Three Ways with Pizza

I was thirteen years old when I first learned to make pizza. I was visiting family in Leicester when, on a visit to a book store, I came across Antonio Carluccio’s An Invitation to Italian Cooking. I bought the book, published the year before, after a brief flick-through of its glossy pages, and set to reading it when I got back. The book contained many recipes too exotic in taste of my virginal teenage fumblings with cookery, but I was instantly attracted to the pizza recipe. It seemed familiar and exciting. It seemed doable.

When I got back from my holiday, I set to gathering the ingredients and making the pizza. It was the first time I’d made my own bread and seen it rise during the proving process. It was akin to watching a magic trick. The dough swelled to beyond the capacity of the bowl I had put it in. It lifted the towel I had used to cover it into a dome-like structure and threatened to spill over the sides. When I kneaded it a second time it was soft and light; so different from when I had first put it together. And then finally, rolling it out, shaping it into its characteristic large disc, spooning the sauce over the dough before sprinkling on the toppings.

I was hooked.

I made pizza again and again, the way you obsessively repeat a new thing you have learned that fascinates you. I went on to make countless dishes after, to learn (and keep on learning) the essence of cooking, but I always remember my first experiments with this Italian classic.

Now, thirty years on, I only make pizza from time to time. When I do, however, the passion I felt as a teenager is instantly rekindled. Pizza is, to a great extent, my first love.


Order my Cookbook Going Vegan from Amazon Now!

Quarter Page Ad in VFL 2


The Pizza Dough

Your pizza base should be light and airy. It should crunch just slightly when you bite into it and tear apart with ease. It should be soft to chew and work in perfect harmony with the other flavours in your mouth. People notice a pizza base without actually noticing it. When it is perfect it blends in seamlessly with the whole experience. A perfect pizza base is not an exception, but a prerequisite to a satisfying meal. It doesn’t matter how good your toppings are if your pizza base is dense, unrisen and chewy.

This recipe will give you the light and crispy pizza base you are looking for. As with all bread, it takes a little time to make, but most of it is proving the dough, during which time you’ll be able to get on with something else.


Prep time: 20 minutes. Proving time: about 2 hours 10 minutes.

Makes 6 medium-sized pizzas

Ingredients:

1 kg strong white bread flour

250g semolina flour

1 tbsp salt

750ml tepid water

3 tsp (2 sachets) dried yeast

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp olive oil


IMG_20190202_133000903IMG_20190203_114839809IMG_20190203_120101093IMG_20190203_132836741


Method:

Place the 2 flours and the salt into a large mixing bowl and combine. Pour 50ml of the tepid water into a mug and mix in the dried yeast and sugar until you have a reasonably good blend (the yeast has a way of clumping on the spoon, so you won’t get it perfect). Leave this mixture to rest for 15 minutes, until you end up with about half a cup of foam (if this doesn’t happen, the yeast is probably dead and shouldn’t be used, as the bread won’t rise).

Now make a well in the centre of your flour and pour in the yeast mix. Stir it in a little and then add the rest of the tepid water (you can hold some water back if you are concerned about it being too wet, but you should be able to use all of it without problems).

Mix the dough with a table knife, until it all starts to clump together, then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead fully for about 10 minutes, until you have a soft and elastic dough.

Clean out the mixing bowl and put the finished dough back in. Completely cover with the olive oil, then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for about 90 minutes (airing cupboards and next to radiators work well), until it has doubled in size.

Once this is achieved, take the dough back you your work top and knock all of the air back out of it. This process is called knocking back. Knead it again for a minute or so, and now you are ready to begin rolling it out into your pizza bases.

You are better off cooking no more than two pizzas at a time (and I usually cook them one at a time), so it is ideal to break off the amount of dough you need – approximately one sixth per pizza – and keep the rest covered until you are ready you use it. The dough will rise again while it is sitting there, but this is totally fine.

On a floured surface, roll out your piece of dough, until you have a flat round approximately 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter and about 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) thick. A good dough will spring back as you roll it, so you will have to keep going to achieve the desired dimensions. Now place your dough onto a large oiled baking sheet or 12-inch pizza tray, and you are ready to put on your toppings.


The Pizza Sauce

This is my recipe for pizza sauce, which you can either use as your standard pizza topping, or as a guide from which to develop your own. It is better to let it cool before putting it on your pizza, so you will ideally begin making it as soon as you start proving your bread, which will give it the time needed. I tend to use pizza sauce sparingly, but there is enough in this batch for you to be quite liberal, if that is your preferred approach. I blend this sauce at the end to help with smooth spreading, but you can skip this part if you prefer it chunky.


Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 35 minutes, plus cooling time.

Covers 6-8 Pizzas.

Gluten-Free

Ingredients:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 large tomatoes, diced

4 tbsp tomato puree

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 tsp salt

A pinch of black pepper

50ml water

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp soft brown sugar (any sugar will do)


Method:

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan and gently fry the onions and garlic for 4-5 minutes, stirring often. You want them to soften without browning too much. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for 3-4 more minutes, then put in the rest of the ingredients.

