Doesn’t matter is it is winter or summer, day or night, or if your crew is young or old, there is always room for a pizza or two on the weekend.
I’m not talking about a pizza that comes encased in it’s very own cardboard clothing, inundated with grease by the time you get it home, or those little microwave or quick heat oven wonders that can live for centuries in your freezer. I’m thinking of real honest to goodness home made pizza. But, I hear you say, you are busy, life is chaotic and home made pizzas take AGES to make. Well I disagree, and with a little judicious planning pizzas, delicious, unique and good for you, can be on your table with a minimum of fuss.
Let us start with the basics. Pizzas are made up of two essential design elements. The base and the toppings.
Like all fantastic food, get the foundations right and you are on the way to success. Pizza bases are usually a leaven base (meaning they contain a rising agent such as yeast) and they can be thin and crisp, or deliciously thick and breadlike. Usually mine are in between. I love the substance of the base and it should support the filling chosen, but too thick will risk a doughy and undercooked result which does not bode well for enjoyment.
If you are really in a hurry and don’t want to mess around with mixing flours and tweaking the balance to get a good dough, try a pizza dough mix. The absolute best I have found is from Basic Ingredients Home Bread, a wonderful enterprise based I Brisbane. You can purchase a whole lot of great breadmaking ingredients from them online, so go to www.basicingredients.com.au They also provide great recipes and general breadmaking tips.
If you want to try from scratch, try the following recipe.
Authentic Pizza Dough Recipe
I recommend cooking by weight. It is fast, and easy to get the exact hydration (water to flour ratio). Personally, I do not use recipes or a mixing cup when I cook dinner usually, but pizza and bread dough is different. Being exact counts, and nothing works better than a digital scale.
500 grams good quality 00 flour or pizza flour, ordinary plain flour will not produce a good resultâ€¨
325 grams water â€¨
10 grams saltâ€¨
3 grams active dry yeast, ensure it is fresh
Mix the dough in a stand mixer slowly for two minutes, faster for 5 minutes, and slow again for 2 minutes. Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 1/2 — 2 hours, or until double (that’s why pizza need cooking on a weekend, unless you happen to be a home during the week). Punch it down and push out the air bubbles. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut it into three equal pieces.
To make your pizza balls, shape each piece of dough into a ball. Gently roll your dough into a ball, then stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side. Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with a tight outer “skin”. Set your ball seam-side down where it can rest. Dust your pizza balls with flour, and store them under a damp towel, or under plastic wrap. This will prevent the outside of the ball from drying out and creating a crust, and becoming difficult to work with. The top of the pizza ball should be soft and silky.
Your pizza balls will need to rest for about an hour to become soft and elastic, so that they can be easily stretched into shape. If you won’t need your dough for more than an hour, refrigerate it until you are ready to start.
Preheat your oven and remember pizza cooking is short and sharp and HOT — at least 220-240 degrees in a domestic oven. Better still, get a wood or gas fired pizza oven built outside and make it the centre of you pizza experience. There are lots of do it yourself plans and also premade kits available. This is my aim for 2011, to have a courtyard and pizza oven ready for lots of friends and family gatherings.
Well, here the sky is the limit. Just don’t be limited by the ‘standard’ topping view that has lots of cheese. Be creative!
Here are some of the favourites we serve at Ottopia:
Potato, rosemary and red onion: Cook the potatoes whole-microwave is easy and quick — and slice into rounds, and spread across the pizza base with fresh rosemary leaves and thinly sliced red onion. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with cracked pepper and sea salt. Add parmesan shavings if you want, but only a few.
Turkish sweet potato and Tomato: Cook you sweet potato and lightly mash, slice fresh Roma tomatos, use a base spread of a good Turkish dip mix, or make your own by blending kashmiri seasoning with a little creamed cheese. Cover the base with the dip or cheese mix (thinly) and then distribute the sweetpotato and tomato. Top with chopped parsley or a little fresh coriander and a sprinlke of red onion slices.
Marinated Lamb, with mint and garlic: Slice a lamb rump very thinly and marinate in your favourite lamb marinade. If you haved got one, try 3 big tablespoons of a greek spice mix call nistimini with olive oil. Cook the marinated lamb quickly in a hot skillet. Spread the lamb slices over your pizza base adding baby spinach leaves, garlic, mint leaves and either shavings of romano cheese or some broken boconchini cheese. You could also crumble fetta if you don’t have the other cheeses on hand. Top with thinly sliced red onion slices and a drizzle of olive oil.
A More Traditional Topping Approach: Use a really good tomato paste or pasta sauce and spread it thinly on the base. Try topping with sliced tinned artichokes, or grilled eggplant, steamed veges, or if you have an urge for ham, get some good smoked ham and slice it thinly. You could also use anchovies, salami, olives, caperberries, grilled charred capsicum slices, semi dried tomato, and balsamic marinated onions. and to top it all off use a really nice romano and/or mozzarella cheese to finish it off before popping in the oven.
Chicken with pineapple and satay: Grill thin slices of chicken or grill a whole chicken breast and slice. Spread a good satay or peanut sauce thinly on the pizza base. Add chicken slices, thinly sliced fresh pineapple, chopped cilantro, sliced red onion, and a little thinly sliced capsicum and if you like it warmer, a thinly sliced chilli. Top with a little cheese if you want but it is not necessary.
Dessert pizzas: Try a cream cheese spread on the base and then add apple slices and cinnamon, mascarpone blobs and fresh figs, red jam on top or the creamed cheese and topped with shavings of cocoanut. Really decadent is spreading the base with a chocolate ganache and then topping with black cherries and some mascarpone cheese.
An important consideration when topping your pizza. In the case of pizza toppings, more is definitely NOT better. An ideal pizza will reveal small windows of the base or at least the spread on the base. If you ‘pile’ the toppings, they will become a wet soggy mess during cooking and your pizza will disintergrate on slicing. If you have lots of toppings- make more pizzas!