Pizza is one of the world’s great street foods and almost universally loved. Its has however been horribly industrialised by makers of processed food and chain restaurants to the point where it no longer bares much resemblance to the healthy and very nutritious original. Of course there has also been a resurgence of artisan-style places which make the dough properly, additive-free and bake the pizzas to order in wood fired ovens. But how can you replicate that, for a third of the cost, at home, and meanwhile make sure you know exactly what is going into your food (and your kids’ tummies)?
During the past year I’ve been working on a recipe that pretty closely replicates what you can get out of a proper pizza place, but which can be made with ingredients you can find at your local supermarket, and can be cooked at home in a normal domestic oven. There are bits of equipment that can help (like a pizza stone and peel), but they aren’t necessary at all to make a decent, delicious, healthy pizza. It will also cost you about 70-80% less than the price of a pizza from a decent restaurant, and will be just as good.
There are couple of things I’ve learnt along the way; Such as you definitely do not want to use expensive buffalo mozzeralla, and that its very difficult to the crust really crispy in a domestic oven without overcooking the toppings. The recipe below solves both of these problems, leaving a very crispy base, with just cooked creamy cheese and very little sloppiness.
(Makes 2 margherita pizzas)
340g Strong white flour or ideally ’00’ flour
220ml warm water
Teaspoon of sugar
4-6 grms of dried yeast
1 can of plum tomatoes
400 gm Mozzarella – I use Galbani Maxi
1. Make the dough. Combine the sugar and yeast with the warm water and whisk together. Leave for 5 mins until it starts to froth a little at the surface. Now, in large mixing bowl put the flour, salt, and liquids together and mix with a fork until it all comes together. Bring out of the bowl onto a surface and kneed well until it becomes nice and elastic, and starts cleaning up all the little bits of dough stuck to your hands. If you find its too wet to get into a nice springy, non-sticky, ball, then just add a little more flour. Now put back into the bowl, cover and let rise for an hour in a warm place.
2. Meanwhile, open the can of tomatoes and cook down on a medium heat until you have a smooth and quite dry paste. Season liberally with salt. You need quite a lot of salt in the sauce as its tough to properly season the dough without killing the yeast.
3. If you have a pizza stone, great, but its not necessary, you can also just do it using a sheet pan. Whatever you want to use, put it in the oven cold, then turn the oven up as high as you can. Most modern ovens will go to 250c/480f which is just about hot enough. When they cook pizzas in food fired ovens you are looking at 4-500c +, so for the domestic cook we need to add one more step to ensure we get both a crispy base and nice fresh toppings.
4. When the dough has risen (it will double in volume), take it out of the bowl again and kneed it back into its original size. Separate into two balls, and with plenty of flour on the surface, start pushing each ball into a dish shape. There is no absolutely correct way to do this so just have fun and experiment with what works for you. Personally I pull the dough a little to thin out the middle then pick it up and pinch around the outside to make a little crust. When you pick it up and hold it by one edge you’ll find it naturally stretches itself with its own weight, and if you are sufficiently dextrous this is a very good way of making the crust and stretching it sufficiently thin at the same time. Now place it on something flat which you have also well floured. A pizza peel is obviously ideal but a flat plate also works perfectly well. You are going to slide the pizza into the oven off whatever you now put it on so do make sure its very liberally floured otherwise it will stick and that will be the end of your pizza!
5. A quick word about cheese. Really you want some quite dry mozzarella and preferably one made of cows milk. Top quality buffalo mozzarella is not really made to be cooked and has far too much moisture for a pizza so just go for a normal kind. This type of cheese in normally sold in a little bag still swimming on water so you need to drain it off in advance and dry with kitchen towel. If you can get it out of the bag into and uncovered into the fridge the night before, even better. The fridge is usually the driest place in the house and so will help remove some more unwanted liquid.
6. Once your shaped pizza dough is on your plate/peel, liberally spread the tomato paste all over, keeping the crust free of any sauce. Now put it into the oven without any cheese on it. If you put the cheese on now, by the time the crust is sufficiently dark, the cheese will be overcooked. For a proper pizza you want the mozzarella to still be light and creamy, not brown and bubbling like cheese on toast. So let the pizza base cook in the oven now until the crust rises and starts to brown (maybe 7-15 mins depending on how hot your oven is).
7. Open the oven door (be careful as a lot of very hot air will rush out into your face), and now dot half the cheese (200g) onto the pizza as quickly as you can. Close the door and let cook until the cheese has just melted. The crust and base should now be really crispy and dark.
8. Remove from the oven by grabbing it with a fork and pulling it out onto a plate (or use the peel if you have one). As a final flourish you can blowtorch the crust to make it even more dark and authentic. Throw some basil leaves on, some freshly ground pepper and season with a little more salt. Now repeat for the second pizza. One is never enough.