Oh pizza, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your friendly blogger is an unreconstructed pizza fiend. I would happily eat it every single day, and have done, when I've been on holidays somewhere with a steady supply of the good stuff. Unfortunately, most pizza served in Ireland is unmitigated crap. Yes, there are some Italian restaurants that get it right, but the vast majority of takeaways serve utter rubbish, and charge you twelve quid for the privilege, the barstards. In fact, a new takeaway pizzeria recently opened in Tullow, which had me positively hopping with excitement, while at the same time twitching nervously. We shall outline the reasons for this below:
The Excitement - well, obviously, I was very much hoping that the decent-takeaway-pizza-sized gap in my life was about to be filled.
The Twitching - the reason for this was twofold; 1) I have been known to opine in the past that a source of good pizza anywhere within delivery/driving distance of my house would have me washing myself with a rag on a stick within a year, and 2) I had a sneaking suspicion that, despite my high hopes, the pizza would disappoint.
Well, it didn't disappoint in that regard - it was, indeed, disappointing pizza. There's potential there, certainly, but the bases were too homogeneous, the sauce was too bland for words and they hadn't been cooked for long enough. The cheese on pizza should be golden, with little dark brown spots in places. Not, y'know, blonde. Pizza should also be so thin and floppy that you have to eat it with a knife and fork. None of this picking it up nonsense, at least until you get right up to the crust. It'll probably do a roaring trade, though. Tullovians aren't exactly known for their broad palates. Sorry, neighbourinos, but it's true.
So, in the meantime, I'm forced to continue having to make my own pizza whenever I need a fix, which is a bit of a pain, because the dough has to be started the day before and I'm not the world's greatest menu-planner. Other than that, though, it's actually dead simple. Which makes me even more annoyed at how many places get it wrong. Anyway, without further ado, I give you...
Proper Homemade Pizza - makes two 12" pizzas
1 tsp dried yeast 63ml warm water
1 tsp salt 250ml cold water
350g plain flour Tin of tomatoes
3 cloves garlic 1 red chili, deseeded
1 tbsp dried oregano Salt & pepper
Pinch of sugar Handful of fresh basil leaves
Toppings of your choice
1) Make your sauce by pureeing the tomatoes, garlic, chili, oregano, salt, pepper & sugar in a blender. Stick in the fridge and leave til tomorrow.
2) Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl and leave to prove for 5 minutes. Stir in the salt & cold water, then stir in the flour (use a fork, it's easiest), about a third at a time. Bring it together in the bowl, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead til smooth and elastic. Form into two tight balls, pop each one into an oiled sandwich bag, seal, then chuck in the fridge overnight*
Day 2 (or PIZZA DAY!!!!)
1) Remove the doughballs from the fridge an hour before using (but leave 'em in the bags). Take the sauce out of the fridge at the same time.
2) Place your pizza stone (if you have one, and if you don't, I really recommend getting one) on the lowest shelf of a cold oven, turn the oven up to full whack, and let it preheat fully. If you don't have a pizza stone, preheat the oven all the way anyway. Alternatively, light your barbie. More on this later.
3) Flour a clean surface and slap one of the doughballs onto it. Using your hands only (a rolling pin will knock too much air out of the dough) flatten the ball as much as possible and stretch it into a rough circle. (This takes a bit of practice, but don't worry if you have mutant bases the first few times, they'll still taste lovely.) Place the first base onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, set aside, and repeat with the second one.
(I can't take any credit for the almost perfect rotundity of this base; Emmet is the Minister for Shaping Pizza in our house.)
4) Spread a couple of tablespoons of sauce onto each base, then top your pizzas (still on the greaseproof paper) whatever way you like. If, like me, you just aren't arsed buying a proper peel, grab the nearest person and get them to hold two corners of the greaseproof paper taut, while you do the same, and carefully move the topped pizza onto the stone. You can remove the greaseproof paper after a few minutes. If you don't have a stone, just stick your pizza on a baking tray (without the greaseproof paper), top it there and then and stick the whole lot in the oven. It won't be as nice, though.
5) Once the first pizza has firmed up a bit, move it directly onto the top shelf (i.e., with no tray or anything under it) and repeat the whole process with your second pizza.
6) Serve as soon as they're ready, and commence nomming.
NB: The basil goes on top after the pizza comes out of the oven, otherwise it'll be black, papery and generally horrible.
*Hang on a second, why do I have to do the dough thing a whole day in advance? Yer having a giraffe, right?
Because it makes it way, way tastier. Allowing the dough to prove in the fridge overnight is known as using a long autolyse and it allows the water in the dough to break the natural sugars in the flour down more completely, giving a much more complex taste than a shorter, warmer process would. Try them both and see. Believe me, you'll go back to the overnight method.
What's this about barbequeing pizza?
If the weather allows, this is actually the quickest & tastiest way to cook pizza, and gives you the closest result to a wood-fired oven. Simply light the barbie and allow the flames to die down as usual. Take your untopped base (folding it into loose quarters is the easiest way to handle a floppy, raw base, by the way), stick it directly onto the bars and watch it like a hawk until you see bubbles beginning to form in the dough. Remove from the heat, top the cooked side (sparingly, as you have no upper heat source), then return it to the barbie and cook the underside. Fandabbydozey!
More pizza tips & tricks
- If you're using balls of mozzarella (as opposed to the fake, grated stuff, which I had to use here cause they'd no fresh mozzarella in the shop), slice it and leave it between a few sheets of kitchen towel at the same time as you take your doughballs out of the fridge, otherwise it'll exude little puddles of water onto your pizza during the cooking. Unfortunately, but perhaps not altogether unsurprisingly, the reduced fat fresh mozzarella doesn't melt properly at all, so I wouldn't recommend using it.
- Mix a little pesto with some olive oil and brush the edges of your pizza crust with it & sprinke with sea salt before putting it in the oven.
- If you do end up buying a pizza stone, leave the pizza on it and bring the whole thing to the table - it'll keep the pizza warm and stop the base going soggy.
AND ONE MORE THING...
As much as I love Jamie Oliver's food, life is too short for all of this "never cut basil, always tear it" arseholery. Clearly, no-one ever showed him how to chiffonade basil, which is way quicker and easier and leaves you much more time to have a glass of wine while cooking. Never fear, though, for am I going to demonstrate right this very second:
1) Take a few similar-sized leaves of basil, rinse and dry them, then stack on top of eachother like so. I'm only using two, but you get the drift...
2) Roll the leaves up lengthways into a tight cylinder. Pretend you're a student making a rollie, if that floats your boat.
3) Cut the roll into narrow strips, crossways.
4) Loosen the strips up with your fingers and use as desired. Voila! You can now chiffonade basil. Well done.
Until tomorrow, peeps.