We are lucky to live in an age of domestic culinary convenience: whatever your heart desires, there’s an appliance, gizmo or specific spoon for it. Want to make cakes in the shape of a shoe? Not a problem. Need twenty different ways to crush garlic? Your needs can be met. Looking for a boiled egg, but in the shape of a square? Or a teddy bear, or a duck? Easy, you can make all three.
So it seems remarkable that when it comes to effective gadgets or assistance for something as popular as pizza, we’re high and dry. It seems virtually impossible to get your hands on something that will help you replicate the thin, crisp crusted Italian-style pizza at home for anything other than seriously big money.
Luckily, there is an answer, and you probably have the items that you need in your kitchen already.
Getting that traditional Neapolitan-style pizza with its charred edges and crisp base is all about heat. And that’s the problem: proper pizza ovens are designed to be hotter than the depths of hell, and a pizza slides in and out in a matter of moments. So how do you ape that hot hot hot pizza oven, in your own domestic setting? Well, while our ovens might not be great at producing that level of heat from all sides, you can get pretty close by using two different sources of direct heat: the hob, and the grill.
Using a heavy-bottomed skillet pan, which can sit on the hob and move to the oven (ie. make sure it doesn’t have plastic handles, or any component which could melt or warp), you can stretch the dough directly onto the base of the pan, and then cook it very quickly at a high temperature. Once the base of the pizza is darkening on the bottom – you can gently lift the dough with a spatula to check – spread with tomato sauce, cheese and your toppings of choice, before transferring to a hot grill for five minutes.
As the pizza sits under the grill, the yeasted dough will bubble up, creating those distinctive hillocks; the edges will become leopard-spotted and char deliciously, and of course the mozzarella will melt and mottle, ready to string out like a tightrope from the pizza to your mouth as you bite into it.
Of course, a good pizza needs a good dough. While cooking it properly (hot and fast, as discussed) will do some of the work for you, an overnight prove in the fridge makes the dough easier to handle, but also improves the flavour, allowing a slower ferment for the base.
And as for the sauce and toppings, I’ve kept it classic: a simple (but great) tomato sauce, cooked down with garlic and onion until thick and intense, then topped with torn mozzarella and basil. But you can go as highbrow – fancy anchovies, cured meats, olives – or as lowbrow – pineapple, anyone? – as you fancy.
Makes: 4 medium pizzas
Takes: 1 hour, plus overnight prove
Bakes: 20 minutes
For the pizza dough
500g strong white bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
For the tomato sauce
1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
3x cloves of garlic, peeled
½ a medium onion, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
200g mozzarella cheese
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Any other toppings you fancy
1. Mix the flour, water, yeast, oil, salt and sugar and bring together to form a dough. Knead for 5 minutes until elastic, then place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
2. Remove from the fridge and divide into 4 equal balls. Place on a floured tray, cover lightly with clingfilm, and leave to prove at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until the dough is soft to the touch.
3. To make the tomato sauce, tip the tinned tomatoes into a pan. Squeeze the tomatoes to break them up, but do this with them submerged under the sauce, and wear an apron, as they can spurt. Add the garlic, onion, olive oil and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to the lowest possible heat and cook for around an hour, until the garlic cloves squish when pressed with a spoon – top up with water if it begins to look too dry while cooking. Using an immersion blender, blitz the tomato sauce until thick and smooth. Add salt little by little, tasting as you go.
4. Turn your grill on high, and place a cast-iron skillet on the hob, on a medium-high heat. When both are preheated, take a ball of dough and stretch it out to a round the size of the skillet – it should be thicker at the edges than in the middle. Drop this on to the skillet, and top with a heaped tablespoon of the sauce and 50g of torn mozzarella.
5. Once the base of the pizza has taken on a good, dark colour, move the whole skillet under the grill – use a dry tea towel to lift it, as the handle will be very hot!
6. Leave the pizza until it has bubbled and charred to your liking – around 5 minutes – before removing the pan from the grill.
7. Top with freshly torn basil.