…..it’s all about the base.
Most of us think of pizza for its topping, and this is how we talk of pizza…the base is never considered…but when the base is good, the topping is even better…..a more complete experience of flavour. A good base even makes a very simple pizza seem complete.
Pizza was often bakers fare when the oven was too hot for the bread yet, but they had dough and were very hungry….pizza needs and is borne of a hot oven. Varied toppings were used, cured meats, cheeses , vegetables and pestos, but the tomato completed the alchemy to give us the cross cultural and sacred blending of the tomato with cheese…a unique culinary event, probably spawned in Napoli and so so modern…it wasn`t done in Mexico the home of tomatoes, or in Italy the home of cheese. In this way Pizza has become a truly modern food, even a corporate product and a part of popular culture.
Pizza is kissing cousins with pissaladiere and focaccia…flatbreads with a topping, a universal idea which has pizza on a stellar trajectory leaving the cousins behind. There are also numerous Roman, Arabic and especially Armenian precursors. The pissaladiere/sardenara is probably the oldest form of what we could call a pizza still available today. Believe it or not, pizza is also a distant cousin of the sandwich, both with similar ingredients and intention, but pizza reflects its sunny origins and is more sensual.
There`s a lot of modern time-poor sense to a pizza as well…especially if the base is well made (aged) and even nutritionally (and flavour) enhanced with some wholemeal flour….because it’s a great idea really, the meal loaded on the dough and all in one, “on and not with”, as usually flatbreads were torn and dipped with the meal. With simple good cheese and a few accompaniments, we can creatively achieve all the food groups!
Pizza is easily constructed by children thus a great hands on for them, and they can then thoroughly enjoy eating their own pizza, incidentally gaining culinary skills.
As resources became more widely available and we embraced global fusion, so did the pizza, which can almost be lost in a mire of toppings today, from the excessive to the crass, from canned pineapple to a Thai pizza replete with coconut cream sauce. Some abhor this assault of the post-modern pizza, yet others embrace the new flavours…it`s up to you.
In her masterly “English bread and yeast cookery” Elizabeth David pithily opines “A great many English people make the mistake of thinking that the more oddments added in the way of bits of sausage, bacon, mushrooms, prawns and anything else that comes to hand, the better the pizza will be. In fact the reverse is true”
I am in favour of using local cheeses for the pizza topping, English cheeses, especially the wonderful sheep and goats milk soft-ripened or characteristic local cheeses are more authentic pizza cheeses than modern mass produced ones which we are led to believe are for pizza. Be creative with your local cheese on the pizza base, you may be surprised .
Time is the master ...
The very simple and easy way to make an excellent pizza base is with Time. If you are a pizza aficionado, make a basic dough once a fortnight/week, and keep it refrigerated. Make sure to have a container which allows the dough to rise or it will fill the refrigerator. Open it everyday for the first few days, to allow built up gases to escape, and when it becomes rampant on days 1 and 2, repress it with minimal force…doesn’t have to be punched down, simply put back in its place!
To keep the dough longer and with minimal gassing/rising, it can be frozen and woken at least a day before use.
Ageing the base produces good flavour and superior texture but also does more than simply produce flavour. In an aged dough, the digestibility of the wheat flour base is greatly enhanced as the wheat matrix swells and becomes hydrated. Organic acids which form naturally and produce the flavours, also temper the gluten, making it more digestible as well. This means enhanced nutrition because more can be absorbed by the body without digestive difficulty. Apart from that, minerals in the flour are made easier to absorb as well, in the jargon, made “bio-available”.
The original pizza base is of course a sourdough, and you may be surprised by the excellence a sourdough base imparts. I can thoroughly recommend you try the sourdough base, and im fairly confident you wont return to a yeast base!
Most will have success with a designated strong bread flour such as Shipton Mills organic no 4 white bread flour, and massively rubbery doughs are recommended and celebrated. However the traditional bases were made from much softer flours, and often from spelt or emmer flour, as they are still today in parts of Italy.
The exceptionally thin base has become de rigueur and is certainly very good, however there are some who like the base a little(even a lot) thicker, so experiment to find your favoured thickness.
“A journey of self-discovery through pizza”…sound crazy? Well perhaps, he is from California! , but Peter Reinhart is the pizza guru and you may enjoy his story, advice and recipes…….t
Needs hot oven and bottom heat…its supposed to be quick A baking stone is useful for pizza.
This is a key tip, allow the dough to relax between rolls or it will tense and be difficult to roll out.
If using raw red onions or garlic, sprinkle with a little salt and enough olive oil to enrobe. Leave this for at least an hour and the onions become more digestible, and the oil will carry their flavour.
When rolling the dough, don’t skimp on dusting-flour as this will ensure easy-rolling and no dough stuck to the surface.
Be liberal with EV olive oil.
If you have a little left over dough, keep it and add to the next dough. This gives excellent flavour.
We've pulled together a mouth watering selection of recipes for you to try, which we hope you'll enjoy:
Not at all common, but uncommonly good, especially as a sourdough. The one pictured I made in Tuscany and it has just emerged from the wood-fired oven, with a characteristic scorch. The base is local flavoursome flour, wholemeal stone-milled and biodynamic, and is a sourdough.
Spelt was long used for pizza base and adds an interesting dimension of flavour.
Perfect pizza base for a topping of passata, 10 slices of a salami, a few arugula (rocket) leaves and sliced or grated mozzarella or sliced or cherry bocconcini.
YES, gluten free and it is not a penance, but rather good! A gluten-free pizza base can be tricky and often not palatable enough. This one is surprising.