While we are hoping to see Scottish restaurants reopening soon, I predict that for many months to come the eating out experience will not be as we have known it. Having said that, this will be the last takeaway at home column for a while. Let's get out there and help the beleaguered restaurant sector back to its feet. Pizza is one of the most popular takeaway foods, especially for home delivery. In 2019 Domino's alone apparently sold in excess of 90 million pizzas in the UK: one would guess that the numbers will have soared during lockdown.
For fast food from different cultures I have sold them to you respectively on speed and quality. Making pizza can be fiddly; however, it's good fun. If you make your own bread, it's very easy, as the dough for each is virtually identical. If you don't, this could be a good introduction, especially for the family. Let's start with the traditional method.
Traditional Pizza Dough
Ingredients (for 6 pizza bases)
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting; 10g salt; 10g fast action yeast; 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling the surface and the bowl; 350 ml warm water; semolina flour for dusting.
Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a baking bowl, making sure the yeast and salt don’t touch. (Salt will affect the yeast’s rising properties.) Add the oil and about half of the water, and mix well. I usually mix initially with a knife and get the hands in later. Purists will mix exclusively by hand. You could use a machine, but where’s the fun in that? Add the remaining water a bit at a time, till you have a smooth dough which has incorporated all of the flour. You may not need all of the water.
Tip onto an oiled surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Be warned, this is a slightly wet dough, which makes life a little tricky at the start of the kneading process. One of the best pieces of advice I ever read about bread making was that it's essential to show the dough who's boss. If your dough is being difficult, give it some welly. It’s ready when the dough is the consistency of Play Doh, and a finger indentation will slowly bounce back. Put in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film (to prevent a crust forming) and leave in a warm place until your dough has doubled in size. This will take at least an hour, preferably more.
When the dough has risen, cut into six equal pieces. Shape into balls and dust with a mixture of flour and semolina. Press them down with your fingers and form a round disc. Roll them out as thinly as you can. The outside of each circle should be a little thicker – work it with your fingers. I would strongly advise against attempting to emulate pizza chefs who effortlessly send discs spinning into the air. It's skilled work. Not so much the throwing as the catching. Mine inevitably turn into hoopla rings, ending half way up my arms.
We'll come to prepping and topping in a minute, but first consider how you are going to cook the dough.
How To Cook Your Pizza
Specialist pizza ovens are becoming more common for those with large gardens and wallets. Bear in mind that your domestic oven will reach a maximum of 240˚C or so, compared to the 425˚C or so which is common in professional pizza kitchens. They can have your pizza cooked in about 90 seconds. With a domestic oven, do what you can. The problem is getting a suitably crisp, slightly blistered finish. You will want the heat set at maximum. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it, following the manufacturer's instructions. Otherwise, use a well dusted metal sheet, preheated, Some ovens have a setting where the heat is focussed on the bottom. That can be ideal if you are making only one at a time - leave your tray on the oven floor. It will take 8 - 10 minutes; however ovens vary a lot, so use your eyes. Ideally you want a little charring round the edges.
Fried Pizza - You Cannot Be Serious?
Actually, I am. It is possible to make pizza without an oven, though you do need a grill. Preheat a non stick frying pan as hot as it will go, and spread the dough on it. (No topping at this stage.) Doing this without burning yourself can be a little tricky. "Fry" the dough on a medium heat for 5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 5. Then put your toppings on, and grill under a hot grill for 3 - 4 minutes.
Ready Made Dough
If you don't want to make your own, there are various options. In order of desirability they are as follows-
Frozen Dough Balls
These have the advantage that you are in charge of thickness, and can feel that you really have made, as opposed merely to have topped, your own.
Ready Rolled Dough
No different, really, to buying ready made pastry. (I will admit to doing that for puff, but not for short crust.). Simply shape and top.
Here the ingredients are mixed together. You still have to add water and do the work. And instead of my mere 5 ingredients you will also get emulsifiers E472e and E491 plus flour treatment agents E920 and E300, Amylase and Xylanase. Whatever you fancy. And finally-
Ready Made Pizza Bases
Well, using these you will beat the delivery van. If speed and minimum fuss are your criteria, these are for you.
Where Does Pizza Come From?
When it comes to possible toppings, the world is your larder. But should we look first for the origins. France, perhaps?
This is a traditional pie from the Nice area of France, so called because it was originally seasoned with a condiment known as pissalat, made with anchovy, cloves, thyme and olive oil. To make pissaladière, you gently soften chopped onions with olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. They should be very soft and golden, but not charred. Spread the onions generously over the dough and add black olives. Once upon a time this would have been seasoned with pissalat, and a pastry lattice put on top. Now it is traditional to make a criss cross pattern using anchovy fillets. As with virtually all pizzas, brush with a little oil before putting in the oven.
Pizza as we know it today is reckoned to have come from Naples itself, and spread world wide with the Italian diaspora. Of these two variations, which came first? I have no idea, but with two cities on the Mediterranean less than 900 km distant, it is inconceivable that they emerged independently of one another. Given the name of the condiment, which is undoubtedly French, my money is on France.
While basic pizza was an economic way of livening up plain dough with a smear of tomato and/or cheese, the Napoletana version has mozzarella with black olives, anchovies and oregano on top. But before we cede the ground completely to the Italians, let's consider another interloper-
A specialty of Alsace, the name literally means flame cake. Start with your pizza dough and top with onions lightly fried until soft then mixed with cream, cream cheese or both. On top of that add small cooked lardons of smoked bacon. Utterly delicious, and not more than 1000 calories a slice.
Other toppings are available
You know this, but a few pointers.
Less can be more
A pizza groaning with ingredients may look impressive, but the base is likely to be soggy and collapse, which misses the point.
If using, add first. Only a thin layer, for the reason just given. No need to make a tomato sauce - use passata, or blitz a tin of tomatoes.
Obviously you can use any cheese you fancy, or indeed a combination (eg Quattro Formaggi). But remember the difference between buffalo mozzarella and fior di latte. Both may be sold as mozzarella; however, the former is made from buffalo milk and will melt into small puddles of loveliness. The latter is made from cow's milk and will go stretchy when molten. For a tangy kick, try a little gorgonzola or Stilton.
Spicy sausage is good. Perhaps the best known these days is chorizo, which, being Spanish, would a complete culture clash. In fact, any salami is fine, but remove the skin, please. If you can find it, try 'nduja, a spreadable hot salami from Calabria. Anchovies or capers add little bursts of salty zap. Spicy beef or chicken are great if you can be bothered preparing them. Or try sprinkling with a few chilli flakes or drizzling with a little Tabasco before serving. For some piquancy with a little sweetness, sliced peppadew peppers are nice. (If you're a fan of Pizza Express's Pollo ad Astra, you will know them.)
Anything Italian is good
I'm generally not a huge fan of ready cooked things that come in jars, but I tend to make an exception for good quality Italian stuff, the things that you like to see as antipasti. Ready cooked artichokes, aubergines, peppers or preserved tomatoes all have their place. And I haven't even started on a meat feast yet. Treat yourself. Use your imagination.
Given its calorie content, I can't advise regular doses of pizza. But I can leave you with one final piece of advice.
Pineapple has no place on a pizza.
No, not even this once.