Friday Favourites: Homemade Pizza [Recipe]
One of my chief ambitions in life is to rid my kitchen of all commercially processed foods and make everything myself from scratch. While I’ve made some good progress over the past year I still have a way to go. It’s an ongoing journey – I’ll get there little by little. I appreciate that I am fortunate in that I have time to spend in my kitchen preparing my food. Back when I had a full-time job I did my best most nights, making speedy reliables such as pasta dishes or stir-fries, keeping the ingredients as fresh and healthy as possible. But come Friday evening I wanted a treat – something sticky or gooey that could be eaten curled up on the couch in front of a good movie, perhaps with a cold beer on the side.
A few years back Arūnas and I both had a long commute to work each day – we’d leave home before 7 am and usually not be home until 7 pm. After a week of that, it was very, very tempting to simply phone for a takeaway on a Friday evening. We eventually got tired of the commute and moved closer to work. The extra time allowed me to spend more time in the kitchen, which I loved. We did still order the occasional take-away but because I made most of our meals from scratch, the take-away foods started to taste cheap and nasty – pizzas poorly cooked or with skimpy toppings, Chinese dishes full of sliced carrots and onions and Indian meat curries almost entirely devoid of meat. Eventually, we stopped ordering them altogether. We still had our Friday treat, but it was now something I would make myself. I found ways to make as much as possible ahead of time so that I had little to do but cook it when I got in from work on Fridays. And while the dishes did still include some processed products (sauces, jars of olives and such like), I had a pretty good idea what was in them and could use the best quality meat and vegetables that I could afford.
As I know that many of you will be in a similar position – working full-time and looking forward to a treat on a Friday evening – I have decided to share some of my Friday recipes with you over the coming weeks, starting with everyone’s favourite – pizza! I will include tips on elements that can be prepared ahead of time so that minimal time and effort are required on Friday itself. I will also include some encouragement in the form of an “Excuse Buster” and “Cheats” to help demonstrate how you really can make these treats yourself. You will be rewarded with treats that taste far, far superior to either pre-packed meals from the supermarket or take-away meals, plus you’ll know that you are feeding your family with fresh, wholesome ingredients.
For the dough:
500 g plain flour (all-purpose flour)
1 tsp sugar
300 ml tepid water (warm water from the tap is fine, as long as you can hold your finger in it for 10 seconds without it being too hot!)
7 g of dried yeast (or 15 g fresh yeast)
For the sauce:
2 x 200 g tins chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive or rapeseed (canola) oil
The world is your oyster when it comes to pizza toppings. Most people include cheese and then a selection of meats, fish and vegetables. Here’s a few tips for building the perfect pizza:
- Many traditional pizza toppings are quite salty – pepperoni, olives, anchovies, pesto, etc. Try to avoid using more than one salty ingredient or your pizza may end up being too salty.
- For balance, I suggest using only one meat or fish topping per pizza plus a selection of up to four vegetables (either fresh or canned). However, if you fancy double pepperoni and no veg, be my guest – it’s your pizza!
- Don’t overcrowd your pizza with toppings – it will interfere with the cooking of the base and make it difficult to lift and bite into a slice.
- Try to cut your vegetables into similar-sized pieces so that they all cook in the same length of time.
- Use pre-cooked or cured meat or seafood only. Raw meat will leak fluid during cooking and ruin the texture of your pizza. Raw meat might also not cook through fully in this short cooking time.
- Cut your meat quite finely – the likelihood is that you’ll be getting an entire piece in one bite. Pre-sliced meats such as prosciutto or Parma ham work really well.
- Go easy on the cheese or your pizza may end up too rich. Using the smallest holes on your grater will help spread the cheese farther.
- Always put the cheese directly on top of the sauce and under the rest of the toppings – otherwise, your pizza will be monotone and no one will know what toppings they’re getting!
- Go easy on strong herbs such as oregano or they will overpower the other flavours.
- Never use chilli powder on a pizza – it’s too easy to be heavy-handed and there’s nothing you can do about it if you apply too much. If you fancy a bit of heat, use a very small sprinkling of chilli flakes or thin slices of fresh or canned chilli. Bear in mind that some of you diners might not like heat, so by using slices they can pick off the chilli if they don’t want it. If your diners are very heat-adverse it may be best to leave the chillies off altogether and serve them on the side instead.
- Sprinkle fresh herbs such as basil or coriander (cilantro) over the pizza after cooking rather than before as they lose much of their flavour during cooking.
