Saturday nights in with only the occasional power cut and rubbish programmes on DSTV means you need to get creative. One of our favourite things to do when we lived in Edinburgh was to have our own pizza making competition. Given that Wiz has nearly a lifetime of commitment to exploring pizza flavours, he's usually a step ahead of me. But last night we settled on a draw of 1-1.
I started traditionally, following the combination that was first invented for Queen Margherita by Raffaele Esposito in Naples, when the Queen visited the area and decided to give pizza the thumbs up. Raffaele obviously knew that one way to curry favour would be to make sure his pizza looked like the Italian flag: red tomato, white mozzarella and green basil. We have to make do with our home-grown purple basil, so it's more like (dare I say it) the French flag.
Wiz is always braver at the beginning, and he threw caution to the wind and piled on all his favourite ingredients: it worked, and he won the first round with his ham and mushroom beauty. We also agreed that he generous slathering of tomato base was important for the flavour: I had been a little more stingy.
The second round saw me get a lot more creative, throwing on cherry tomatoes, a load of herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme and basil), ham and cheese, and more salt than I had done the first time around. It was scrummy, even if I say so myself!
If you're going to do this, make sure cooking is your main thing for the evening, as we started from scratch with pizza dough, home made tomato sauce and then finally making the pizzas which doesn't take long and needs you to be watching the oven. It would be great fun for a party, but someone needs to be confined to the kitchen!
Start with your Tomato Sauce
(these quantities were just enough for four medium size pizzas)
1 x 425g tin tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
a bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked and torn
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place a large non-stick saucepan on the hob, lug in some olive oil and add the garlic. As soon as it starts to colour, add the tomatoes and basil. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mush and squash the tomatoes as much as you can. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and immediately remove from the heat. Strain through a coarse sieve into a bowl, using the wooden spoon to push as much tomato through the sieve. Discard the basil and garlic, but any other 'tomato mush' can go back into the sauce. Return it to the saucepan and simmer for a few minutes to concentrate the flavours and reduce it to the right consistency for spreading on pizzas. Leave to cool.
If you triple the quantities, you'll make 500mls, which can remain in the fridge for next time, or even to use in pasta or alongside meat or fish dishes.
The Pizza Dough
Makes around 6 medium size pizza bases
400gms white flour + 100gms semolina flour
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
1 tblsp dry yeast
1/2 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp olive oil
325 ml lukewarm water
In a jug, mix the water, sugar, yeast and olive oil. Leave to sit for a minute or two whilst you sieve the flours into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the liquid into the flour well, and use a fork to gradually mix the flour and water together. Keep going until it's looking quite well mixed and then use your (well floured) hands to work the rest of the flour in and make a smooth dough. Transfer into a clean, but floured bowl, dust with flour and cover with a damp cloth. Put into a warm room for an hour to let it double in size.
Knock back the dough...
Flour up your hands before removing the dough from it's bowl onto a floury surface. Push the air out of the dough by kneading it with your hands, this is an incredibly satisfying process, as you see the dough really become smooth and elastic. Now you can roll out your six bases. Just tear off a handful at a time, and on a floury surface, use a rolling pin to create a rough circle that is about 0.5cm thick. Place each round on a piece of foil that you've oiled and dusted with flour. They can sit here for twenty minutes or so whilst you have a glass of wine and think about your toppings! Alternatively, if you're not using the pizza dough immediately, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge.
There are some elements of pizza that are fundamental to recreating the Italian classic. These are: tomato sauce (see above), mozzarella, and some herbs (usually basil).
Start by putting a spoonful of tomato sauce on each round, and spread it over with the back of the spoon. Rip up your mozzarella balls and place around the pizza round. Add your herbs which could be:
basil | thyme | parsley | oregano | rosemary
Then go wild! You could add ham, salami, chilli, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, thinly sliced courgette, garlic, an egg, cheddar, taleggio cheese, emmental... and more! Jamie Oliver has some cracking ideas including:
Seafood: 2 cloves of peeled garlic, I tblsp white wine, a handful of baby spinach, a few sprigs of parsley, 5 fresh clams, 5 fresh or cooked prawns, a handful of fresh basil leaves, some cherry tomatoes (quartered or halved), zest of 1/2 a lemon.