Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pizza at home

I now like this pizza about as much as I do a pie baked in a professional oven anywhere in Brooklyn. So there.

For us, pizza at home tends to be a cold weather thing. While every variation is possible in summer, with fresh herbs and just-picked tomatoes featuring, our apartment is tiny, and hot. And in summer, it is tinier, and hotter. Crank an oven up to 500'F and we begin to have dark, murderous thoughts of an August evening. So when the afternoons darken and the air nips, pies are made.

Pizza Dough - this is based on Patricia Wells' all purpose dough and bread recipe in Bistro Cooking. A book I would save in a flood (not so her Salad as a Meal, which is a case of false advertising...).

1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Stir the sugar and yeast into the warm water and stand until the yeast has frothed into bubbles. A few minutes.

In a large bowl mix the yeasty water, flour and salt with a wooden spoon until amalgamated but no longer wet. Add a little more flour if it is too sticky. More warm water if too dry. All flours are different. Turn the mass of dough onto a floured board and knead it, folding the edge farthest from you over onto itself towards you, giving it a quarter clockwise turn every time. Knead until the dough turns silky-soft and elastic. At least five minutes. Turn it into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp, clean kitchen towel, and let it rise until doubled in size. It will take between 45 minutes and an hour-and-a-half.

I do not have a pizza stone, so I press the dough directly onto a perforated circular baking tray.

Remove dough from bowl. Punch it down to deflate, always keeping a roughly uniform circle. Lay it on the baking tray and with your knuckles press it outwards from the center, radiating towards the edges, turning the tray as you go. I do this methodically until the dough has reached the edge of the tray, with enough left for a slightly raised crust - this keeps sauce and melted cheese from escaping. The pressed dough base can rest like this for a good fifteen minutes.

Basic Pie:

Tomato sauce.

Generally I prefer canned or bottled tomatoes for a red sauce base. Their flavour is more intense.

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 can of organic, skinned tomatoes. I have sometimes even used pureed tomatoes.

In a saucepan saute the garlic till translucent. On no account allow it to brown, as it turns bitter.

Add the tomatoes, which you have chopped finely, or the puree. Cook gently, with a small bubble, until reduced by a third, taste for acidity, and perhaps add a teaspoon of sugar. I rarely add salt.


I have used every kind of cheese for pizza and return always to buffalo mozzarella. It dissolves into a beautiful creaminess with no hint of rubber when it cools a little. Slice it, not too thinly, not to thickly, and let it drain for a minute or two.

Topping. Up to you. But resist the urge to overdo it.

My standard topping after the sauce and cheese is little pieces of anchovy, cured in oil and salt. If I use sausage I slice and pan-cook it a little first, or turn it out of its casings and make little meatballs (above), cooking them just till they take some colour, before adding them.

So. Once your dough is pressed out and your oven is BLAZING hot. I can't stress that enough - as high as it can go: spread your sauce evenly and judiciously across the pizza base. You don't want Lake Tomato.  You want a wash. It's OK if pale parts of the dough show through in places. Too much sauce = soggy base. Once the sauce is spread, lay slices of mozzarella evenly across the top, avoiding any mozzarella deserts. You want an even melting.

Now scatter the anchovies. 5 fillets cut into small pieces are about perfect.

Put it in the hot oven, and bake until the dough at the edges is risen and is browning. The baking time varies but the rule of thumb is about 12 minutes in my oven.

Slide it out, loosen with a long spatula between crust and tray, and if you can, slide the pie onto a big cutting board. Cut into wedges and eat, and don't burn your tongue.

So that is standard pizza. Variations on the theme for me, include a mushroom pizza, which I make with a white sauce base, and the now ubiquitous but no less delicous fresh salad leaf and prosciutto/spek topping (above).

Stay tuned for those.


  1. Oh my, that reads and looks beyond good! Hope you are enjoying your time at home.

  2. Looks delicious. I've been looking for an easy crust recipe. Thanks!

  3. Thank you, Marie. If one is shoulder-hobbled (from raking meadows in April!) is 5 minutes of kneading needed or can any of the needed kneading be done in a food processor?

  4. Janet - so sorry not to have answered your question. I know nooothing about food processor dough. I see no reason why it would not work. Perhaps it overworks dough, but I imagine this is not an issue in giant commercial kitchens...The long kneading is needed to make it silky.


Comments will appear after moderation. If you need to get in touch DM me on Instagram @marie_viljoen