Pizza party

I have been looking for a good excuse to try out these pizza bases for some time.  Not that I need an excuse to make pizza.  I’m firmly of the belief that freshly made, home-cooked-from-scratch, real food, where you know what ingredients are going into your meal, is good for you.  Although I probably wouldn’t eat pizza every night of the week…

These pizza bases are delicious, and are definitely the best pizza I’ve ever made (and pretty up there with the best-pizzas-ever-tasted).  They are based on a no-knead recipe created by NY pizza chef, Jim Lahey, in his book My Pizza.  The pizzas are in the crispy, thin, blistery, Neapolitan style and are very simple to make – they just need some time – the dough should be prepared the day before, as it will need to sit and ferment for 18 hours or so.  Once it is ready, it should only be minimally handled – no pizza stretching, tossing or banging theatrics allowed.

Fermenting pizza dough

Fermenting pizza dough

We invited some friends over for a pizza party, and made our guests cook the pizzas themselves, graceful hosts that we are.  We had a few different nationalities – Aussie, Dutch, Brazilian and German and so it was fun to see the different cultural influences work their way through the pizzas.  But you can top the pizzas with whatever toppings you fancy.  With such a good quality pizza base and tomato sauce, I go with the “less is better” philosophy and try to limit the pizza toppings to a handful with minimal cheese (note to Barth). Before the guests arrived, I had prepared a bunch of ingredients for people to use on their pizzas (not all at once) – lightly grilled zucchini and eggplant slices, caramelised onions, fresh basil pesto, sautéed spinach, mushrooms cooked with garlic, thinly sliced cooked pumpkin and potato, thinly sliced lemon, olives, cherry tomatoes, chopped chilli, preserved lemon and mint.  And of course the cheese – a selection of cheese including fresh smoked mozzarella from Ocello (I couldn’t help myself, I had to walk past the shop on the way to the supermarket), ricotta, gorgonzola, parmesan and mozzarella.  I may have gone a little overboard with the toppings and the cheese, as we are still working our way through the cheese a week on…   Makes 6-8 pizza bases, and you will also have some leftover tomato sauce.

Pizza dough balls resting

Pizza dough balls resting

Ingredients

Pizza dough

  • 1 kg “tipo 00” flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 teaspoons of fine celtic sea salt
  • 3 cups of water
  • Additional flour, for dusting the bench top

Tomato sauce

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3 x 400g tin tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Olive oil, for cooking

Pesto

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • Half a bunch of basil
  • 4 tablespoons sunflower seeds, dry roasted for 2-3 minutes in a fry pan
  • Half a lemon, juiced
  • A few tablespoons olive oil

Pizza combinations

  • Thinly sliced lemon, fresh basil, smoked mozzarella – sounds weird, but it is A-mazing – inspired by Alexandra / Keste
  • Grilled zucchini, mint, preserved lemon and ricotta
  • Mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, pesto, goats cheese
  • Pumpkin, spinach, chilli and gorgonzola
  • Potato, caramelised onion, fennel seeds and ricotta (no tomato sauce)
  • Grilled eggplant and zucchini with olives, pesto and mozzarella
  • Cinque formaggio (no tomato sauce)

Method

Pizza dough and assembly

  1. A day before you wish to make the pizzas, add the flour, yeast and salt to a large glass bowl and mix well. Slowly stir in the water, and mix well with a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour and water.  You may need to use your hands to shape it into a ball shaped blob.  Cover the bowl with cling wrap, put it under a tea towel and set aside at room temperature for about 18 hours.  Over this time, the dough will begin to rise and double in size, and air bubbles will form (see cover photo).
  2. Prepare the bench by sprinkling plenty of flour over it.  Transfer the dough onto the bench, and gently shape it into a rough rectangle.  Divide the rectangle into 8 portions.
  3. Taking each portion of dough in turn, fold each of the corners underneath into the centre of the bottom of the piece of dough, so it forms a rough ball (see photo).  Set aside on a well floured baking sheet.  Cover with cling wrap and a tea towel and leave the balls rest at room temperature for an hour or so.  If you are preparing this in advance, individually wrap each ball in cling wrap and then store in the fridge (this can be done up to 3 days apparently) – however, when you are ready to make the pizzas, the dough should have been resting at least an hour or two out of the fridge.
  4. About 30-60 minutes before you are going to put the pizzas in the oven, turn your oven up to the highest temperature possible (this is only 250 deg C for me).  If you have a pizza stone, put this in the oven now.  If you don’t have a pizza stone, its best to use a cast iron or other heavy-based tray (and I’d definitely recommend buying a pizza stone for the best result in a home oven, you can get them for about $25 at a kitchen store).
  5. Prepare the bench by sprinkling plenty of flour on top of a piece of baking paper.  Once the dough is soft and pliable, take out one ball at a time.  Stretch the ball, working very gently and being careful not to squash the air bubbles in the dough (i.e. don’t bash it onto the bench – the air bubbles keep the dough light and crispy), into a disk around 25-30cm and place on the baking sheet.
  6. Spread on a couple of spoons of tomato sauce (if using) right to the edges of the base, then sprinkle on your toppings of choice and some cheese.  Slide the baking paper onto the pizza stone or tray, and bake in the oven at the highest temperature for 5-7 minutes until the cheese and crust are golden and blistered.  Drizzle with fresh herbs, truffle or chilli oil for extra flavour.

Tomato sauce

  1. Finely chop the garlic and chilli and sauté over medium heat in a saucepan for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, salt and oregano and increase the heat until the sauce is bubbling.
  3. Reduce the heat and let the sauce cook for 20-30 minutes until thick.  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Cool before adding to the pizza base so it doesn’t make it soggy.

Pesto

  1. Smash the garlic with sea salt in a mortar until it is a paste.
  2. Add the basil into the mortar and bruise it using circular motions with the pestle.  When the basil and garlic are incorporated into a paste, add the sunflower seeds and gently pound the seeds until they form a paste with the basil.
  3. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix in with a spoon.  Season to taste.
Pizza party thumbnail image Neapolitan style, blistery, crispy and light pizzas 30min

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