Sunday 20 October 2013

Pizza Pizza

A long, long time ago, when I was in college, my friends and I were sitting around with my friend's boyfriend.  He worked in the local town's  pizza parlour, and somehow the topic of the perfect pizza came up.  When asked if we knew what the most important core element of a good pizza was, we all answered "a good pizza dough!  The perfect crust!"  He told us we were all wrong, that the key was a good sauce.  If you have a flavourful sauce, the dough base doesn't matter that much, he claimed.  I think he may have been right.  But of course, the avid fans of Chicago pizza or wood-fired pizzas might disagree with me on that.

Growing up, pizza for dinner took many forms.  Delivered by a local pizza chain, heated in the oven from frozen, microwaved on a bagel (ugh) and, at it's most basic, assembled at home...with a Boboli bread shell and a jar of pizza sauce.  Each of these, with perhaps the exception of the microwaved form, has its own merits.  Certainly when I was pregnant I craved frozen pizza, the kinds with huge lists of unpronounceable ingredients on the side.

But you know what?  My kids don't like mozzarella.  So when we shell out cash on a take-away pizza it is more than annoying that they take one or two bites and then state they aren't they reach for more garlic bread.  So I am on a mission to one day get them to eat mozzarella willingly, which means every few weeks or so, we make pizza.  It seems the best way to keep putting this cheese on their plates.

My husband and I have been making pizzas for years, so it has been a gradual evolution of methods and flavours that we've used.  There have been a few disasters (cooking it on the rack and discovering the dough fell through the wires, having it stick solidly to the trays when a friend was visiting...)  but we manage to make it without incident most of the time now.  I was always partial to Stouffer's frozen pizzas so it was a big revelation to me when I discovered that the little green seeds in their sauce were fennel seeds.  I'm not a big fan of fennel in general, but they do add a certain special something to the sauce.  The most recent addition to our recipe is paprika.  We used to use chilli peppers or flakes, but as we cut back on those with the kids, the paprika adds something similar without the intense heat of chilli.  If I have fresh basil I use it, but I usually don't because it never seems to keep very long when you buy packs or plants.

The toppings I use vary depending on what we have around, but let's focus on the sauce for now...

I chopped up some onion, half a big carrot, and a small celery stick.  I know this sauce base has a fancy French name, but I don't remember what it is.

I then heated some olive oil in a pan and start cooking it, and while that was cooking chopped up some garlic.  I long ago gave up on garlic presses for the most part, as we don't have a dishwasher and I hate scrubbing them out afterwards.

Once the veg had softened a bit I added the garlic

Then in went a box of chopped tomatoes, a bit of wine, and some water.

Then in go the herbs: basil, oregano, marjoram, fennel seed, and paprika.

Some tomato puree/paste too...

Ok, time to move fast, someone is pulling all the stuff out of the cupboard...

That reminds me I need to use that coconut...hmmm...

Oh, and now comes the sneaky bit: frozen spinach.  Now I love dollops of spinach on top, but no one else does.  They insist they don't like spinach.  So now I just throw a couple lumps of frozen spinach in the sauce.  If anyone asks, tell them it's fancy fresh basil.  If they just don't like green bits at ALL, what can I say, you're screwed.

See, a few minutes later and it all goes through the sauce looking like fresh herbs!

I let it simmer down a while.  Longer than I should have - I came back in to find it nearly burning, but not quite: there were little bubble holes like found in a gurgling thermal mud hole.  I added a bit more water back in, gave it a quick stir...

Then out came the stick blender to smooth it all out a bit.

Ok, so now that's done I just let it sit out over to the side as needed. Time to move onto the dough.

It's basically the pizza dough recipe out of my Joy of Cooking book, minus the sugar.  I find most of their bread recipes don't need the sugar they ask for.  So I dissolved some yeast in water, then added a mix of malted wheat flour, plain flour, salt and olive oil.  Sometimes I use oats, but not this time.

I mixed it until it was starting to come away from the bowl.

Then kneaded it by hand until I got bored.  All recipes say to knead for 10 minutes, but I usually don't manage that long.  Apparently it is just to give you smaller holes in your bread.  I can live with big holes so long as it rises.

I then put it in an oiled boil to rise.

And used that time to chop up some toppings.  Tonight was yellow pepper, green olives, chorizo, mozzarella and some frozen sweetcorn,

An hour and a bit later, the dough looked ok, so then I was swarmed with kids who wanted to "help".  They each had their own dough to roll out, so they left me and this big mama alone.  There's enough for two big pizzas here.

So I took half of it and punched it down a bit.  A lot of recipes do a kind of dance here, where you let it rest after you've punched it out and again after you've rolled it out to fit whatever you are cooking it on, but I always skip all that nonsense.

Then rolled it out with a rolling pin.  No, I don't throw them, I am just not that coordinated. The semolina at the side is to stop it sticking to the tray/stone.  I forgot to use it, but my baking stone was forgiving.

Rather than rolling it out using flour, I use a bit of olive oil on the surface to stop it sticking.  It works a treat, and is a nice way of distributing oil into the dough.

While doing this, the oven was preheating with the baking stone inside.  I then took it out and put half the sauce on.

And spread it out.  There are still some chunks of vegetables in there, but that's ok.

On the toppings go with a sprinkling of pepper and oregano

And here are the kids' pizzas ready to go in too.

They were excited.

The finished products for the kids.  No, we don't have matching plates every night.

And one of the big pizzas when it came out.

Yes, I definitely need to figure out how to rotate photos sometime.  But not today.

 Pizza Recipe

Pizza Sauce
1 onion, chopped,
1 celery stick, chopped
1/2 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 box chopped tomatoes
3 Tbsp tomato puree
Dash of white wine
1/3 cup water
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 small cubes frozen spinach
olive oil

Heat some olive oil in medium saucepan.  
Add onion, celery and carrot and soften.  
Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  
Add tomatoes, wine, water, puree, basil, marjoram, paprika, fennel, and spinach.  Simmer for half hour or so.  
Puree with hand blender and season to taste.


2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
330ml water
490-520g flour (I used 1/3 wholegrain, 2/3 plain)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

Dissolve yeast in water.
Add flour, salt, and olive oil.
Knead until bored.
Let rise in oiled bowl in warm place until doubled in size.

Pizza assembly

Preheat oven with pizza stone or tray inside to as hot as it'll go - 220C or so
Roll out dough to rough size of stone/tray
Transfer dough to stone/tray
Top as you like
Bake for 10 minutes then check, it may need more if you like it browned.

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