As much as I love food of all varieties, pizzas are something I struggle with... a lot. Why? Well, I simply cannot stand most of these generic pizzas sold in supermarkets, takeaways and restaurants. The bare minimum for me has to be Pizza Express which although not fantastic, is perfectly edible and as long as I keep the toppings simple I enjoy them.
The first ‘real’ pizza I ever had was in San Remo, Italy… I remember biting into it thinking that the crust resembled more of a wafer thin cracker and that there was a very scant topping of fresh diced tomatoes, a little mozzarella cheese dotted around and a few torn basil leaves… it was heavenly. From that day on, I decided that I like my pizzas fired in a wood oven and not heaped in toppings… ESPECIALLY NOT PINEAPPLE! Pizzas can be whatever you want them to be and that is the beauty of them; from it’s inception, the pizza is a humble way to make a meal using leftover scraps of cheese and meat with a little freshly diced tomato. Simplicity is such a pure and beautiful thing, I do find things like ‘meat feast’ pizzas quite stomach-churning… call me a snob, but perhaps that’s what I am… a bonafide pizza snob.
This recipe for pizza proved to be a winner because the dough is simple (if not a tad messy) and I made it for a group of us and everyone got to roll their own dough which resulted in lots of different shapes. I laid out a huge platter of toppings for people to choose from including blue cheese, parmesan, fontina and mozzarella cheeses plus diced chorizo, parma ham and salami slices. I also added mushrooms, chillies, basil leaves and dried oregano for people to add if they wished... No wonder it was such a success! DIY pizzas won the day and here is the recipe;
For the dough
1kg strong white bread flour
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
650ml warm water
4 tablespoons of olive oil (and extra to brush on pizza bases)
For the topping
6 good quality tomatoes, deseeded and then diced
Mozzarella (NOT Buffalo in this instance, just plain cow mozzarella)
Other toppings of your choice (Parma ham, salami, chorizo, vegetables, cheeses etc)
Sieve the flour together with the salt either into a very large mixing bowl making a well in the middle.... Or if you are feeling brave, then onto a clean work surface making a well in the middle. **WARNING** I chose the latter method after watching Jamie Oliver on TV and all I can say is prepare for the mess! If the liquid breaks the delicate wall of flour, you will flood your work surfaces with sticky, yeasty, watery dough mix! A bowl is better.
Add your 650mls of water into a measuring jug then add your yeast, sugar and olive oil into it and stir well before resting it for a few minutes then pouring it into the flour well. Slowly work the flour into the liquid until a dough forms and then work the rest of the flour adding flour to the mix to prevent it sticking to your hands. Knead the mixture well until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and sprinkle flour on top of it before covering the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm corner or room for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Once done, remove the dough and literally 'punch' it to remove the excess air from it. If you don't want to use all the dough, freeze what you want right now in an airtight container.
Take a fist size ball of dough and roll it out as thinly as possible (less than 1/2 cm thick is ideal) and then brush with olive oil, dot some diced tomatoes around the pizza and add the toppings of your choice. Remember, less is more when it comes to pizza... and then bake in the oven at 240 degrees (fan assisted) for about 8 minutes or until the crust is nice and brown and the cheese is nice and melted. E finito... Buon apetito!