Another recipe of mine which will win no prizes for authenticity, so if you’re an Italian food purist, avert your eyes now!
For the rest this is a perennial home favourite which looks great, is very satisfying and simple to involve kids in its preparation.
* Cheese: Firm mozzarella and/or mild cheddar
* Dry lasagne pasta sheets (those which don’t need pre-cooking)
* 1 bottle of passata
* 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
* 2 medium onions
* 4 cloves of garlic
* 1 bag of Quorn mince or mixed vegetables including courgettes, peppers & mushrooms
* 1/2 cube vegetable stock
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
First the tomato-based sauce. Dice the onions and saute in a good splash of olive oil, sprinkling with some salt and dried oregano or basil. Crumble in half a stock cube and add a glug of water to dissolve it. If you’re going for mince, add the Quorn mince now and cook on a medium heat.
If you’re not using mince slice the vegetables and set to one side.
Crush the garlic and stir into the pan, cook for a minute then add the passata followed by the tinned tomato. Leave to simmer stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile prepare the cheese. I prefer to use the firm long blocks of mozzarella, the balls in bags of water are too soft for this recipe in my experience. Slice the blocks or grate the cheddar.
Check the tomato sauce and season to taste, remembering that the cheese will add more salt to the final flavours.
In a large baking dish line the bottom with pasta sheets, trying to avoid too much overlap. Now spread some of the tomato sauce onto this layer – you want it to be about half a centimetre of sauce. If you’re using them, lay vegetable slices over this. Then add a layer of cheese – not too much, only enough to cover about half of the surface area, it will spread as it melts.
Add another layer of pasta, another layer of sauce, vegetables if used, then more cheese. Continue until the dish can’t hold any more.
At the top you have a choice, you can go crunchy or soft. For a crunchy top add a final layer of pasta sheets then add cheese to this. For a softer finish just top the final sauce layer with cheese. I always use a mix of mozzarella and grated cheddar.
Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, checking after 25 minutes to make sure the top isn’t burning. It’s ready when the pasta sheets are soft.
* You can add torn basil leaves or chunks of fresh garlic in the layers to add more flavour.
* If using vegetables try to slice them so that they will cook evenly.
* Spreading on the tomato sauce hot from the pan helps the pasta sheets cook quickly.
* This is a great left-overs dish. To stop it drying out reheat in the oven under foil with a splash of milk under there.
I cannot claim that this method for pizza is authentic, handed down from Italians over the generations. I don’t even promise that you’ll like it. But it is what works for me.
It started about five years ago when my wife, observing that I was pretty good at making bread, suggested that I try my hand at pizza. This seemed like a huge culinary leap to me and my first searches for recipes revealed a level of pizza cooking snobbery that was quite off-putting. Could a humble home oven deliver the goods?
I think it can. This method has evolved over the years as I have gleaned more hints and ideas from newspapers, cook books and dozens of food blogs. It has also been informed by pizza tasting across Europe and North America, especially New York, Rome and Venice. The glaring ommissions in my foreign pizza tasting are undoubtedly Naples and Chicago, but I have had to make do.
The only equipment I think essential to this method is a pizza stone. This is a piece of ceramic you bake the pizza on in your oven – it helps deliver a crisp crust and sufficient heat to cook the whole thing through. They are very cheap and my one from Argos has lasted years.
As for the matter of toppings – this is fraught territory. This method will get you as far as a basic Margherita. If you want to do more, then here are some ideas from the list of favoured toppings in my household:
Tinned tuna, fresh garlic, red onion and black olives
Mushrooms, peppers and onions
Marinated anchovies, onions and olives
Pepperoni or ham, peppers and mushrooms
I find less is more with pizza toppings, but that’s just my taste.
To make about 15 pizzas you will need:
1kg Strong white flour (Type ‘0’ is best)
3 cups of warm water (1 part boiling to 2 parts cold)
900g Mozzarella cheese
1 x medium onion (very finely diced)
4-5 large cloves of garlic
2 x 680g bottles of Passata (sieved tomato)
Put the pizza stone on the top shelf of your oven and crank the oven up to maximum temperature. If you can, close all the doors and windows in your kitchen so that it stays warm.
Depending on the type of yeast you have, you may need to activate it. Follow the directions on your yeast to make enough for 1kg of flour. Splash some olive oil into a bowl so that the sides are coated.
In another bowl put in the flour less 2 cups which you can save for later. Add a splash of olive oil, salt and if you have instant yeast add it too, then mix. Now gradually add the warm water whilst stirring with a wooden spoon.
Depending on your flour you may not need all the water, or you may need a smidgeon more so that the mix is one coherent ball that’s not too wet, not too dry and it holds together.
Dust a work top with some of the reserved flour. Knead the dough using the heel of your hands to stretch it. Keep adding flour to the worktop if you find part of the dough still sticky. Give it all a good knead but don’t overdo it – just enough so that it holds together and isn’t sticky any more when you stretch it with your heel.
Form a ball with the dough and place it in the oiled bowl. Roll the dough so it’s completely coated with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm part of the kitchen. It will need 30-45 minutes to rise sufficiently.
Meanwhile you can start making the tomato sauce. In a good sized heavy pot cover the base with olive oil and put in the onion. You want the onion to have been cut very finely so that it almost melts into the oil. Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally so that the onion softens but doesn brown. When soft add a sprinkle of salt and crushed garlic cloves. Stir and cook for a few more minutes then add the two bottles of passata. Cook on a medium low heat until simmering, stirring occassionally. Taste and add salt as needed, you may also need to sweeten slightly depending on the passata – I like to use about a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses for sweetening. Gently cook the sauce for another five or ten minutes then turn off the heat and cover.
If you still have time you can prepare the toppings you want to use. For mozzarella, if you have bought blocks rather than the balls, slice the blocks in half lengthwise then chop into slices 5mm thick. For mozzarella balls, remove them from the water they are packed in and gently squeeze the excess liquid from them. You can then just tear them up for use on your pizzas.
Once the dough has risen you are ready to start making pizza. Take a small chunk of dough: More than a golf ball but less than a cricket ball in size. Make sure to keep the rest of the dough covered while you are working otherwise it will dry out.
Roll the dough between yours hands until it has formed an even ball shape. Then on a work surface dusted with flour begin to press the dough into a pizza shape. Depending on your energy and patience you can either do it all by hand or use a rolling pin to achieve the desired size and thinness. Be sure to keep dusting the work surface and turning the dough over so it doesn’t stick and is even.
Carefully remove the pizza stone from the oven and lay the rolled dough onto it. The stone will immediately start cooking things so you need to move quickly now!
Use a ladle to place some tomato sauce onto the dough. Use the back of the ladle to spread it across the dough. You want it to be fairly thin right up to about 1cm from the edges – depending on how much crust you like.
Now sprinkle on dried oregano, add chunks of mozzarella, some torn leaves of fresh basil and if desired, your additional toppings. Put the whole lot on the stone back into the oven.
Now is your chance to make up the next piece of dough and have a sip of wine!
Avoid opening the oven to check on things if possible. The key to a good crust is keeping the oven and the pizza stone as hot as you can, so work fast and avoid having the stone out of the oven for long.
The pizza is ready when the edge of the crust is brown and the cheese starts to bubble. You don’t want to leave it too long or the cheese hardens. Remove the pizza stone and, as long as there were no holes in your dough, the pizza should easily slide off onto a serving dish. Enjoy!