The Big Lad was off school today with a headache and fever. While he was lying on the sofa this morning, curled up with his book, he started musing to himself about his favourite foods. He wasn’t aware I was listening, even though I was close by repairing a door frame. When he mentioned “pizza“, I decided I could do something to cheer him up. I’d make pizza for tea this evening and he could help if he was feeling better. By late afternoon, he’d improved quite a bit and when I asked if he wanted to help me make pizza he was off the sofa faster than he’d been all day—even if slower than his normal rocket-propelled self.
I made the dough while he started preparing the ingredients for the tomato sauce and toppings. The dough is a simple one: 400g of strong flour plus extra for working, 275ml of warm water, two tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and a sachet of yeast. Sprinkle the salt into the flour, add the yeast to a couple of tablespoons of the water and add the oil to the remaining water. Work the yeast into the flour, then the oil and water. When the dough comes together, tip it out onto a floured surface and knead it hard for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle more flour on the board and hands as needed to prevent the dough sticking. Divide the dough in two, then set aside in floured bowls to rise for 1-2 hours (warm kitchens need less time, cool ones like ours need more.)
While the dough was rising, the Big Lad and I worked on the sauce and toppings. As one of the pizzas was going to have peppers and chillies on a tomato sauce, I roasted them over a camp stove before rubbing the skins off. They were then sliced in rings. For the sauce, we crushed 10 cloves of garlic into a frying pan and fried them in olive oil until just golden.
We added one can of chopped tomatoes as they came out of the can and pureed the contents of another before adding that to the pan. (Even cheap canned tomatoes are good as they end up very concentrated.) After that, we added a good pinch of salt, a couple of pinches of sugar, a big dollop of balsamic vinegar, a couple of teaspoons of chopped oregano and a lot of ground black pepper. The sauce was simmered for 45 minutes, until it was thick and unctuous.
Once the sauce was sufficiently reduced, everything was put to one side to wait for tea time and I went outside to do the chores. Twenty minutes before I came in, the Big Lad set the oven to 220ºC as it needs to be right up to temperature. (Ours is a fan oven, conventional ovens may need to be 20ºC hotter.) When I came in, the dough had risen well and only needed a quick knocking back to see it ready for use.
I worked the dough out into large disks with my fingers while the Big Lad brushed the pizza pans with olive oil. When I slapped the bases down, he quickly brushed the tops with a very light coat of oil and we started to apply the fillings.
The first pizza was spread with half the tomato sauce, then topped with anchovies, olives and ground black pepper. I’m a firm believer that less is more when it comes to pizza so that was it.
The second pizza was spread with the remaining sauce, then dotted with rings of green pepper and chillies. We decided to change from red chillies to green ones as we thought they’d look better. Grated mozzarella was sprinkled sparingly over the top.
After 18 minutes in the oven, this was the result: one pizza with peppers and chillies. It’s slightly softer than a pizza baked on a stone, so it’s less messy to eat it with a knife and fork than with fingers. However, fingers are more fun.
One pizza with anchovies and olives. The Big Lad—and the rest of the family— was very pleased with the result, although he did fade a bit once the work and the eating was done. Still, it cheered him enormously. I was tempted to make a potato and rosemary pizza as it’s one of my favourites but that will have to wait for another occasion. So, any suggestions for favourite or interesting toppings?