Sunday, February 22, 2009

Home made pizza

We are currently in a 'not buying it' mode, inspired by the Judith Levine's book and blog Not buying it: my year without shopping that we read just after Christmas. We aren't being as strict, we still go out for meals and wine is an essential food, as are books essential brain food and things for creativity in the studio, still and all we have reduced our spending and we think about everything before we put our hand into our wallets to bring out the plastic, either EFTPOS or credit.

This has changed our Friday night 'tracky dack and slippers' nights', i.e. an easy social evening with friends, telly or cards or board games and conversation with easy food options, before 'not buying it' we often organised take-away - indian, chinese, pizza, hamburgers (from the real take-away shop not a burger chain). We now make these meals at home and of course the food we make ourselves is far more interesting than the fairly standard ethnic fare available in the Blue Mountains, which is sadly very 'white bread' dumbed down to be almost unrecognisable as ethnic food at all.

This Friday we made pizza and then 'home delivered it' as the evening was spent with Kathleen and Susan at their place and they provided a desert of a scrumptious home made ginger cake and ice cream. Hopefully Kathleen will put the recipe up on her blog so I can link to it.

Pizza made with proper yeast dough is something that your head tells you is too time consuming for a work night but in fact is as easy as a roast dinner, 15 minutes to knead the dough and then it just sits there quietly rising while you cut up the bits and bobs for the topping and simmer a simple sauce, all the while chatting with your good friends with a glass of wine, enjoying the fact that you are nurturing your friends, putting love and care into a meal for them. This is actually pleasurable and relaxing and a great way to wind down from the busy and, lately for me, emotionally fraught working week.

I use a variety of recipes for my pizza dough, a basic dough from my ancient but excellent 'Women's Weekly Italian Cooking Class Cookbook', Nigella's Pizza Pasareccia from her 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' (this is nice and quick and homely) but the one I used for this pizza was Stephanie's pizza alla Romana adaptation from her 'The Cook's Companion', p.29-31:

This recipe makes enough for two large pizzas, so make another one at the same time and freeze it for 'ron.
1 tablespoon instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
400g plain flour (bread flour is better I've found as the gluten is stronger)
olive oil
1 cup lukewarm water

Heat your oven to 250oC, grease your pizza tray (Stephanie says 2 x 26 cm but I use old square trays that I have had for years), sprinkle trays with polenta (this stops it sticking),

Mix yeast and salt and flour. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil with water and beat into dry ingredients, Stephanie recommends an electric mixer with dough hook, but I prefer to use a knife and then my hands. Kneed mixture until its smooth and elastic, around 15 minutes by hand and 8 by machine. Grease a clean bowl with olive oil. Transfer your dough to this bowl, cover with plastic (I reuse old plastic bags) or a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size (an hour at least), knock down and then let rise again for another 30 minutes. Knock down again and then spread dough out on your pizza tray, add your sauce, add your toppings, bake for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 200oC and bake for a further 5 mins or until the pizza base is crisp. Pizza is ready when the edges are crisp and golden and they sound hollow when tapped.

My tomato sauce is really simple to make, chop one brown or red onion, gently fry in olive oil until clear, add garlic, then add four large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped (I never skin or seed but you can if you want to), sea salt and ground pepper to taste, add fresh or dried herbs, I like fresh basil when I have it to hand, rosemary is good as well, I always seem to have that in the herb pots as the possums don't like it. Simmer this until its mushy but not too cooked as it will also cook on the pizza. You can slosh a bit of opened wine into it if you want, not too much as you want a thick mixture, I've often used beer or cider as well.

An even simpler sauce suggested by Susan is to use one of those pesto and nut dips that you can get from the grocer, I've not tried it but she assures me it tastes great. I'm going to give it a go next time but I'll use my own home made pesto from the freezer.

Toppings, well less is more, don't overcrowd it, your base will be soggy and all the flavours will compete and don't overpower it with cheese either - lightly, lightly is best. This one was topped with boccocini, tomatoes and zucchini from Kathleen's garden and fresh mushrooms. We served it with a green salad with shop and garden grown leaves, cucumber and zucchini and a simple oil and vinegar dressing.

Give it a try and save yourself some money for a book or a few balls of wool.

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