Sprouting hedgerows and forest floors have the welcome whiff of wild garlic,which, along with busy birdsong, would suggest it is spring. The recent weather however argues back with a boisterous reminder of who is the boss.
Last week it was still too wet and blustery to enjoy much outdoor activity and it seemed a good time to do some cooking to help us quell our impatience with the weather while anticipating a heat wave.. With the willing help of Lucy, a new Steiner student from Germany who is staying on the farm, we have been enjoying the recently installed kitchen facilities.
Lucy, Eileen and I spent the best part of a grey day invoking the smells and sunshine of Italy by making a batch of colourful pizzas.
Making pizza dough is a very satisfying process which requires a bit of practice but the results are worth the effort. While the dough was rising we prepared a selection of vegetables and herbs to create a variety of toppings which were combined in different ways to suit everyone’s tastes. A classic Marinara pizza is a Neapolitan variation which has no cheese and demonstrates how a basic combination of oregano and garlic can create such deep flavour. We made a basic tomato sauce by sautéing some finely chopped onions and garlic before adding tinned organic tomatoes and generous handful of dried oregano from the farm’s herb garden.
This sauce was the base for a selection of other toppings; fresh herbs, asparagus and juicy spring onions were picked from the tunnels and given a splash of colour with red peppers and onions. For extra punch and flavour we had chilli flakes, olives and anchovy fillets to disperse with discretion and finally some mozzarella and grated cheddar.
There are no limits to what can go on a pizza and it is an interesting opportunity to experiment with different permutations other than the classic Italian ones. Simple combinations such as mushroom and thyme work very well and prove that a pizza dinner can be quite an economical meal.
The ideal balance of a light crispy base and a fresh vibrant topping will depend on the dough mix, the oven temperature and the quality of the ingredients. We can’t replicate the unique results from a stone pizza oven but if you have a pizza stone, which is pre-heated it will help to mimic the effect of a domestic oven. Pizza or pasta flour, ‘00’ grade, has higher gluten content; we used a 50/50 combination of 00 and strong white flour, as well as some semolina for dusting the baking trays. Pizza dough is quite sticky to work with but it is important to persevere without adding too much extra flour as you knead. Allow the dough to rise and double in size (2 or 3 hours depending on the ambient temperature) before knocking it back and shaping. Getting a feel of the dough will become easier the more often you give it a go.
250g Organic strong white flour
250g 00 pizza/pasta flour
7g dried yeast
½ tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
320 ml Luke warm water
Olive oil & Semolina flour
Place the flour in a large bowl with the sugar and salt at opposite edges and the yeast in the centre. Quickly stir and gradually add the water to form sticky dough. Continue to stir/knead the dough in the bowl (this can also be done in a food mixer with dough hook). After the dough becomes more manageable, turn it out onto a floured surface and continue to knead until it becomes stretchy with a silky surface. This takes patience as it can be very tacky. To avoid adding too much flour it is useful to drizzle some olive oil on the work surface instead. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean oiled bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl to ensure its surface has been coated with the oil before covering with a plastic bag or towel and set aside to prove.
Prepare a selection of toppings and sauce while the dough rises.
Once the dough has risen it should be ‘knocked back’ by kneading for another few minutes and shaped to fit the baking trays. Try to keep the dough as thin as possible; press it from the centre out to the edges with your knuckles or, if you have the skill, let gravity do its magic by twirling the discs above your head with your hands! Semolina flour will help the dough from sticking to the surface.
Putting the pizzas together is an enjoyable exercise and can be prepared in advance while the oven is heating up.
Bake in a hot oven for 10 or 15 minutes.