Friday, 17 June 2011

Pizza, and some observations on dough

I know I’m supposed to be pushing the boundaries, using this blog as a way of challenging myself to make innovative, interesting family food that takes us out of our comfort zone… but the Gorgeous Boy looked at up me the other day with his beautiful, liquid brown eyes and asked for pizza. I was pretty powerless to resist.

In theory, at least, pizza-making is a fun activity in which to get the kids involved. They can slap the dough around a bit, and, look! Here are some vegetables! Make a funny face with them on top of your pizza!

I have two observations to make at this point.
1) In order to achieve really good dough of ANY sort, whether for bread, rolls, naan or pizza you really have to knead it a lot. Like for AT LEAST 10 minutes. Until way after you think your arms are going to fall off. (Seriously, if your bread is too cakey, and your pizzas too biscuity, without that lovely stretchy, chewy quality you want, it’s because you’re not kneading it for long enough.) This actually makes it a reasonably unsuitable job for small people with short attention spans, who haven’t been around on the planet for long enough to have built up a reasonable portfolio of frustrations they can call upon when the dough needs a good pummelling. 2) My GB loves making faces on top of his pizza. He then picks it all off before eating the rest it. He actually just wants to eat plain old cheese and tomato pizza. And I can’t say he’s wrong.

Soooooo… I make pizza sauce with hidden vegetables. There. I’ve said it. I’m aware of the arguments against using the hidden vegetable strategy (this article sums it up nicely) and I’m also aware that he’s unlikely to take much of it in on top of a pizza. But, man, you gotta do something.  And at the very least I can use this as powerful evidence that he is not, as he claims “allergic to vegetables”.

The following quantities make enough for two large pizzas, which should serve four. See below for a note on freezing.

The dough (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s version):
1 tsp dried yeast
325ml warm water
500g flour (strong white, or a mixture of white and wholemeal)
1 tsp caster sugar
pinch of salt

The sauce:
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 stick celery
1 carrot
1 tin tomatoes
good glug of olive oil
Italian herbs, to taste
1 tbsp tomato puree

The toppings:
Mozarella. Just that. Sigh.

First, get the dough started. Dissolve the dried yeast in the warm water and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes or so to get it going. Meanwhile mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the yeasty water and mix with your hands until you have a soft, sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead as if your very life depended on it. Really. Keep going. (Alternatively, if you have one of those schmancy mixers with a dough hook, turn it on then go sit down and eat bon-bons.) When it’s smooth and stretchy, and the dough no longer tears when you turn it over, and your arms are aching, you can stop. Put it back in the bowl, cover it with cling film and leave it to pretty much double in size (say, for an hour and a half?), while you make the sauce.

Roughly chop all the vegetable and sautee them in the olive oil until they’re soft and just starting to go brown at the edges. Add the tomatoes and herbs (either fresh from your garden or dried from a packet, I’m not judging! I think oregano should be involved, though). Simmer for a good while until all the flavours are blended and everything’s looking pretty mushy, then puree. I like to add a little bit of salt, some black pepper and some tomato puree at this point – the tomato puree is a valuable colour-corrective as the sauce may be insufficiently ‘red’ to pass as pure tomato sauce at this point!

When you’re dough is risen, knock it back then roll, pat, stretch, drag into your chosen shape and put it onto an oven tray. Top with a schmear of the sauce and the sliced mozzarella and bake in a VERY hot oven for 7-10 minutes until everything is lovely and crisp and delicious. Eat as soon as it’s cool enough not to take the skin off the roof of your mouth.

Family-friendliness rating: C’mon! It’s pizza!

Cleanup rating: Worsens if children involved in production

Can you freeze it? Definitely make double the quantity of dough and freeze half of it after the kneading stage (or if you only need one pizza at a time, make this quantity and freeze half of it!). Take it out several hours before you want to use it and leave it in a warm place to defrost and rise. The sauce is also good for freezing in small portions (and can be used as a pasta sauce, of course!)

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