Pizza

Pizza

By
From
River Cottage Every Day
Serves
(each serves 1 generously)
Makes
4–5 pizzas
Photographer
Simon Wheeler

There’s pizza and there’s pizza. There are thickbased, soggy, drooping excuses-for-pizza, covered with a melange of oversalted, barely identifiable odds and sods. And then there’s thin-based, crisp, slightly charred and smoky pizza, topped with choice titbits – salty ham, garlicky scraps of mushroom, crumblings of good cheese – ingredients that function almost as mere seasonings for the glorious bread base, which is, quietly, the real star. No prizes for guessing what I’m presenting you with here. Once you’ve kneaded this easy dough, cranked up your oven to its highest setting and baked your first proper pizza, you’ll never look back.

The tomato sauce suggested overleaf is just one possibility – you could use instead a few spoonfuls of the sieved roasted tomatoes that go into the sauce. Then again, you could cook a sauce with skinned, diced fresh tomatoes when they’re in season. However you do it, the important thing is not to use too much – you’re after a thin covering, not a swamping, so that you can still see patches of pizza base showing through. Don’t be afraid to forego the tomato sauce altogether, as I have for the pizza illustrated here – just trickle the dough generously with good olive oil flavoured with grated garlic before you apply the toppings.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

For the pizza dough:

Quantity Ingredient
250g plain white flour
250g strong white flour
10g fine sea salt
5g dried or fast-action yeast
2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
cornmeal, or fine polenta or semolina, for dusting (optional)

For the quick tomato sauce (optional):

Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes, (or 1 tin plus a jar of passata)
A pinch sugar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Toppings:

Quantity Ingredient
scraps of air-dried or cooked ham, or crisp nuggets of cooked bacon or chorizo
egg, broken on to the pizza just before baking
a handful sliced mushrooms, sautéed in oil with garlic until dry
cheese – strips of buffalo mozzarella, coarsely grated hard cheese or crumbled blue or goat’s cheese
coarsely chopped olives
anchovies, rinsed and drained
sardines in oil, drained and coarsely flaked
capers
roughly chopped rosemary or thyme

For adding after baking:

Quantity Ingredient
shredded basil or rocket, or torn flat-leaf parsley, or thyme leaves

Method

  1. To make the dough, combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. If you’re using ordinary dried yeast, dissolve it in 325ml warm water and leave for 10 minutes or so. If you’re using fast-action yeast, mix it straight into the flour. Add the yeast liquid or 325ml warm water and oil to the flour, mix to form a rough dough, then turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until silky and elastic (follow the kneading technique). Don’t be tempted to add too much extra flour, even if the dough seems sticky – it will become less so as you knead.
  2. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it so it gets a coating of oil, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size; this will probably take at least an hour.
  3. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce, if using: heat the oil in a frying pan over a gentle heat. Add the garlic and let it sizzle very gently for a minute or so. As soon as it starts to turn golden, add the tomatoes. Let them bubble gently, stirring often, for 10–15 minutes, until you have a thick sauce. Transfer to a jug and purée with a stick blender (if you do it in the pan, the sauce will go everywhere), or just crush the chunks of tomato in the pan with a fork until you have a reasonably smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt, pepper and the sugar.
  4. Preheat the oven to 250°C, or as high as it will go, and put 2 baking sheets in it to heat up.
  5. Punch the risen dough down with your hands to knock it back on a floured surface and cut it into 4 or 5 pieces. Use a rolling pin or your hands (or both), to roll and stretch each piece into a thin circle or square, or a strange, amoeba-type shape, whichever you prefer; it should be no more than 5mm thick – thinner if you can get away with it.
  6. Carefully take one of your hot baking sheets from the oven, scatter it with a little flour or, even better, some cornmeal, polenta or semolina, and lay the pizza base on it. Thinly spread a little tomato sauce – a couple of dessertspoons should be enough – over the dough (or trickle with garlicky olive oil). Now add the toppings of your choice and grind over some pepper. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until the base is crisp and golden brown at the edges.
  7. While it is cooking, roll out the next piece of dough, and prepare the next pizza in the same way. Serve hot, in big slices, trickled with a little more oil.

Variations

  • Pizza bianca

    This is pizza without tomato sauce. A tangle of soft, sweet onions top the dough, seasoned with thyme or oregano and enriched with a little mozzarella or crème fraîche – a lovely, simple meal.

    Make the dough (see left). While it is rising, heat 4 tablespoons of olive or rapeseed oil in a large frying pan, add 1kg very finely sliced onions and a good pinch of salt and cook gently for 20–25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent. Spread them over the rolled-out dough, scatter over some thyme or chopped oregano, then add a few dollops of crème fraîche or some mozzarella, broken into small pieces. Grind over some pepper, drizzle with a little oil and bake (as left).

    Plain pizza

    This is an excellent type of flatbread. Simply roll out the pizza dough (as left) and bake it, absolutely unadorned, for about 8 minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and trickle generously with your very best extra virgin oil. Scatter with flaky sea salt, grind over some pepper, then serve. It’s delicious with dips as a starter or part of a mezze, and also makes a good partner to soups or salads.

    Grissini

    The pizza dough can also be used to make grissini (breadsticks) for nibbling and dipping. Just shape small sausages of the knockedback dough into long, thin sticks. Leave them plain or brush lightly with oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt, or seeds, spices or herbs of your choice. Transfer to an oiled baking sheet, leave to rise for half an hour, then bake at 220°C for 15–20 minutes.
Tags:
River Cottage
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
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