Pizza is loved by young and old alike. It’s tasty, easy to eat and it doesn’t cost much. You can buy it just by picking up the phone, but the kind of pizza that arrives on the back of a motorbike is often a far cry from the traditional peasant dish with its chewy, yet crunchy crust and its restrained layer of topping.
If you want to experience pizza the way generations of Italian mamas have made it you either have to visit an authentic pizzeria or make your own. Making your own, besides saving you the expense of a night at a restaurant, allows you to experiment with combinations of flavours you might not find on someone else’s menu.
And it’s great fun. With glass of wine, some music, your partner or the kids helping you, the preparation of your pizza meal can be an event in itself. Kids, particularly, love choosing toppings and building their own pizza.
So, how do you do it?
There are three secrets to a great pizza:
- A good dough.
- A good tomato sauce.
- A limited amount of topping.
In this article, I’m going to leave the toppings to you and concentrate instead on the dough and a simple tomato sauce that you can whip up in about 30 seconds.
- 1 tablespoon of dried yeast (or “instant” yeast).
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil (must be olive, not vegetable oil)
- 500 gm high-gluten flour. You can also use plain flour, or, at a pinch, self-raising, but high-gluten is more likely to give the chewy texture of the traditional pizza base.
- 350 ml warm (not hot) water.
1. Make a yeast mixture by adding your dried yeast to the warm water. Stir until it’s dissolved then set aside until a cream of bubbles forms on the surface – shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
2. Place flour and a pinch or two of salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Add your yeast mixture and the olive oil and mix using a wooden spoon.
4. Once the ingredients are combined, use your hands to continue mixing until a dough forms.
5. Remove the dough and knead it on a floured board or surface. It’s ready when it doesn’t stick to your hands anymore and has achieved a nice degree of elasticity.
6. Coat a bowl with olive oil – it’s ok to be generous. Form the dough into a rough ball, place it in the bowl and sprinkle a little olive oil over it.
7. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it aside until the dough has doubled in size – takes about 2 hours. Temperature affects the activity of yeast. A slightly warmer area, like the top of the fridge, will encourage your dough to rise.
8. When your dough has risen, squash it down to remove the bubbles and tip it out onto a floured surface. Cut it into 3 or 4 equal parts (depending on how big you want to make your pizzas). Form each piece into a ball and then use a rolling pin to roll these balls out into the traditional pizza disk – the thickness depends on your taste.
You’re done. You now have your pizza base.
The Super Easy Alternative
The time-pressured among us can avoid the work involved in the recipe above and still make a successful pizza. It won’t be traditional and you won’t win any prizes for it, but it’ll taste good and you’ll be at the dinner table in a fraction of the time. Follow the simple steps below.
- Go to the supermarket.
- Buy a packet of round Turkish bread.
- Take home and remove bread from packet.
You now have several pizza bases.
The first thing you’ll adorn your pizza base with is the sauce. Made predominantly from tomatoes, this is an area that attracts zealot-like devotion from some pizza aficionados. There are many recipes, and many of them are closely guarded secrets. The one I’ll show you has the time-pressured in mind.
- Into a small bowl crush one or two cloves of garlic.
- Add several dessertspoons of tomato paste.
- Tip in a good big splash of olive oil – don’t hold back, a quarter of a cup won’t be too much.
- Throw in a pinch of oregano (or fresh basil if you like the taste) and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper. Seasoning here is really a matter of taste – I’ve used chilli powder with great success.
- Mix everything together. If it looks too stiff, just keep adding – you guessed it – olive oil.
- Put a few dollops of the mixture on your pizza base and spread evenly with the back of a spoon
Now you’re on your own. What you put on top of your base and sauce is up to you. Just remember, don’t overload your pizza – flavours get lost and too much topping can make it difficult to get the base to cook properly.
A Note on Cooking
Pizzas are traditionally cooked for a short time (5-7 minutes) in a very hot oven. When using a home oven I pre-heat to 200˚C and then drop it to 180˚C when I put the pizza in. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your base and the amount of topping. Check your pizza regularly and rotate if necessary to ensure even cooking.
Learn how to shape your pizza dough with this video.