Anytime I visit our home in Italy, I relish any opportunity to suggest a pizza evening on the terrace, as Mum invites family and friends for an impromptu gathering. Coming to think of it, the last time this happened was 2 years ago, as a low key pre-wedding celebration for mrs fp and I. The cast, a bunch of loud cheerful Italians; the backdrop a sunset over the Ligurian hills; and the soundtrack the crackling of our wood fired pizza oven.
Makes 4 large pizzas
Prep time 15 mins
500g ’00’ or strong white flour
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of fine salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
325ml of lukewarm water
Put all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate container add the water, yeast and olive oil. Stir and leave for a few minutes to activate the yeast. Combine with the flour and mix for 10 minutes. Tip onto a well floured surface giving it a last kneed. Shape into a ball and transfer to a floured bowl. Cover with cling film and set aside to rise for 1.5 to 2 hrs or until doubled in size.
Once risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface, knock back and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape into balls and set aside under a damp tea towel until ready to shape. This will keep the dough soft and easy to shape.
Little can go wrong when making pizza, and if it does, it’s usually at the dough stage where it is cheap to make mistakes. Nevertheless here as some tips to help you create a dynamite pizza.
1. Give your dough a signature
Although people have been making ‘pizza’ for over 1000 years, there is always room to give the traditional dough your own twist. Pizza dough is also affected by the environment around it, humidity etc. So finding the ratios that give you the best result is important. Experiment by trying your own ingredient blends. For example, try substituting some of the water with bottle conditioned beer, which will help lift the dough and give it extra flavour. Or use 25% semolina flour to give a more rustic texture. I’ve also used chestnut flour in the past too. Experiment and see what works for you.
In my recipe, you’ll see sugar and olive oil in there too. The sugar helps brown the crust at conventional oven temperatures. As pizzas in a conventional oven need to cook a bit longer than in a wood fired oven, the oil in the dough stops the base getting too tough.
2. Pizza ‘stone’
A pizza stone will help cook your pizza at conventional oven temperatures. A solid steel Welsh bakestone also gives great results. Heat the stone for a good 45 minutes before cooking. Even though the oven may be in temperature, it takes time for the stone to catch up.
You’ll need something to help you transfer your topped pizza onto the hot stone. Keep the cardboard base of supermarket pizza, or a ideally a slightly larger piece of similarly rigid cardboard. Give it a good dusting of flour; lay on the stretched dough; top it and then shimmy it over onto the hot stone.
3. Stretch, not roll
Try to limit the use of a rolling pin, or not use at all. It’s fairly harsh on the dough and will give you quite a flat and uninteresting base once cooked. Instead, knock back the dough with your hands, stretch with your fingers and the base of your palm. Once you get more comfortable at handling dough, try to shape it the air as much as possible – it’s less severe on the dough and will give the best results when cooked.
4. Keep it fresh and simple
Do not go crazy on the toppings. An overloaded pizza with lots of competing flavours might be an exciting concept, like Joey Tribiani’s sandwiches, but a few simple fresh flavours always win. By all means make 2 pizzas if you’ve lots of ingredients you want to unleash. A starter pizza and a main… And maybe a Nutella one as dessert?
Granted, making a pizza will never be as quick as making a plate of Penne al pesto. But with a bit of prep you can get it pretty close. Make your dough in batches, divide up into individual pizza portions, and either freeze of refrigerate by wrapping in cling film or in a sandwich bag. If frozen, take it out in the morning and let it thaw whilst at work. If refrigerated, take it out when you get home from work, and it’ll be ready to rock and roll in 2hrs.
Finally here are some of my favourite toppings. Given it’s marathon season, I’ve also included one that you may like as you plan your next carb loaded meal. I think if I were to use the work to live, live to work motto, I’d say mine would be run to eat not eat to run. That’s not saying I don’t enjoy running, I just enjoy eating more. Anyway, here are some winning topping combinations:
Asparagi, crudo, olive e rucola
Tomato base (passata+oregano+olive oil+seasoning), mozzarella, asparagus, black olives, parma ham and rocket. Add the rocket once the pizza is fully cooked.
Caprino, peperone dolce, cipolla e funghi
Tomato base, mozzarella, goats cheese, sweet red pepper, red onion and mushrooms
Gorgonzola e rucola
Tomato base, mozzarella, chunks of gorgonzola cheese. Add rocket once cooked. And I know this sounds wrong, but I love a little drizzle of balsamic on this one.
Garlic, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. Cook the base with just some olive oil and salt. Once cooked rub with fresh garlic and top with juicy sliced tomatoes and tear on lots of fresh basil.
alla Genovese – a pre-marathon special
Sliced potato, green beans, buffalo mozzarella, pesto, rosemary and no tomato base. A fuel boosting carb loader. The only extra step here is to parboil your potatoes, slice them and toss in olive oil, salt and fresh rosemary, before laying onto the pizza base along with the other ingredients.
I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ll see of pizza on here. I’m already thinking that a perfect focaccia, like the one kids would take to school for their elevenses, will have to make an appearance soon!
But for now that’s all. Get spinning some dynamite dough!