I was invited to my auntie and uncle’s house yesterday. Well, I say invited, but I was actually contracted in to help them set up their website. And when I say help, what I mean is that I spent approximately nine hours doing it for them, with a house full of screaming kids, how’s that for dedication? I was however rewarded, very well, for my efforts; my uncle let me make a pizza and cook it in his amazing Jamie Oliver pizza oven and he kept the red wine flowing in to the afternoon, whilst my auntie bustled around making copious cups of tea for the various guests that arrived throughout the afternoon. I’m sure they saw the smoke from the pizza oven and dashed round to get a piece of the action, or a piece of the pizza to be more precise.
I’ll be honest; I’ve never really been a huge fan of pizza, perhaps because I’ve never been lucky enough to know someone with a proper pizza oven, and I have experienced some pretty ghastly American deep pan pizzas which are worlds apart from these thin, crisp based beauties. The art of making pizza is certainly a messy job, but my god was it fun. I don’t think my poor auntie could believe the state of her kitchen when we’d finished. There was semolina flour and various pizza toppings spread about the place, not to mention the dishes!
I’m not going to explain how to build, light or tend to your pizza oven fire as there appears to be a knack to it that only the most experienced of men could master. But then I guess most of you won’t have a pizza oven sitting in the garden anyway. The point is, these pizzas can be cooked in your conventional oven at home and they’ll
undoubtedly still taste delicious.
The dough recipe makes six to eight medium sized pizzas – perfect for a crowd, you’ll be surprised just how far they go. One batch of this dough fed nine adults and four children, although we did also have a delicious Italian antipasti starter plate. I know, greedy gits, but that’s what Sundays are all about, aren’t they? For the toppings we had an impressive array of choices from prosciutto to roasted vegetables and delicious cheeses. If you do an antipasti starter you can even use your left over bits and pieces from that, such as the olives and cured meats. My pizza (as pictured) had a simple home-made tomato sauce, a few torn strips of mozzarella and basil leaves, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and onions, a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a very generous sprinkling of red chilli. Once cooked, I topped it with a handful of peppery rocket (dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) – delicious.
Basic Pizza Dough Recipe – Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver
800g strong white bread flour
200g fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
650ml / just over 1 pint of lukewarm water
Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 18cm/ 7-inch well in the centre. Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.
Flour the top of your dough, cover it with cling film, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas, i.e. lots of small ones or a few larger ones, but I suggest that 6 is a good quantity for this amount of dough.
Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge rather than having rolled-out pizzas hanging around for a few hours. Take a piece of the dough, dust your surface and dough with a little flour or semolina, and roll it out into a rough circle about 0.5cm/ ¼ inch thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of tin foil, rub it with a little olive oil, dust it well with flour or semolina, and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with the other pieces and then, if you dust them with a little flour, you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with cling film, and put them in the fridge.
When you’re ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 250⁰C. Or, get your pizza oven going a couple of hours before! At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember: less is more. If you don’t have a pizza oven, try cooking the pizzas on a piece of granite or marble in your conventional oven- if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf toward the bottom of the oven. (If you’re going to cook your pizzas on the bars of the oven, make sure they’re not too big- otherwise they’ll be difficult to manoeuvre.) Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pizzas are golden and crispy.