It is hard to imagine now but the first time I ate pizza I did not like it. My friend’s mother made it as a weekend treat at her house. As a teenager, the pizza we made at home came from a Kraft pizza mix box (we didn’t care too much for the other brand) – a tin of tomato sauce, package of parmesan cheese, a pouch of dough mix (just add water) and the dried herb mix to top it all off. Even before I knew what it was I liked the fennel seed addition. When I had the chance, I would jazz up the pizza by adding ground beef. By this point my family had been fully indoctrinated into packaged foods and special enhancements from the “Kraft kitchen”.
Pizza in Italy was a revelation to me. As a student of architecture/project management in Toronto, I was surrounded by Italian classmates who had told me that pizza in Italy was not like the thick crusted, heavy cheese and pepperoni laden thing that passes for pizza in Canada. It was not until I went to Italy that I saw what pizza could and should be. A thin crust topped with fresh ingredients. My favourite is avocado and tomato topped with arugula. Margarita pizza is simplicity at its best – tomatoes, oregano and mozzarella - the colours of the Italian flag.
Mozzarella is an Italian semi-soft fresh cheese made from either cow’s milk or water buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala). For my Canadian friends who are more familiar with the hard stringy, gooey mozzarella, please think of bocconcini instead of mozzarella.
I make my own pizza dough now using my food processor. This recipe yields enough lovely soft dough for 4 pizzas. For toppings – keep it simple, fresh and tasty.
Yields 4-20 cm (8") Pizzas
1 package (8g / 2-1/4 tsp) active-dry yeast
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) very warm water (45°C / 110°F)
560g - 1000 mL (4 cups) all-purpose flour; plus more for dusting
7.5mL (1-1/2 tsp) salt
30 mL (2 Tbsp) olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in warm water and set aside.
In the meantime, add flour and salt to a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process briefly to mix. With the machine running, add the water-yeast mixture in a steady stream. Turn food processor off and add oil pulsing a few times to mix.
Scrape soft dough out of food processor and onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough into a ball incorporating any remaining bits of flour. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each into a tight, smooth ball, kneading to push the air out.
Place the dough on a floured surface, cover with a clean dishtowel and let double in size (about 45 min.). Preheat oven to 240°C (500°F). If possible, use a pizza baking stone preheated in the oven.
To use dough tomorrow:
Place dough balls on a baking sheet lined with a clean dishtowel, cover with plastic wrap leaving room to double in size. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 15 min. before using.
The dough can be frozen for up to one month by dusting them generously with flour as soon as they are made and place each one in a separate freezer bag. To use, thaw in refrigerator for 10-12 hours or at room temperature for 3 hours.
A few topping suggestions:
- Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil
- Prosciutto, olives, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella
- Pesto with toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan
- Tomato, avocado and arugula – cook pizza with chopped tomatoes then add avocado and arugula when it comes out of the oven
- Caramelized onions, fresh sage or thyme leaves, grated pecorino and/or Parmesan cheese
- Seafood – a thin layer of tomato sauce topped with a mixture of clams, shrimp, mussels, squid, etc. If using frozen seafood, be sure to thaw and drain well otherwise the pizza will be soggy.