Pizza Fridays

A recent article posted on the BBC web-site reported a worrying new trend in Italian cooking in the wake of the economic crisis – an unhealthy (although easy to prepare and cheaper) carbohydrate-rich diet, consisting mainly of pasta and rice. Less fish, meat, fruits and vegetables were being consumed.

The article also reported that many Italians were now cutting costs by making their own bread and pizza. Surprisingly, the article indicated that a third of all Italian families now make their own homemade pizza.

If you have access to the BBC web-site: Healthy Italian diet suffers as economic crisis bites

For most of my married life, I have made my own homemade pizza. It has become a Friday night ritual, a kicking back to herald in the weekend, often shared with friends. My son has even carried this family tradition to University where he quickly converted his friends to homemade on Pizza Fridays.

pizza_cooked

Making the dough and sauce has become second nature to me – throwing the ingredients together without thinking of cups, teaspoons or exactly how much oregano I tip into the bubbling sauce. So, I had a momentary pause and got out the measuring cups and spoons so that I could could make a credible attempt at writing the instructions down in a manner that anyone could follow.

Homemade Pizza
The basic recipes for dough and sauce employ a minimal number of ingredients. However, I sometimes get fanciful with toppings. It is incredibly easy to make your own pizza and the components can be frozen for future use.

Makes 4 ten-inch pizzas

Pizza dough

  • 3 cups (540g) strong flour (American = bread flour which is high in gluten)
  • 1 teaspoon (6g) dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) sea salt
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cup (300 to 350g or ml) warm water (may need more)
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Place the dry ingredients in your mixer with a dough hook attached and add the warm water (1 cup) while it is mixing. If the consistency of the dough is still dry looking, add more warm water, a little at a time. Remember the amount of water flour absorbs depends on the amount of gluten (protein) in your flour. Once the water has been completely absorbed, put your mixer on medium speed to knead the dough – the process of generating elasticity in the dough. The final consistency should be soft, but not wet and sticky.

Turn out on a floured board and test by pressing your thumb in the dough. If the dough has enough elasticity to spring back, it is ready for the next step. If not, knead some more by hand. Push the dough down and away from you with the heel of your hand, fold back over and turn. Repeat this process until the dough passes the “thumb” test.

In a liberally oiled bowl (using good olive oil), place the dough ball, rolling it around the oil until it is completely coated.  Place cling film (= American Saran wrap) over the bowl and place a clean tea towel over that. Let it stand in a warm place for 1-2 hours until the dough has doubled in height.

Or…you could simply use a bread machine and set it to the “dough only” setting.

Lift out the dough onto a floured board and divide into 4 equal pieces. Shape each piece individually into balls. At this point, the individual balls of pizza dough can be frozen; to use from frozen, defrost in an oiled bowl before rolling and stretching it out. Although the defrosted dough tends to be softer (that is, has lost some of its elasticity), it produces a crispier final product.

Marinara Sauce
This can be made in advance and is suitable for freezing, although you may need to re-simmer the sauce if it has become watery.

  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 14 oz. can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 rounded teaspoon aromatic oregano*
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

In a large saucepan, heat up your olive oil on medium heat. Meanwhile, purée your tomatoes (a quick and easy way of making passata) and add this to the heating oil. Add the oregano, minced garlic and salt. Stir periodically while the sauce bubbles and reduces, about 10 minutes. When finished, the sauce should be thick, but not quite at the tomato paste stage. Cool slightly to use.

* According to The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, the flavor of oregano varies according to the particular cultivar, climate, soil type and time of year harvested – a sort of herb terroir. The flavor of the oregano will either make or break the sauce. I tend to use dried Greek oregano either purchased by me in Crete or brought to us by Greek friends, colleagues and students passing through my husband’s University department. Greek – particularly Cretan – oregano is very pungent. Experiment and find exactly what oregano suits your particular tastes.

Assemble & Bake
If you are having friends over, this process can be done once they’ve arrived. Invite them to join in the pizza making process and consult them on topping preferences.

  • 14oz. Firm mozzarella cheese
  • 2 oz. Fresh Parmesan cheese, approx. 1/2 cup grated
  • 4 Pizza dough balls
  • Marinara Sauce

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. I tend to use my convection oven for baking, particularly breads. It reaches a higher temperature allowing for a quicker baking time, and importantly retains a moist environment ideal for bread making.

Grate the fresh cheeses. Do not be tempted to use pre-grated or, in the case of Parmesan, dried. Mix and divide in four equal piles. If you are using toppings (sliced red pepper, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, etc.), prepare them in advance and put into little bowls.

On a clean, flour-dusted surface, roll out the balls individually, stretching and shaping by hand as you transfer them to their baking surfaces. The bases do not need to be perfectly circular – the imperfect shape is more “rustic” and certainly just as delicious. You can use flat cookie sheets or circular pizza tins. Pizza aficionados use pre-heated pizza stones, but this is not something all households have in their kitchen arsenal.

Put about 2 Tablespoons of sauce on each of the pizza bases, spreading it in a thin layer with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle on the freshly grated cheese, again thinly. In the case of these pizzas, less is better. If you overcrowd your pizza with too much sauce or cheese, or, indeed too many toppings, you will get a soggy mess.

Note: toppings can be put on either between the sauce and the cheese or on top.

pizza_precooked

Bake for about 10 minutes. The crust should be be golden and the cheese melted and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let sit until the cheese stops bubbling. Using a circular pizza cutter, slice into 8 pieces and (the healthy option) serve with a huge green salad.

20 March 2015
 
Update on Pizza Fridays
In an effort to convert my recipes to metric and to provide sourdough alternatives for bread recipes, I’ve updated the pizza dough recipe as follows:
 
Sourdough Pizza Dough

  • 200g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 200g (ml) tepid water
  • 540g strong bread flour
  • 4g sea salt
  • olive oil

Measure out the freshly fed sourdough starter and mix in the water. You will see bubbles forming. Next add the flour and salt. Mix with a spoon, a plastic scraper or your hands until the flour has been mixed in. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to half an hour so that the flour can become completely hydrated.
 
Tip the sticky dough out onto a floured board and lift, stretch and fold the dough, turning it a quarter way each time you do this. Eventually, the dough will become quite elastic and loose some of its stickiness. Place back into a cleaned and oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise for about 6 hours or overnight.
 
Remove the dough from the bowl by pulling and stretching each quarter and folding it into the middle. Place on a lightly floured board and cut into 4 pieces to roll out.

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