Bring to a gently simmer and cook, without a lid, for 25-30 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce has reduced by about one third, and has become thick and rich. Turn off the heat and leave to cool, then blend using a hand or jug blender if desired.


Pizza Toppings

Now that you’ve got your base and sauce sorted, it’s time to start experimenting with your toppings. You’re not going to find any pineapple and sweetcorn here, because I don’t think they belong on a pizza. But if they’re you’re thing – go nuts!

I’ve started you off with a few ideas on how you can get creative with your toppings while maintaining a balance of flavours that work in harmony with each other. It’s tempting to throw everything you can on top of your base, but I urge you to refrain from this practise. Simplicity is often the best way forward.


IMG_20190203_125636812


Oven-Roasted Tomato, Asparagus and Basil Pizza

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time 30-40 minutes.

Makes 2 x 10-12 inch pizzas.

Ingredients:

200-250g cherry tomatoes, halved

100g asparagus, woody end removed

3 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed with the flat of a knife

3 tbsp olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

50-75g vegan cheese

A drizzle more of olive oil

A handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

2 Portions of pizza base

8-10 tbsp pizza sauce


Method:

Preheat the oven to gas 7/220C/425F.

Put the cherry tomatoes, asparagus and garlic onto a baking tray and drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle over the sea salt and mix together with your hands to make sure the vegetables are fully coated in the oil.

Place in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Pull out the asparagus after 10 minutes to stop them from burning and set them aside. Remove the tomatoes once they have started to brown and wilt.

While these are cooking, roll out 2 pizza bases, using the method described above, and lay them on greased baking sheets or pizza trays.

Spoon 4-5 tbsp of the tomato sauce onto each pizza and spread it all over using the back of the spoon. Leave to rest (and prove slightly) for 10 minutes.

Divide the tomatoes, asparagus and garlic between the two pizzas, making sure to distribute evenly, then sprinkle half the vegan cheese on each and drizzle with a little olive oil (which will moisten the cheese and help it melt).

Turn the oven down to gas 6/200C/400F.

Place one or both pizzas in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, until risen and browned, and the cheese has melted. If you’re cooking two pizzas at once, swap them over half-way through cooking to help them cook evenly.


_MG_5071


Potato, Onion and Rosemary Pizza

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 45 minutes.

Makes 2 x 10-12 inch pizzas.

Ingredients:

500g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 red onion, sliced

1 large sprig rosemary, chopped

A generous pinch of sea salt

3 cloves garlic, chopped

50-75g vegan cheese

A drizzle of olive oil

2 Portions of pizza base

8-10 tbsp pizza sauce


Method:

Put the potatoes in a pan of water, so that they are just covered, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, until tender but not falling apart, then completely drain.

Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan or wok, until quite hot, and sauté the potatoes for about 8-10 minutes, stirring often, until they have browned and are slightly crisp. Add the sliced onion and cook for 3-4 more minutes, the add the rosemary and sea salt and cook for 3 minutes. Finally, put in the chopped garlic and give it a minute more.

Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.

Roll out 2 pizza bases, using the method described above, and lay them on greased baking sheets or pizza trays.

Spoon 4-5 tbsp of the tomato sauce onto each pizza and spread it all over using the back of the spoon. Leave to rest (and prove slightly) for 10 minutes.

Divide the potato mixture between the two pizzas, making sure to distribute evenly, then sprinkle half the vegan cheese on each and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Place one or both pizzas in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, until risen and browned, and the cheese has melted. If you’re cooking two pizzas at once, swap them over half-way through cooking to help them cook evenly.


_MG_5096


Aubergine, Red Pepper and Rocket Pizza

Prep time: 10-15 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes.

Makes 2 x 10-12 inch pizzas.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 aubergine, thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

A large handful of fresh rocket leaves

50-75g vegan cheese

A drizzle of olive oil

2 Portions of pizza base

8-10 tbsp pizza sauce


Method:

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the aubergine slices for about 5 minutes, turning often, until they are browned and cooked through. Remove from the pan and fry the peppers for about 4 minutes, adding a little more oil if needed.

Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.

Roll out 2 pizza bases, using the method described above, and lay them on greased baking sheets or pizza trays.

Spoon 4-5 tbsp of the tomato sauce onto each pizza and spread it all over using the back of the spoon. Leave to rest (and prove slightly) for 10 minutes.

Divide the aubergines and the peppers between the two pizzas, making sure to distribute evenly, then sprinkle half the vegan cheese on each and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Place one or both pizzas in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, until risen and browned, and the cheese has melted. If you’re cooking two pizzas at once, swap them over half-way through cooking to help them cook evenly.

Take the pizzas out of the oven and put on the fresh rocket leaves, then put them back in the oven for a further 2 minutes, until the rocket had wilted slightly.


_MG_5110


Order my Cookbook Going Vegan from Amazon Now!

Quarter Page Ad in VFL 2


 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s