Pizza is one of everybody’s favourite foods. It can be made with any combination of ingredients, but the classic cheese and tomato are still the goto for most people. There’s a reason the traditional flavour combinations hang around for generations because they work. Although it might seem like a bit of a pain, it doesn’t have to be something you only eat out though. It’s actually pretty simple to make at home, and homemade pizza is achievable even on weeknights, where it’s really very quick to throw together.
Although the term ‘pizza’ has been around for around 1,000 years now, what we think of the classic Pizza Margherita was only thought to be invented in 1889. Queen Margherita was particularly drawn to the tomato, mozzarella and basil creating the colours of the Italian flag, apparently. Nowadays though there is a myriad of different pizza styles, from the original, protected and exalted Neapolitan, to the somewhat confusing deep dish. We’re just going to go a bit generic here though, we don’t have a wood-fired oven, so Neapolitan is off the table, and a lot of the American versions just hurt my head, to be honest.
The most time-consuming part of making pizza will always be the dough, and this is the bit that primarily stops people from making their own homemade pizza. Although it does take a bit of time, this can be done in advance and then frozen ready for whenever you need it. It also tastes infinitely better than those strange blank bases they sell in supermarkets, which appear to be somewhat of a cross between polystyrene and sawdust.
On the traditional Neapolitan pizza, they only use San Marzano tomatoes, a sweeter than usual variety of plum tomatoes grown on the volcanic planes by Mount Vesuvius. This type is so flavoursome that they just crush the tinned tomatoes by hand and spread them across the dough. If you try this with your ordinary supermarket tinned tomatoes for your homemade pizza, it’s not going to work. I’ve tried a few different methods of getting the perfect tomato sauce, but somewhat unsurprisingly I found the easiest is by far the best. Cooking down tomatoes to reach the correct thickness just makes the flavour too deep. Instead, strain the excess juice out of a can, and then blend the fruit with garlic, basil and a little sugar and vinegar to retain the fresh tomato-y flavour that you’re looking for.
As for toppings, just go for whatever your favourite is. Sausage and artichoke, anchovies and capers, or even just the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil. If I had one tip here, it would be this; do not overdo it. Simpler is always going to be better, as I have found out the hard way over the years. Pick two or three things you like and stick to them; it’ll be all the better for it.
The real key to being able to crack weeknight homemade pizza is having the dough in the freezer; everything else can be done while the oven is heating up. If you want pizza for dinner, just get the dough out and put it in the fridge before you go to work and when you get back, you’re in business. Get back home, oven on, roll out the dough, sort your toppings and you’re ready. Homemade dinner in 30 minutes. Easy!
Notes on Cooking
The trick to getting a pizza with a fully cooked base is having your cooking surface up to temperature before you put the pizza on top of it. Do this by preheating your tray in the oven, or using a pizza stone if you have one. What I do is put two baking sheets on top of each other, just so the surface retains the temperature better when you place your room temperature dough on top. If you don’t do this it’s really hard to cook the whole thing properly, as by the time the dough under the sauce cooks, you’ll have a burnt pizza, especially when cooking at a such a high temperature.
Making pizza sounds like a complicated process, but it really isn't. Even better, by putting in a little time to make a large batch of dough to freeze, you can easily have homemade pizza any night of the week. Delicious and fast!
- 650 g lukewarm water
- 14 g dried yeast
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 500 g bread flour
- 500 g 00 flour
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 400 g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves
- 200 g mozzarella
- 50 g prosciutto
- 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves
Combine the water, yeast sugar, and oil and stir well to combine. Leave for 5 minutes until the yeast wakes up, and bubbles appear on the surface.
Sift the flours and salt onto a clean work surface and make a large well in the centre.
Pour the liquid into the well and begin to incorporate the flour from around the edges, mixing thoroughly as you go.
When most of the flour is incorporated, and the dough begins to form dust your hands with flour and knead in the rest of the flour until you have a smooth and springy dough. Depending on your flour/the humidity you may need to add more flour, but knead for about 5 minutes before you decide to do this.
Place the dough in a large bowl dusted with flour and cover with a damp towel. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.
Remove the dough to a flour dusted work surface and knead to knock all of the air out. Divide the dough into eight balls of equal size, about 250 g each.
To freeze, lightly oil the balls and place into a sandwich bag, before placing in the freezer.
Take the tomatoes and strain in a sieve to remove the excess moisture.
Place the strained tomatoes in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend well to create a thick sauce.
Preheat your oven with a baking sheet as high as it will go, about 250oC usually.
Cut one piece of aluminium foil for each pizza, each slightly bigger than your tray.
Take your thawed pizza dough and turn out onto a well-floured surface, roll out to a size just smaller than your piece of foil.
Lightly oil and then flour the foil, before placing the dough on top. Leave to rest for 15 to 20 minutes. In the meantime make the sauce and prepare your toppings.
When the oven is up to temperature, spread over a thin helping of the sauce and cover with your toppings. Simpler is generally better, don’t overload it!
Take the heated up baking sheet out of the oven and put the foil on top before immediately returning to the oven.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the temperature and your preference. I usually check after 8 minutes to turn the pizza and see how much longer it needs.
When the crust is golden, and your cheese is bubbling away, it’s done. Sprinkle with the basil to serve.