Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Peck of Peppery Mc Pepper-Pants Pizza

You know the term Trial and error? Well when I hear that, I think of pizza dough. Well, bread in general has always been a bit of a struggle for me, as I'm never quite satisfied with the fullness of the flavour or the texture. I had a six week-long battle in the search for the perfect loaf of sourdough this winter and am currently taking a break so that I'm not tempted to throw my jar of starter through the window. (his name is Algernon, because when I feed him I say I have flour for Algernon.... That looks a little insane in print.)
I worked in a few pizza places when I was a teenager living in Port Townsend, WA. One made the best pizza crust and one made really bland, insipid crust that could easily have come from the grocery store. From the first place, I learned a TON about making pizza, tossing dough, making sausage and working with hippies. From the second place I learned that I missed the first place but that I liked working with women who shave their armpits, don't sweat like wrestlers and wax their upper lips.
But I digress. Much of my adult life has been spent trying to perfect my own pizza crust and finally, I HAVE DONE IT! For the past few months I have been able to make a consistently good dough.
I realize that when it comes to pizza crust, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. While some prefer a thin, crisp New York style and some (God knows WHY) like a thick, bread-like mattress like those Chicago stylie pies. I prefer thin crust, my husband prefers thick. This should have been discussed before we made any kind of commitment but luckily, because I'm the cook in our house, I make it my way.

Actually, my crust is more like an Italian one. Thin, crisp yet chewy, with a bubbly, crisp edge.
I add a little lemon juice (ascorbic acid) to help develop that crispy outer edge and bottom and I use a little sourdough starter for a fuller flavour, but you can leave it out and have a similar result.

Obviously, you can use whatever toppings you like, but this is one we regularly have, with three colours of bell pepper, red chilli and fresh peppery rocket (arugula) scattered over the top as soon as it comes out of the oven. Super tasty.

Very Peppery Pizza
Makes 2 lg pizzas, takes 3 hrs including dough resting

For the crust:
600g (21 oz) tipo 00 flour (or strong bread flour)
300ml (10 0z) lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp active dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup sourdough starter*
juice of 1/2 a lemon

For the sauce:
1 400g (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes
handful fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil

\2 150g (5.5oz) (ish) balls fresh mozzerella
1/3 each red, yellow and green bell pepper
1 tbsp crushed red chilli (or to taste)
Chunk of Parmesan
A few handfuls of wild rocket (arugula)

Handful polenta or corn meal (nature's ball bearings)

Make the dough. In a jug, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the olive oil, starter and sugar. Leave for a few minutes until the yeast has dissolved and there is a foamy froth on top of the liquid. Using a stand mixer** with the dough hook attachment, tip in your flour and salt and make a well in the centre. Squeeze the lemon juice into the water mixture and pour that whole lot into the well in the flour.
On a low setting, so as not to send flour everywhere, turn on your mixer to stir the liquid into the flour then increase the speed to properly incorporate and leave the machine to knead the dough for 6-7 minutes to produce a smooth, elastic dough.
Put a little oil in a large bowl and use the ball of dough you just made to coat the inside of the bowl. Cover the dough in the bowl and leave to rest in a warm place (the top of one of my husband's computers) for a couple of hours until more than doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and give it a little knead, then weigh the dough and divide into two equal balls. Cover the balls and allow to rest on the counter for 15 mins or so while you make the sauce.

Crank your oven up as high as it will go with a pizza stone or large baking sheet inside.

The sauce is so stupidly easy, I'm almost embarrassed to write the method.
In a small saucepan, put the crushed tomato, chopped basil, crushed garlic, salt and olive oil and bring to a low simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or so until reduced and you can smell the cooked garlic.

To assemble, roll out your dough on a floured surface until almost the size you want, then use the backs of your hands to further stretch outward until big enough to cover your pizza stone or baking sheet.

Now, move QUICKLY.
Remove the pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle it liberally with the polenta or corn meal. Lay your dough on top and spoon a few large spoonfuls of the sauce into the centre, using the back of the spoon to spread it out almost to the edge.
Lay your slices of one ball of mozzerella like the positions on a clock, with a few in the centre, then scatter with the crushed red chilli and top with half of the diced bell peppers.
Put right back into the oven and cook for 10 (ish) minutes, until the top is bubbling and the crust is a gorgeous deep brown.

Remove from the oven an slide onto a cutting board or huge serving plate. Use a vegetable peeler (or a grater is fine) to slice Parmesan all over the top, then scatter with the rocket leaves.

Allow to cool for 30 seconds- 1 minute before slicing and gobbling up.

Cook's notes:
* To make a wild sourdough starter, in a sterilized jar, mix 1/2 cup organic wholewheat bread flour, 1/2 cup organic white bread flour, 1 cup warm water and a few organic grapes.
Leave uncovered in a warm room for a day, then add another 1/2 cup of the same white or wheat flour and 1/2 cup warm water. Repeat on day three, and by day four, you should have a beery smelling, frothy mixture with which you can now make sourdough bread. You can store your starter in the fridge once it's established.
There are some brilliant online resources for making sourdough bread, which I have been trying. I'll try again shortly and will let you in on how it goes.

**You can make this dough in a bowl and with your hands if you want to or if you don't have a mixer. You'll want to knead the dough well on a floured surface for a good 10-15 minutes before leaving it to proof. This is essential for good texture and will be a fantastic workout!

PS. If your pizza cutter is on its last legs, I strongly recommend the Zyliss one I have. I've had mine for about ten years now and it's one of the best conceived kitchen gadgets I own. We also use it for cutting quesadillas and chopping large bunches of herbs.

Veggie Pizza on FoodistaVeggie Pizza


  1. This sounds delicious! Good for you for making your own pizza seems so intimidating!

  2. Beautiful pizza! I bet it tastes great!

  3. Yeah! Spicy pizza! I love rocket, or arugula on pizza!

  4. Alright, I have to try this pizza crust (although I don't have a mixer, so I might try the food processor?).

    How long do you think sourdough starter will keep in the fridge?

  5. Hi Beatrice,
    I wouldn't try a food processor, as they move rather fast and aren't really built for bread dough. The best thing would be to put the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and use your fingers or a butter knife to bring the flour in, from the inside-out. It might take a few minutes to fully incorporate the flour, and you may need to add a little more flour or water, depending on the consistency of your starter and the absorbancy of your flour.
    If you don't have a mixer with a dough hook, you will need to knead it by hand, as that is crucial for a good, chewy, bready texture. The motion of pushing and folding the dough stretches out the gluten strands and will give you a smooth, elastic like dough, instead of a crumbly biscuit-like one. Kneading is a very Zen activity actually. I often just use the dough hook to bring the ingredients together, but then knead it by hand. As Fanny Cradock used to say "You know that woman who lives next door that you really don't like, but were always too well-bred to say anything? Well take it out on the (bread dough)."
    If you leave out the starter, you may want to use a little less water to begin with.
    As for how long your starter will last, well I've had mine in the fridge now for about three months (maybe a little longer) and it's still doing well. When you use some, feed your starter by adding half a cup of flour and half a cup of warm water, mix well and leave it on the counter with the lid off over night. It should get nice and frothy and sour/beer smelling by morning.
    I haven't tried to make a loaf of sour dough in about two months now, so I only really use the starter for pizza and it will sit for a couple of weeks, completely untouched and is still going strong.

    I hope this helps!