With all this baking going on on TV at the moment, it’s not surprising that a girl finally has to give in and get out the strong plain bread flour. First there was the Great British Bake Off, then Lorraine Pascale popped up baking, and now we have the Bake Off’s very own Paul Hollywood on BBC1 on Monday evenings making it look as if baking your own bread is a doddle; nothing difficult at all. I’m often claiming on these blog pages that I’m not a baker and indeed I rarely bake a ‘proper’ cake – rather than a dessert cake. But you will find recipes for focaccia, quick flatbread and, last week, some Turkish gozleme here. So I guess I am, in a small way, a baker. However, I’m not likely to be baking my own everyday bread since I now have the wonderful Ruben’s Bakehouse just five-minutes walk away (not that their fantastic sourdough loaf – my favourite – is really ‘everyday’ – it’s exceptional!!) and I’ve even asked Igor, the owner, to make focaccia for my birthday party in a couple of weeks’ time, although I’ve always made it myself before.
I was in a bit of an Italian mood this afternoon. After a trip to the local stationers I couldn’t resist stopping at Ruben’s for an afternoon cappuccino where Igor and Marco were having some late lunch now that the shop was quiet. They shared some focaccia with me, and we all talked about the awful English weather and Sardinia where Marco comes from. Then, back at home, Fabio came for my Italian lesson and because he follows the blog we always end up talking food for some of the time. So, come supper time, out came the bread flour and pizza was on the menu. I printed a Paul Hollywood pizza recipe off the internet and soon I had dough rising. It’s actually very easy and pretty quick. I’ve been put off making pizza for just myself because I wasn’t sure how you made dough for one. However, Delia Smith usefully told me on the internet that the dough freezes well (and the result of that will appear another time!) so now there was no excuse not to give it a go. I gathered together the bread flour, dried yeast, salt and olive oil. I measured 250g strong plain flour into a bowl, added 5g dried yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 180ml water.
I remembered from watching Paul Hollywood on TV that he doesn’t hold much store by using warm water so I added just a very little boiling to my cold (sorry, Paul, couldn’t bring myself to do it absolutely cold). Soon, following his example, my hands were in and gathering it all together into a ball.
Then the dough has to be kneaded for about 10-15 minutes on an oiled surface, till smooth and elastic. Then you shape the dough into a ball and put in a clean bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for about an hour. While the dough was rising, I made my tomato sauce. I’m into simple toppings for pizza, not a long list of added extras. In Naples’ finest pizzerias you’ll find the most famous and popular pizzas have just a simple garlicky tomato topping – marinara – or the classic Margherita – tomato, basil and mozzarella. Which is pretty much where I was heading. But I decided to pan-roast some small sweet pome dei moro tomatoes (bought in Waitrose) in olive oil with garlic for a nice, fresh tomato sauce.
I halved them and added just a little tomato puree too, and a tiny bit of sugar to bring out the tomatoes’ natural sweetness. I let it all bubble away gently until the tomatoes collapsed and I could mash the whole thing down a little into more of a sauce, but with some tomatoes still fairly whole in parts.
This only took a few minutes and I then took the sauce off the heat and put it aside till ready to use. Get the oven heating up to 220C and put your pizza tray or stone in the oven to get hot. After an hour’s rising the dough had roughly doubled in size.
I divided it into three pieces and then shaped into balls (freezing two for another time). I sprinkled some polenta over the surface before rolling out so I could easily transfer the uncooked pizza to my hot pizza tray. Paul Hollywood suggests semolina but Delia uses polenta, which I had in my cupboard. Then roll out the dough. Now, of course it’s up to you what size and how thick. The Romans like their pizza quite thin while in Naples they have a thicker dough. Mine ended up somewhere in between (well, how do you choose between Rome and Naples!). Then I spread some of the tomato sauce over the pizza base, leaving a margin round the edge. I sliced some lovely soft buffalo mozzarella and added that. Then I chopped some fresh basil and sprinkled that over, and finally seasoned with a little salt and pepper and drizzled over a little olive oil.
Then it went into the hot (220C) oven for 10 minutes. When it came out I was very pleased with my pizza-making effort. It looked and smelled delicious. I transferred it to a wooden board for cutting and sprinkled a little more fresh chopped basil on top. I’d made a crisp green salad to go with it. Soon I was slicing the pizza ready to eat with a nice glass of Italian Primitivo wine. The pizza dough was really good: a crispness to the outside but a lovely softness – but not doughy – inside.
And the tomato sauce was gorgeous: the flavour of those lovely sweet tomatoes intensified by the pan-roasting before going on top of the pizza and flavoured with garlic, and the mozzarella melting into gooey delight. It really is simple. And although it needs an hour’s proving, there’s not much actual work. I never buy pizzas these days to eat at home. Shop-bought ones are always disappointing so I only eat pizza out, in a good pizzeria. But I think I’ve just made my kitchen into a home-based pizzeria! And very good it is too.