Pizza is one of those things that is so good to eat out, but often hard to get right at home. I have always blamed the lack of a wood buring oven, but recently I’ve been giving the dough some extra attention, and getting some good results.
It gets a bit manic in the kitchen cooking the pizzas once at a time, but with flexible guests it’s good fun, and everyone can have their toppings to their liking!
Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (Makes 4 large, indiviudal pizzas)
500g bread flour
400ml luke warm water
1.5 tsp (about 7g – or one sachet) dried yeast
1 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp olive oil
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a food processor with a dough hook fitted. Start the processor then feed the water in slowly, followed by the oil. Stop once the dough forms a ball.
If you are not using a food processor, sift the dry ingredients into a big bowl then add the water slowly, stirring with a spoon till it gets to thick and then you can use your hands to form the dough.
The kneading stage is critical to pizza dough – skimp on this stage and the dough is too bread-like – believe me! Knead the dough on a floured surface, adding more flour if it gets sticky, for abour 10 minutes until you have a really flexibly, stretchy dough going on.
Cover with a bag and leave to rise until the dough is double in size – this will depend on the temperature of the room but it usually takes at least an hour. When the dough has risen, put it back on the floured surface and give it another quick knead. Cut into 4 even chunks of dough.
Make a ball with your first piece of dough, then use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a rough circle. Pick up the dough and gently hold the sides so that it stretches – turn about 45 degrees then repeat and so on, until you have stretched out all of the dough. Lay it onto a baking or pizza tray, sprinkled first with a little medium-ground maize meal (optional if you are using a pizza tray, but important if you’re not as it will stop the dough from sticking). If your dough is good you will find it will spring back away from the edges of the tray, but don’t worry too much about this – the shape adds to the fun and reminds you your pizza is far superior to those served in Pizza Express…
Put on your fillings (see below). I usually start with a tbsp of tomato puree spread thinly then topped with about 75g of grated hard mozerella cheese.
Put your oven up as high as it goes. Keeping the oven door open for as little time as possible, cook the pizzas one at a time. Keep a good eye on it – it will only take between 8 – 12 minutes to cook, or maybe even less. You can tell it’s ready by looking at the crusts – they should be golden but not browning. If it feels too doughy when you give it a prod, put the pizza back in the oven for a few minutes.
Some favourite vegetarian pizza topping combinations:
You can obviously use whatever takes your fancy, but here are some of mine:
Buffalo mozerella, basil and red onion
Cut a red onion into fine slices and sprinkle on raw before cooking. Tear up some buffalo mozerella (or an ordinary cow’s milk mozerella ball) and sprinkle over the pizza with the basil leaves for the last few minutes in the oven.
For this one, you need to pre-roast the aubergine slices brushed with a little olive oil for around 15 minutes until soft and golden. Top the pizza with the aubergine slices and blobs of fresh ricotta and basil leaves. When the pizza comes out of the oven, drizzle with a little chilli oil. Yum!
Cook some sliced mushrooms in rosemary oil for about 3 – 4 minutes until softening. Sprinkle over the pizza with blobs of marscapone cheese.
Slice some red peppers finely, or pre-roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Wilt the spinach in a pan with a little water, and squeeze dry. Layer the spinach, peppers and some sliced sun-dried tomatoes.
I have found with pizzas in general that fewer than 4 toppings is best – any more and you lose some of the taste of each flavour. Happy pizza making!