Nothing is more comforting than pizza on a Friday night. Stephanie Alexander shares her favourite recipe.
I remember with fondness a family night I was fortunate to experience in Perugia in Umbria a few years ago now. On that occasion I was invited to the home of my Italian-Australian friend Patrizia Simone’s extended family for a pizza night, the pizzas to be baked in the family’s brick oven, and garnished by many aunties and nonne, each at their own station, slicing, spreading and keeping the pizza chain moving. There were 14 invited guests and at least 20 relatives aged six to 80 years old. What a night it was. A reminder that a gathering fuelled by pizza and a bit of wine is a fun night indeed, with minimum effort. Everyone talked at once and I overheard astonishing conversations between non‑Italian-speaking Australians and non‑English-speaking Italians. There was lots of arm waving and back slapping and immense goodwill.
As we arrived the wood-fired oven was being readied. Glowing coals were shovelled out on the peel to make way for the pizzas. Most of the toppings came from the family’s own gardens or their own gleaning. Fresh tomatoes, pecorino, scamorza cheese, porcini mushrooms from the nearby scrubby forest, roasted peppers, crumbled sausage, cooked potato with rosemary, and many more. The cooked pizzas were portioned with scissors with much laughing and the comment that they had never seen a pizza-cutting wheel. Were they joking? I’m not sure. That oven was really hot – each pizza cooked in less than five minutes! Another table was piled with salads – green beans, more tomatoes, roasted peeled peppers, and torn scarole, a local salad green.
Makes 3 x 28cm pizzas
- 400g pizza flour (strong baker’s flour)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 teaspoons instant dried yeast
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup warm water
- Plain flour and fine semolina for dusting
- Good-quality tomato sauce
Combine the pizza flour, salt and yeast in a bowl and give them a quick mix with a whisk. Tip the mixture into an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix the olive oil and warm water in a small jug, then add to the dry ingredients with the mixer on very low. Increase the speed and work until you have a fairly sticky dough that is holding together (maybe 10 minutes). Tip the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, then cover and leave in a draught-free place to double in size. Expect this to take 40-60 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature. Divide the dough into three parts, knead briefly and allow to rise again, covered with a clean, dry tea towel, for about 20 minutes. Now you are ready to shape, garnish and bake.
Preheat the oven as high as it will go with a pizza stone or heavy baking tray in it – the stone or tray needs to heat for at least 15 minutes. Have the semolina-flour mixture nearby (you only need a handful). Shape your pizzas. (I use a rolling pin to roll the dough as thin as possible.) Scatter a pizza peel with a little semolina-flour mixture, top with the pizza base and quickly spread on the tomato sauce and add other toppings. Now open the oven door, pull the rack with the hot pizza stone or tray towards you and deftly give the peel a quick thrust so that the pizza slides onto the stone or tray. Be careful doing this as the oven will be very hot. Cook for 12-15 minutes until golden and bubbling.
A few good toppings
Smear a pizza base with a good-quality tomato sauce. Add your favourite sausage, sliced thinly, or pancetta, scatter with pitted olives, then top with freshly sliced mozzarella. When cooked, drape with a lightly dressed salad of rocket leaves.
Scatter sliced mozzarella over a pizza base. Cover with thinly sliced ripe fig. Dot with some caramelised onion and a soft blue cheese – gorgonzola dolce is my favourite.
Brush a pizza base with extra-virgin olive oil. Cover with thinly sliced parboiled potato and plenty of chopped rosemary. Scatter on sliced mozzarella.
Home by Stephanie Alexander is out now.
Photo by Armelle Habib.