Pizza is a Friday night affair. For the simple reason that it takes a bit of time to prep, from kneading dough to making fresh tomato sauce. It’s a ritual to start our weekend. I can slow down and enjoy the process since we don’t have such an early start on Saturday morning – though we’re still up at 7am for J’s sailing lesson, rain or shine!
With no evening routine rush, I can sit and sip a hard-earned end of week glass of vino while the dough rises. In winter months, I have to leave it to prove in the oven, which has been on a gentle heat first. In summer months, life is easier as I leave it somewhere in the garden, covered, on a stone wall or the marble table that has heated up nicely during the day. Limestone radiates warmth well into the evening and is a perfect heat source, an oven brick almost.
Why bother, you may ask, making pizza at home when the islands have pizzerie every other door? It’s just not as tasty, nowhere near! Few are the pizzerie here that have genuine wood ovens; the only value-added taste that might tempt me to eat pizza out. They are also quite pricey for what is essentially bread, tomato and a sprinkle of cheese. Few also are the pizzerie which use decent mozzarella; the essential ingredient of a good pizza. And I’ve a tale to relate on that…
A year ago, when we holidayed in Provence staying near Apt, the main market town in the Luberon, we went round and round the town trying to find somewhere that would accommodate my son’s tastes. We ended up in a pizzeria; oh well, I thought, at least he’ll eat it! We didn’t go to Provence to eat pizza, but there you are. It had a wood oven. What a delight the pizza turned out. However, in discussion a few days later with an Italian family staying at La Madone, our amazing baroque Maison d’hotes, we learned that our fairly reasonable Apt pizza was in fact way below Italian standards. ‘They didn’t even use buffalo mozzarella,’ the father said, screwing up his nose. Quel horreur!
This pizza, be warned, won’t pass mark if you’re Italian, but it gets my son’s approval, so that’s saying something! But then, he only eats the plainest of plain Margherita’s with very unhealthy Würstel on top. We roll it out very thin so it crisps up. Feel free to make it thicker if you like more bread to topping. Simply fling on what you have in the fridge to design your own. I often put spinach, egg (just crack straight on centre pizza), olives, chorizo, anchovies and a good sprinkle of my now very precious and dwindling (genuine) herbes de Provence. The one in the photos I call surf’n’turf as it has tuna, anchovies, salami, olives, artichokes and capers.
Friday Night Pizza
serves 1 large & 2 medium pizze
Ingredients for dough:
500g strong bread flour, ideally Tipo’00’, plus some for rolling out
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoon dried yeast
240ml hand-hot water
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + some for drizzling on pizza
couple of sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
Ingredients for fresh tomato sauce
2 x 400 cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
1 garlic clove, chopped
dash of balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
Making dough: Sift flour into a large bowl, add chopped rosemary, dried yeast and salt and give a quick stir. Then, make a well in the middle of the flour, add olive oil. Pour in the water, slowly while stirring roughly with a spatula (or broad palate knife). Give the flour mix a rough fold around in the bowl to bind the ingredients. With floured hands, continue mixing the dough gathering it into a rough ball. Turn out and knead on a smooth floured surface stretching the dough with the base of one palm while pulling in the other direction with your other hand. Fold together, give a quick quarter turn, and stretch out the dough ball again. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (around 5 mins). Lightly flour the inside of the bowl, return dough, cover with T-towel or cling film and set aside to rise in a warm place (ie. oven, gently warmed on a very, very low heat and now switched and with door left ajar), sunny spot, airing cupboard) for around an hour or until dough has near enough doubled in size and feels springy.
While dough rises..make the tomato sauce for the base. You will have some left over from this amount but it freezes and is useful for so many other dishes.
Tomato sauce: Heat two glugs of olive oil in a thick-based frying pan. Add the chopped garlic and heat gently ensuring it doesn’t burn. Add chopped parsley stalks and fry gently with garlic for a minute or two. Add the canned tomatoes and stir, leaving them whole. Put a lid on the pan, propped up a bit to ensure the tomato sauce reduces by half. Mush up the whole tomatoes later when they’ve cooked down a bit. Give the sauce a dash of balsamic vinegar, add the sugar too and leave to reduce so the sauce thickens. Once it’s cooked down, but not too dry, switch off and set aside to cool down to room temperature. If it’s too hot when you put it on the pizza bases, it will melt the dough.
Rolling out bases: Remove dough from bowl, give it a quick bash back and knead for a few minutes then cut into quarters (4 medium) or thirds (3 large pizzas). Roll out each piece to desired thickness. Place on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. Or use one of those nifty pastry and dough meshes you place on the oven shelf (they let the air circulate freely under the dough to ensure it gets crispy not soggy).
All images © Liz Ayling 2012