- To avoid slice envy, try to apply the toppings as symmetrically as possible.
For the dough:
- Add the sugar and yeast to the warm water and stir well. Allow to sit for a moment while you measure the flour into a large bowl.
- Pour the liquid into the flour and mix with a spoon to bring the ingredients together. It will look a bit dry, but it’s ok.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 1 minute to form into a smooth round. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a cling film (saran wrap) and leave in a warm place for about an hour to rise.
For the sauce:
- Using a metal sieve, drain most of the liquid from the chopped tomatoes. (If you use all the juice, the sauce will be too runny and your pizza dough will be soggy rather crisp when cooked.)
- Place the strained tomates into a bowl. Add the oil and stir to combine. Refrigerate until needed.
Building your pizza:
- Preheat the oven to 250 C / 485 F / Gas 9 at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook your pizzas so that the oven has time to get really hot.
- Divide the dough into equal portions. I use a scales for this – each portion should be about 100 g. However, you can do this by eye if you prefer – just try to make the portions as even as possible to ensure they all cook in the same length of time.
- Place one portion of dough onto a floured table and roll until it’s about 30 cm (12 inches) wide.
- Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured pizza sheet or regular baking sheet.
- Apply two tablespoons of sauce to the dough and spread around using the back of the spoon. I spread my sauce right to the edges to help avoid a plateful of leftover crusts at the end of eating.
- Sprinkle one handful of grated cheese (about 50 g) on top of the sauce, covering the sauce as evenly as possible.
- Arrange your chosen toppings around the pizza. I usually start with the meat so I can ensure it’s evenly distributed, then add the vegetables in the spaces.
- Bake the pizza for about 4-8 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the edge of the dough is crisp. Ovens vary considerably but you will soon find out the best time for your oven. (Mine are perfect in 5 minutes.)
- If possible, cook two pizzas at a time to avoid a queue at the kitchen counter! You can prepare the next two while the first two are cooking.
- Kids love building pizzas – let them loose to have some fun!
- Kids or no kids, if there isn’t flour all over the floor by the time you’re finished, you did something wrong!
Almost all elements can be made the day before.
- Make the dough and allow it to rise at room temperature for at least two hours before covering the bowl tightly with cling film (saran wrap) and storing in the fridge. I actually recommend doing this, for two reasons. Firstly, the dough never seems to rise as quickly as you’d like – doing it the night before and leaving it on the counter until bedtime gives it plenty of time to rise. Secondly, the dough ferments a little in the fridge overnight, which adds to the final flavour.
- Most vegetables can be chopped the night before and stored in the fridge in an air-tight container. I suggest leaving fresh herbs until the last minute, though.
- While the cheese can be grated the night before it tends to dry out a little. If preparing ahead of time ensure to store it in the fridge in an air-tight container.
- If you have some pizza dough left over (doubtful, but you’d never know!), you can roll it out as above, wrap each base individually with cling film (seran wrap) and freeze for next time. Freezing the bases on your pizza sheet will keep them flat. (You can remove the pizza sheet from the freezer once they’re frozen.) These bases are so thin that they can be cooked from frozen – just add your toppings and you’re ready to go.
- “The ones in the supermarket taste just fine.”
No, they really don’t. They taste nothing like the real thing. If you don’t believe me, have a read of this round-up on supermarket pizzas from the Irish Times.
- “I don’t have time.”
Yeh, ye do! The dough and sauce can each be whipped up during an ad break in “Game of Thrones”. That’s the bulk of the work done. Use little people for grating cheese and chopping veg and you’re ready to go! (If you really don’t have time, see “Cheats” below)
- “I don’t have a food processor or any fancy equipment.”
No problem – you don’t need them!
- Store cupboard: Most of the key ingredients have a long shelf life. Keep a few tins of tomatoes and dried yeast in your pantry, plus a few jars of toppings such sliced mushrooms and olives.
- Dough: You can use pre-prepared pizza bases. The final pizza won’t taste quite as good, but it will still be far better than shop-bought pizza.
- Sauce: You can use passata or a jar of bolognese sauce instead of the tomato sauce. I really don’t recommend using tomato purée as the taste is too concentrated. Tomato ketchup tastes all wrong on pizza – it’s way too sweet – so avoid this if possible.
- Cheese: Buying packs of pre-grated cheese will save some time.
- Toppings: Using pre-sliced meats will save some time – just tear them into bite-sized pieces. Some vegetables, such as mushrooms, can also be bought pre-sliced, either fresh or canned.