Home-Made Pizza

Writing papers have been getting in the way of my blogging recently, but I am back in New York with a bunch of recipes saved up from return to Australia for the holidays, so I will try to get back into the swing of things. This is not exactly the most sophisticated of recipes, but it is great comfort food, and if you are going to have a simple pizza for dinner, making your own dough can be fantastically satisfying. This was one of our staple meals when I was a child, and so it may be nostalgia that contributed to my desire not to be too adventurous with toppings. Though, really, who doesn’t want something simple, filling, wholesome and covered in cheese every now and then…

I am going to try out a slightly different recipe format this time – while I prefer the appearance and colloquial style of just talking you through it, I must admit that it is easier to prepare if you give a list of the ingredients first. So, buckling to pressure, here is the recipe…

Pizza Dough

3 cups (450g) plain flour, plus a little more for kneading. (I used a combination of plain and wholemeal, and found it took away from the texture of the dough. Give up on being healthy for this one, and just use some white flour.)

1 sachet dried yeast. (I used a sachet of Tandaco dried yeast – this is the equivalent of 7g or 2 teaspoons of yeast.)

1/3 cup olive oil for the dough (and a little more for cooking the onion).

Plus a pinch of salt and some warm water.

Toppings

A jar of tomato based spaghetti sauce. (So you can just use tomato paste, but this is a easy way of adding a little more flavour.)

Two small onions. (I used one brown, one purple because they happened to be what were around – brown onions have a stronger flavour, purple onions caramelize more quickly. Both are good.)

A table spoon of brown sugar (for caramelizing the onions).

1 red capsicum.

A small bag of mushrooms. (I used button mushrooms, but I recommend using more interesting varieties – sliced portobello or oyster, fried up in a little butter and some finely chopped garlic before being put on the pizza).

200g (7oz) buffalo mozzarella

A big pile (2 cups) of cheddar or monterey jack cheese

1 dessert spoon of oregano (enough for an even spread, so less if you make a small pizza)

A handful of basil leaves (to be added after cooking)

To make the dough, place the flour in large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast, a pinch of salt, and pour the olive oil in to the well. Mix together with a wooden spoon, adding some warm (not hot) water a little at a time, while stirring vigorously. When the mixture is soft and flexible, but not sloppy (if it gets sloppy, you should add some more flour), you can stop mixing (you might want to do the last stages with your hands, as it will be easier to combine). At this stage you should begin to knead the dough with hands inside the bowl, until the mixture holds together and is firm, but not dry or lumpy.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, and start to knead – squash, pummel, turnover, press, squash, pummel etc, with knuckles and the heel of your hand. Get out some aggression by giving the dough some good punches – the trick with kneading dough is to push it into itself, not to stretch it. As you knead, if and whenever the dough starts to stick, incorporate a bit more flour. This will take you a little while, but keep going until the dough feels nice and elastic. (My mother, who once sent me a version of this recipe wrote that by this stage it should have the texture of a baby’s bottom. So there you go.)

Roll the dough into a nice round ‘loaf’ shape. Wash the bowl in which you mixed the dough with hot water, so the bowl itself is nice and warm. Dry the bowl, pour in a little oil, and place in the dough in it, moving it around so it’s coated with the oil. Cover the bowl with a tea-towel, then leave to stand in a warm (not hot) place for about half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 225ºC (440ºF).

Finely slice the onions into half-rings, and fry in a table spoon of olive oil (you can add a slice of butter at this stage, if you like) at a very low temperature. The onions will cook very slowly, allowing them to caramelize – you should stir regularly to stop the onions from sticking, but you can remove the seeds and to thinly slice up the capsicum while the onion is cooking. When the onion begins to brown a little, add the brown sugar and mix it in. Put the onion to one side, and cook the capsicum in the oil remaining in the frying pan, so that it softens a little.

Meanwhile, after it has been around half an hour, the dough should have risen. (If it hasn’t, you need to place it somewhere warmer – it will rise eventually!) When the dough had approximately doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured board or bench top, and knead it down. Keep kneading for a few minutes, once again incorporating a little flour, if it starts to stick. Then roll it out with a rolling pin, until it is about 1/4 inch thick, and generally the size and shape of the tray you will be baking it in. The dough is nice and stretchy, so you can probably make it fit any tray you like – I ended up making a massive pizza. Lightly oil the tray before you roll stretch the dough to fit.

Let the uncooked pizza sit for 5 mins, and then place in middle of the oven for about 5 mins. Take the base out, pour the spaghetti sauce onto it, and spread evenly with a spatula. Then spread out the onions, capsicum and evenly distribute with a fork. Sprinkle over with the grated cheese, and dots with pieces of ripped up mozzarella, add the mushrooms, and sprinkle on the oregano to taste. Turn the oven down to medium heat (180°C/350°F), put the pizza back in and cook for another 10 or so minutes until the crust is brown (you can tell the base is ready by lifting up a corner of the pizza, and checking that the base is crisp). Place under a hot grill for a minute or two to brown the cheese a little, and then let cool slightly, sprinkle with basil leaves, and serve.

This is a great meal, it keeps well in the fridge and can be eaten over the next couple of days hot or cold. If you don’t have time (or the inclination) to make your own base from scratch, another thing you could do is to cut up a baguette into 30cm lengths, slice lengthwise, and then lightly wipe the open sides (the soft middle stuff, that is) with a little bit of olive oil. Place the bread in the oven (or under the grill) for a few minutes until it is crisp and slightly browned, and then add the toppings, and return to the grill until the cheese has melted.

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