As someone who didn’t even start eating pizza until 2014, I’m not much of an authority on it. But I know enough to know that the majority of pre-made supermarket and takeaway pizzas are a bloody abomination with their overuse of sugary mass-produced tomato sauce and soggy bases. And Chicago-style deep dish pizza can fuck right off. Pizza should be thin, crisp at the crust and pliable and fluffy elsewhere, and never overloaded with toppings. I mean, if we were going proper Neapolitan here it ought to simply be fresh tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella, but I’m not much of a traditionalist. I just am very particular with the base. So here’s how it’s done (trust me on this one, I’ve been taught by an Italian).
You will need…
660g ’00′ grade plain flour*
4g dried active yeast
12g flaked sea salt
410ml water at room temperature
Your chosen toppings**
* Not optional – double zero flour is more finely milled than the stuff you’d use for a cake. This is the kind of flour you might make fresh pasta from, and will give your pizza base a far, far superior texture.
** My personal winning combo is homemade tomato sauce (below), chicken, chorizo, grilled artichoke hearts and grated mozzarella, with a sprinkling of pesto, shaved parmesan and watercress to finish. My dad favours a more meat-feast direction with tomato, red onion, chorizo, pepperoni and polish Kabano sausage. You do you.
Ok, so, pretty much just chuck all the base ingredients into a large bowl. Give it a stir with a spoon for a few moments just until it starts to come together, then you want to get right in there with floured hands and a floured surface. Knead the dough for a good 5-10 minutes to get the gluten in the flour going (this is what gives elasticity). Pop it back in the bowl and cover with cling film, then leave in a warm place to prove for 90 minutes to two hours. If your oven happens to have a dough proving mode, even better.
By this time, the dough will have pretty much doubled in volume. Punch the air out of it, and cut (or tear, whatever) into four equal sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball by rolling into a rough ball shape, then using the palms of your hands, sort of stretching the top ‘layer’ of the ball around the outside and pinch together at the bottom. So you’ve sort of formed an outer skin on the dough ball, you feel me? Repeat for the other bases, dust with flour and wrap each individually in cling film. If you don’t need all four in one go, you can freeze the others at this point. Now leave to prove for another hour, and wash your damn hands – this is a very sticky dough!
While the dough is on its second prove, get all your toppings ready, starting with the tomato sauce. No passata, no tomato puree, no fresh tomatoes. What you want is a tin of whole plum tomatoes. Remove them from the sauce in the tin, and just squeeeeze them through your fingers into a bowl for a rustic crushed texture. A small tin is plenty for two pizzas, a full-size tin is good for four. To the crushed tomatoes, add a pinch of sea salt, some dried oregano, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and, if you like your heat, a bit of cayenne pepper. Any leftover tomato sauce can be used another night – just add some veg and Philadelphia, mascarpone or double cream for a creamy pasta sauce.
Then just chop/slice/grill/grate/otherwise prepare the rest of your junk and wait patiently for the dough to finish proving. Try to avoid any of it being thieved by dogs.
Now, it’s stretching time! I don’t bother with a rolling pin – hand stretching the dough is fun. Start by pushing down the ball into a more flattened glob with your fingertips, then pick it up and move it round in a circular motion on your knuckles, not your fingertips for this part as you’re likely to pierce a hole in the dough. Gravity will do the work for you and your knuckles will help form a slightly raised crust at the edges. I’ve never managed a perfect circle, but hey, rustic. Obviously work to the size of the tray you will be cooking it on – we have round pizza trays but there’s nothing stopping you from going for a rectangular pizza if you’re just using a standard baking tray.
Make sure to spray your chosen tray with oil before plopping your base on it to prevent sticking. And now, top it! When it comes to the tomato sauce, less is more. It’s quite concentrated so you get all the flavour, but using too much will cause horrific sogginess. You don’t need more than about 2 level tablespoons for an 8-10″ pizza. Throw your other bits and pieces over the sauce, top with cheese and whack in your oven – which you’ve preheated as high as it will go, by the way – for about 10 minutes. But start checking after 8 – you want to rescue it when the cheese is golden and bubbling, but before the crust burns. I was a minute or two late with this one, but never mind..
All that’s left to do is add any extras (my holy trinity: pesto, parmesan, watercress), crack open a beer and enjoy. Bellissima!