I vividly recall a chef of Italian descent speculating on the origin of pizza: an Italian mamma goes to prepare her family's supper, but all she finds in her cupboard is an old bit of bread dough, some flour, some leftover tomato sauce, and some cheese. Rapidly she sets to work, then throws on the odd olive or two, and - hey - pizza is born! Perfection!
But to recreate that kind of taste takes time and effort, and this recipe is the absolute antithesis of fast food. Ah, but the result is worth it, friends! I've had traditionally cooked pizzas from wood-fired ovens that simply can't hold a candle to this. Actually, I've never had a better pizza than this. Seriously.
Why? Because of the depth of flavour to the dough - and how well it matches the sauce, cheese, and toppings.
Makes 4 medium/2 large pizzas...enough to feed four people.
2 1/2 cups strong white flour (bread flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon (half a 7g sachet) fast action yeast
scant 250ml barely lukewarm water
oil for greasing
4 dessertspoons coarse semolina or cornmeal
If you're unfamiliar with any of the ingredients, find out more about them here:
A day or two before you plan to start cooking, make your bread starter. Place 1 cup of the flour in a bowl, add the salt, sugar, and yeast, and use a whisk to whisk in the water. Cover and leave it to ferment at room temperature for a minimum of 24 hours, though 36 hours is preferable. While you wait, this is the perfect time to make your tomato sauce (see below).
A day or so later, your starter is looking unpromising in the extreme. Fear not; this is your equivalent of an old bit of bread dough! Take your whisk to it again until all the sediment has been reincorporated. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour with a knife until the dough comes together and you can begin to work it with your hands.
Now comes the kneading. You will need to dust your workbench with a little flour, sometimes more than once; this is a very soft dough - but try to add as little extra flour as possible. Fold the dough onto itself and push it down with your palm, while your other hand stretches and pulls from the other side. Turn the dough a little, then the bit you were pulling gets pushed down. Repeat. Knead for 5 - 10 minutes.
Cut your dough into 2 or 4 pieces and roll it it into balls. Place in a warm, draught-free place to prove - my microwave is perfect for this. An hour later and it will easily have doubled in size.
Grease your trays and coat them with coarse semolina...or for the Boston experience, use coarse cornmeal.
You'll need to prep one tray per pizza. If this is a problem, remember a pizza doesn't have to be circular. I've cooked rectangular ones in shallow baking tins before.
1 dessertspoon oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1/2 a tin of water
1/3 teaspoon dried basil
1/3 teaspoon dried oregano
salt, pepper, and sugar to taste
Sweat the onion in oil until it's transparent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the rest of the ingredients, along with a pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar. Pop on a lid and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and let the sauce reduce a little, but not for too long - it can go bitter. Finally taste and adjust the seasonings. Cool before using.
Adding the toppings
To be divided between all 2 or 4 pizzas:
the proven pizza dough
approximately 2/3 of the tomato sauce (freeze what you don't use)
80g freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (parmesan)
120g drained mozzarella, torn apart
Plus whatever you fancy adding to them, in my case:
1 tin tuna in oil (105g drained weight)
a handful of prawns
12 salted black olives
1/2 a red onion, finely sliced
(see how far the toppings stretch?)
Separate the balls, by cutting if necessary, then give them a last little kneading. They'll go back to the size they were - that's fine!
A little more flour on the workbench, then roll out each ball one by one, lightly flouring and turning the dough over frequently, peeling it gently from the surface each time. If you feel confident, try holding it with both palms and letting the weight of the dough do the stretching. When roughly the right size, pop it on the tray. You can still prod and stretch it if necessary. It absolutely doesn't have to be perfect - all the better if it's not!
Spread each pizza thinly but thoroughly with your tomato sauce. Grate parmesan generously over, then add your toppings, finishing off with the mozzarella. Bake in a really hot oven for 15 - 18 minutes. I cook mine one at a time. If you're using large pizza trays like this, it's wise to give them a quarter turn every 5 - 6 minutes so oven hotspots aren't an issue. Serve, then watch as every foodie friend's eyes widen while at the same time their jaw happens to drop.
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: