Sunday, February 10

Foolproof Pizza

While England is full of dull clouds, heavy snow and Baltic winds, imagine this little dream...

"You're sitting with a friend on a cool, iron chair; sipping on a icy glass of chardonnay.
Letting the sun soak into your skin, you both watch the busy passers-by through your classical Ray Bans.
Subtly smiling at the tourists taking pictures, locals flogging their souvenirs and the general rush of energy around you on the plaza; you can't help but feel a bit smug sitting in this restaurant, calm, just watching and relaxing without a worry in the world.
All of a sudden, a charming Italian waiter comes up to your table carrying an emperor sized pizza; dripping with cheese, seasoned to perfection and a beautifully crisp base waiting to be crunched into..."

Now sadly this is a dream.
Even though I would love to just jump on a plane, head to Rome and indulge for days on end on lasagnas, pastas and legendary pizzas; student life would never allow this to happen!
*Sigh*... A girl can dream!

Yet, this does not mean that we can't bring a little bit of 'Italiano' flare to Leeds!
So it was a dodgy day, everyone was a bit stressed and what better way to cheer up the girls than with a pizza night?!

I invited a couple of friends over for a chilled out, girls night before cracking on with the dough in advance. This recipe is utterly simply, I've made it quite a bit at home when family friends have come over and needed the young children entertaining, (the best bit for them is choosing and decorating the toppings!)
It doesn't take too long to make, the dough keeps for up to a week in the fridge and will make 4 'man sized' pizzas; perfect for a few friends!

For your dough you will need:
- 500g bread flour, and more for kneading
- 1x 7g sachet of fast acting yeast
- 1 tbsp golden sugar
- 330ml tepid water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp salt.

Mix your olive oil, water, yeast and sugar together and leave for a couple of minutes.

In a separate bowl, sift your salt and flour together. Create a well in the centre and pour in your liquid.
Mix this dough with a wooden spoon until you are left with a very sticky, smooth dough. Smooth this into a ball, flour your work surface and get ready to start kneading!

Kneading is a bit like drawing, every one has their own interpretations, methods and preferences. Personally, I stretch out the dough with one hand by pushing 'down and out' before pulling it back over.
You might need to add some extra flour along the way if your dough is far too sticky to work with.
Whatever your method, you are looking for an elastic, springy dough which you can roll out for a crispy, thin base.

This usually takes a few minutes of hard kneading, but when you've reached this stage; pop your dough in a floured bowl and add a little on top. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for around 1 hour for the dough to  rise.

Fingers crossed, it should have roughly doubled in size within an hour.
Pre-heat your oven to 220C/200 fan and pop the pizza tray in too to heat up.
Per pizza, tear off a ball of dough roughly the size of your fist and place on a floured surface.
Once again knead for  a few minutes, (you will have arms of steel after this!).

Roll out your piece of springy, elastic dough with a rolling pin.
For a thin, crispy base it needs to be stretched as thin as possible.
Pop this on some floured aluminium foil, (it is a lot easier to transfer it into the oven this way!)
Now, it is the best bit...Toppings time!!
Here you can be truly inventive and smother each one with what ever your heart desires. We kept ours very simple with 2x mushrooms, and 2x margaritas. My personal favourite is actually our summer stable; asparagus, spinach, ham hock and a sprinkling of cheese.
Cheese, mushrooms, bacon, peppers, beef, chicken, sausage, pepperoni... Literally the list is endless!
If its a big group, pop loads of toppings in separate bowls and let every one design their own- brilliant for young children too!

For ours; I opened a tin of chopped tomatoes, spread a good dollop to the far edges  on each pizza and seasoned with some basil. You could also try passata, tomato puree or even adding pesto instead of basil.

Smother your creations with cheese (we used mozzarella and cheddar), chopped tomatoes and any other toppings before popping into the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Cut them up into thick wedges and hand them out straight away.
 Pure indulgent, individual comfort food!

It might not be a storming pepperoni in an Italian plaza... But for a proper pizza instead of a fat drenched takeaway, it isn't too shoddy at all!!

4 pizzas demolished within 10 minutes between 5 very hungry girls, 4 episodes of Comedy Roadshow watched and 3 big bags of kettle crisps down... Who says you need to go out every Friday night!?

I adapted this recipe from BBC Good Food and The Londoner. Both are good bases to start from and adapt to suit your own cooking!

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