How many times have you heard it? ‘You can make pizza quicker than it can be delivered, and it will taste better!’ I suppose that all depends on where you live, and if you like a Chinese-chicken-ham-pineapple-pizza (alright, let’s be honest that will taste bloody awful wherever it comes from). Anyway, in my very own moment of madness I decided to put the recipe to the test and make my own pizza. Thin crust with a traditional topping, if you forgive tomato puree, baked from scratch. I probably could have had one delivered sooner than it took to make, but honestly I preferred the taste of the homemade. I am now going to buy a pizza stone and try out new recipes. This recipe can feed as few as you wish, this one did very nicely for three.
For the Basic Dough
250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsp fast-action dried yeast
125–145ml/4½–5fl oz warm water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
For the pizza topping
½ tube tomato puree
250g/9oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 to 8 slices proscuitto, either whole or ripped up into bite-sized chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil or if not in season a spoon or two of pesto.
- Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
- Combine the oil and water in a jug. In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast, make a well in the middle then pour the liquid into it and mix to make a soft dough (it shouldn’t be sticky).
- On a lightly floured work surface knead it for 10 minutes (or for five minutes in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook). Bring it together, and shape it into to a smooth flattened ball shape and put onto lightly floured baking tray.
- Oil some cling film and cover the dough loosely making everything airtight. Leave somewhere warm (not hot) for 30–40 minutes – try in front of the oven or next to the radiator.
- Get rid of the clingfilm and roll out the dough to a 30cm/12in circle. Knock some air out and prick holes all over the dough with a fork. If, like me, you use pesto when basil is not in season then spread a table spoon over the base, then spread over the tomato puree, but leave a 2.5cm/1in border, lay the mozzarella on top, and alternate with prosciutto.
- Drizzle with oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until the bread is crisp and golden-brown and the cheese has melted. If it’s in season scatter basil over the top. Drizzle with oil and (if you are using) some more splashes of pesto.
While its Proving
Pizza. Where does it come from? Some say it derives from a high German word meaning ‘bite’ or from from the Latin ‘pinsa’ meaning flatbread, which doesn’t sound unlikely. So, what if I now call it flatbread? Or unleavened bread? Or Matzo? Suddenly we are talking about a Jewish flatbread, and so it’s not such a great leap to say maybe Roman soldiers found it in Palestine and took it home. You see, suddenly your pizza sounds biblical with a longer trail and more beautiful history than its current fast food feel would suggest. Can we go back more than that? Yes, even to Persia perhaps or the very creation of Rome. Anyway it’s not so recent, then. While no one really knows where it actually comes from, we can probably trace where it emerges as the phenomenon that we know as the dish we recognise today. Naples. In the late 1800s it is said that an Italian baker named Raffaele Esposito, created the dish for the visiting Italian King Umberto and his consort, Queen Margherita (you see where we are going). In order to impress them and to show his patriotism Raffaele chose to top the flat bread with food representing Italy’s colours: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. This is the basic Margherita pizza. Italian immigrants took the cheap food to New York and Chicago – where it was probably destroyed by adding pineapple.