too wet and quite frankly, a waste to cook it on a pizza.
Here comes the fun bit – designing your pizza. If you were cooking for a bigger family than ours, it would be really fun to have a selection of sauces, toppings and cheeses in pots for people to customise their own. There is a pizza for every season, mood, occasion and palate. The pizza in this post is show casing a rather delicious fennel studded salami with only some sliced spring onions, halved baby plum tomatoes and some mature cheddar to finish. I used about 150ml (a generous ½ cup) of my full bodied tomato sauce on top of the base – it is slightly thicker than passata, another good choice for the sauce element of a pizza, as it has some blended vegetables in it to give it more viscosity. Here are some suggestions to get your imagination flowing:
- Passata (you can drain a can of whole or chopped tomatoes for a few minutes to remove excess watery juices and then blitz with a stick blender)
- BBQ sauce (store bought or homemade)
- Pesto – green or red
- Harissa (if you like things hot, hot, hot!)
- Romesco sauce
- Mascarpone for a pizza bianca (white pizza) – indulgent but so delicious
- An old favourite is a little tomato puree, a little olive oil with some minced garlic and fresh herbs – a super fast but very flavoursome version of my full bodied tomato sauce
When it comes to the toppings themselves, there’s only a couple of points I’ve come to bare in mind when constructing my own pizzas. Try not to entirely cover the sauce as it can come out a bit soggy (I know this from experience – I got greedy, my bad!). If you are using meat, you need to be confident it will cook in 8-10 minutes under the grill or be heated through. This means using cured meats or leftover cooked meats instead – if you have a leftover sausage from breakfast, that would be delicious, as are shreds of roast chicken, pulled pork or thin ribbons of roast beef. (At this point I will come clean and admit I did two full months of being a vegetarian and have returned to the carnivore camp – perhaps I’ll talk about that in another post.) Oregano, in my opinion, was made to go with pizzas and I do use this (dried) herb often in pizza making. Reserve fresh basil for garnishing the top when the pizza is fresh out the oven as it is too delicate to withstand the heat. I like mine spicy almost no matter what the other flavours are so I sprinkle with chilli flakes before baking. With regard to veggies, my favourites include finely sliced raw peppers, mushrooms, ribbons of courgette, red onion, sweetcorn and halved baby tomatoes. I’ve found putting tomatoes cut surface up gives them a lovely charring from the grill and also prevents them adding extra moisture to the base. They are great to give a fresh edge when you’re using a rich tomato sauce too.
- 200g tipo 00 flour
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 7g fast action yeast
- 1-2 tsp olive oil
- Approx 160-180ml cold water
- 1-2 tbsp fine cornmeal or polenta
- 150ml full-bodied tomato sauce*
- 10 slices of salami
- 3-4 spring onions slices on the diagonal
- 5-6 baby tomatoes, halved
- 1-2 tsp fennel seeds
- 50-60g mature cheddar, cubed or grated
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Cracked black pepper
- Optional – chilli flakes
- * You can find the recipe for this on my blog or see the post for more suggestions
- Put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil into the bowl of your stand mixer then with the dough hook running on slow speed, pour in enough water to give a soft sticky batter like consistency.
- Turn up the speed to medium and beat/knead for 10 minutes to develop the gluten and turn the dough into a soft, smooth dough which cleans the sides of the bowl.
- Gather the dough into a ball, spray the insides of the bowl with oil and cover with clingfilm. Leave until 2-3 times the size in volume. I highly recommend doing this at breakfast time and leaving all day to prove as the flavour is something else.
- When ready to make your pizza, preheat your oven as hot as it can go. I never use the fan so if you can’t turn yours off, perhaps be a little more cautious.
- Punch down the dough and fold it over and over itself until it is smooth once again.
- Sprinkle a baking tray with the polenta/cornmeal.
- Start to shape the dough into a flat disk in your hands then place on the polenta and press out or use a small rolling pin to make it into a round about 5mm thick in the centre but 10mm thick at the edges to help keep the sauce inside.
- Leave to relax, prove a little more and form a skin – i.e. don’t cover!
- Prepare any salad or other accompaniments you want to serve with the pizza (buying time for the oven to heat up and the base to relax).
- Pour on the tomato sauce and spread it evenly across the base with the back of a big spoon. Sprinkle over the extra fennel seeds.
- Lay on top the salami – don’t cover the sauce completely or it will be a little soggy in places. Scrunching up a couple of pieces adds extra texture as the exposed edges will catch and become crunchy on baking. I’ll fight you for those slices!
- Place your tomatoes cut side up then sprinkle with your spring onions, cheese, oregano, chilli of using and some black pepper for extra seasoning.
- Place under the grill (the top shelf is about 4 inches below in my oven) and cook for 8-10 minutes until the edges are just catching, the cheese is forming delicious little puddles and the tomatoes will be nicely grilled. The crust will puff up and brown around the edges and it will slip off the baking tray with ease. Serve immediately.
- You can find the recipe for my full bodied tomato sauce on the blog too. https://joblogsjobakes.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/full-bodied-tomato-sauce/