Pizza

I love pizza, as should all Right Thinking Men and Women.

It’s easy to make at home, and fun. A favourite procedure of mine is this: make the dough and the sauce the night before, as they’ll keep in the fridge. Then, get each guest to bring: a pizza ingredient, and a cheese. (Co-ordinate before, so we don’t have the scenario from Sesame Street where everyone brings potato salad to the King’s Picnic.) Then, all you need do is have plenty of cold, cold beer on hand, and whip up pizzas over the course of the evening. If the combinations become more eccentric as the night goes on, so be it.

Note: This procedure produces thin, crusty pizzas. If you want American style, deep pizzas, then I can’t help you.

The Dough

For enough dough to feed six in one sitting, i.e. make about six smallish pizzas, I use the following:

  • 300g strong flour (i.e. bread flour)
  • 200g plain flour – I’m not quite sure where these proportions come from, they’re scribbled on a piece of manky paper from years ago – you could probably just go with 100% strong flour if you prefer – you might also try 100% Italian “doppio zero” flour for authenticity
  • one sachet dried yeast (normally about 5-7g)
  • 10g salt (the posh brand of sea salt is good here, save the other stuff for boiling pasta)
  • a gloop, alright 20mL, of olive oil, yer best extra-virgin-on-the-ridiculous – you could be authentic and replace with the same amount of lard, this is called the strutto
  • 375mL very warm water

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine, and gradually add the water, whilst stirring.

You’ll probably want to stop after about 325mL, if the dough is fairly dry, add another 25mL, so you end up with something slightly sticky. If it’s still dry, then you may need the final 25mL. Mix in the olive oil. You’ll probably find that the spoon became fairly useless about halfway through the mixing process and you’ll need to use your hands.

Knead for about ten minutes, and then plonk into a clean bowl, cover with a teatowel, and allow to rise. It’ll need about an hour, depending on the ambient temperature. (Some recipes tell you to oil the bowl first, to stop the dough sticking. I’ve never had a problem.)

That’s it. You don’t need a second rising: it’s ready for action. At this point, you can also put it in the fridge, and it will keep for a week in an airtight container. Not too airtight, as it will continue to rise and you don’t want an explosion. (One of my friends says “three weeks”, as apparently the yeast is so mean, no other microbes will dare go anywhere near it.)

The Sauce

Forget this pizza bianca crap. There’s gotta be tomato sauce, and I think it ought to be homemade. Doesn’t need to be fancy, though. Assuming you’ve made the dough in the quantities above, you’ll need…

  • four cloves of garlic
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • a 500g carton of passata

Just chop up the garlic and fry it in the olive oil, when done, add the passata, bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. After about an hour the sauce will have reduced by half and be ready for action.

Now, that’s a pretty inoffensive sauce; inoffensive being a synonym for unexciting. I’d also consider some of the following:

  • chuck in half a teaspoon of chillis when frying the garlic
  • a spoon of dried oregano once you’ve added the tomatoes
  • some anchovies
  • a shake of the Tabasco bottle
  • a teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • some dried basil (save the fresh stuff for the pizza topping)

The Topping

Less is more, alright. Anything that can be, should be thinly sliced.

  • salami and olives
  • prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella
  • anchovies and anything
  • raw prawns that have been marinated in something interesting
  • capers, crème fraîche, and smoked salmon (put it on after the pizza has come out of the oven)
  • those “chicken tikka mini fillets” you get from M&S, some mango chutney, and a splash of yoghurt (with some dried mint mixed in) once it comes out of the oven
  • anything from the antipasto counter at Camisa’s
  • someone said that putting bolognese sauce on it was wrong – I was so intrigued by this that I tried it with some leftovers and it was marvellous

Putting it all Together

Now for the fun bit.

Get the oven going, and crank it up as far as it will go. Place a heavy baking sheet on a high shelf, and let that heat up.

Get another baking sheet, the same size as the one that’s heating up, and use this as your rolling board: it’ll be obvious in a few paragraphs why. Spread a handful of dry semolina or coarse polenta over it, which will stop the dough sticking.

Break off a fist sized chunk of dough, about 150g, and start rolling it out.

This will make a pizza big enough to fit on a large dinner plate. I’ve never owned a rolling pin, so end up using a wine bottle. You want to get it about half a centimetre thick. Once you’ve got it reasonably flat, feel free to use your hands to stretch it. Make sure, once it’s done, that there’s plenty of semolina underneath, and it slides around without too much trouble. You’ll notice quite a bit of the semolina embeds itself in the surface of the dough. This will cook, and add an extra crunchiness to the finished product, so don’t be shy.

Put the ingredients on top.

Now take it over to the oven. With a bit of luck, and enough semolina underneath, you can slide it off the cold baking sheet and onto the hot baking sheet. About eight minutes in the oven should do it.

Stating the Obvious

Some things to note:

  • if you’re going to top with mozzarella, make sure it’s the industrial strength stuff from the cow, and not the exquisitely delicate stuff from the buffalo – you can use the latter, but if you do, pop it on a minute before you take it out of the oven
  • beer is mandatory
  • pineapple is an abomination
  • so is processed ham
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