Who doesn’t love pizza?
I remember going to Pizza Land (I think it was Pizza Land) on New Street in Birmingham. It was the mid seventies, and this was date night with my boyfriend. For us poor A level students this was a height of sophisticated dining. They had tablecloths and candles way back then. I think that was the first pizza I had ever tasted.
The UK was a bit of a food desert in the seventies (at least in Birmingham it was). We had heard there were Indian Restaurants in some parts of Birmingham (now the famous Balti Triangle) where you ate with your hands, but we didn’t go there because There Was No Cutlery. There were a few Chinese Takeaways where you got curry sauce and chips after the pub and your parents would take you out to a Berni Inn for a birthday treat.
His family would have none of that ‘foreign muck’ and were traditional and repetitive with their food choices, always steak on Thursday, roast for Sunday lunch and a proper Sunday tea with tinned salmon with limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes, and evaporated cream from a tin poured over tinned fruit. My family were obsessed with Black Forest Gateaux and we’d go to all you can eat carveries, armed in advance with Tupperware to take the leftovers home.
As a way of rebelling against this blandness I introduced him to Vesta Curry. It was considered exotic and authentic and we happily rehydrated cubes of chicken and beef and boiled the bag of rice that accompanied it. We knew how to live in 1976.
With that culinary history it is a wonder that I ever managed to cook much more than beans on toast. But then I found Delia and set off to uni with a Kenwood Mixer that was my 18th birthday present.
There were a lot less supermarkets in the seventies. I worked in Presto on the tills and I don’t recall anything more exotic than a pineapple and I am pretty sure you couldn’t buy a pizza. Of course, you can get hundreds of different pizza in the supermarket now, ranging from ‘value’ to ‘Specially Selected – yet many store bought ones have added ingredients that really shouldn’t be there and if you pay 99p for a pizza I guess that is to be expected. Of course you can order one online and get it delivered, which my son happily does – but I baulk at paying £12 for pizza that I can make at home.
This recipe was given to me by my friend of 34 years standing, Anne. She and her daughter are excellent cooks and bakers. It does take some bread making skills and you do need to make the dough in advance. Unlike the naan it also needs proving time. This pizza gets the thumbs up from the son who usually orders in, and if you have veggie resistant children this is a good way to get them to eat more, as when they decorate their own pizza they get tempted by the colourful peppers.
700 kg strong bread flour
1 packet dried yeast
Splosh of olive oil
250 ml cold water
250ml boiling water
pinch of salt
Topping for your pizza
2 tins of chopped tomatoes or a carton of passata
A couple of balls of mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces and/or grated mozzarella
then, this is the fun bit, add what you want, this is not a definitive list
Bell peppers – as many colours you can find, chopped
1 onion, chopped I like to use red onion for colour
A selection of cold cooked meat – such as BBQ chicken, ham or chorizo – whatever you like
In a large bowl add the flour and yeast, then combine the hot and cold water so that it is hand hot, and gradually add it to the flour. Mix with your hands until it becomes a ball -not too dry nor too sticky – add additional flour or water if required, and continue to knead for about five minutes adding the oil to lift all the flour from the side of the bowl.
If you have a mixer with a dough hook you can add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl and let the machine take the strain. I used to but now I prefer to use my hands. It is very theraputic is kneading.
Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for about an hour.
While the dough is proving prepare the toppings. If using tinned tomatoes, simmer for about 20 minutes and let them go ocld.
Chop all the topping and put them in separate bowls so everyone can choose their own toppings.
After proving, divide the dough in half and leave one half in the bowl to prove again. You will be making a loaf with this half.
Set the oven to about Gas 8 or the setting appropriate to your oven – conversion chart here
With the other half of the dough, roll out on a baking sheet – floured or a sprinkling of semolina grains, which soaks up the moisture and gives you a crispy bottom. You will get one large rectangular pizza this way – or you can divide the dough to two/three or four balls and roll out individual ones and transfer them to shallow cake tins or baking trays.
Spread the cold tomato sauce or passata over the base, choose the toppings, and put in a hot oven for around 15 to 20 minutes.
The other half of the dough will have proved again by now, so after you take out your pizza, shape the spare dough on a baking tray, or pop it in a loaf tin and bake for around 30 minutes. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped when it is done.
Since I started making this I have had pizza at a place that James Martin reckons makes the best pizza in the world. He is not wrong. I strive to continually improve on my pizza dough. You can read about that pizza experience here.