Everyone has their Best Pizza Ever story. That holy grail found once and never repeated. Ours was before Ruby’s time, in a quaint little pizzeria in the Tuscan Hills on our first Italian trip. It was the perfect pizza, cooked in a wood-fired oven in front of us by the charming owner who spoke no English, a thin slightly chewy base smothered in fresh tomato sauce, dripping with mozzarella and locally cured meats. We gorged ourselves while child no. 1 slumbered on the banquette beside us. We talked about that pizza for years after.
On returning to the same area some years later with Ruby in tow, we resolved to find this pizza-haven but having forgotten its name and the village it lay in, we only drew puzzled shrugs from anyone we asked. No one had heard of this little pizzeria high up in the hills. Beginning to doubt our sanity we outwardly gave up, keeping only half an eye out as we drove around. One afternoon, having gotten lost yet again on the way back from the nearest town, we drove past it. What had fastened in our minds as a picturesque little trattoria was actually a mundane little bar called Il Passagero, with a handful of nonagenarians seated on plastic chairs outside. Skidding to a halt, we abandoned the car and raced inside. Sure enough it was the same place, with the same owner and his little wood-oven behind the bar.
Our memories hadn’t deceived us, it was still the best pizza ever. And the owner was as charming as ever, for while ours were merely round, Ruby got the Best Heart-shaped Pizza Ever…
Best Homemade Pizza Ever.
Friday is always pizza night in our house. Back in the day when time was cheap Ruby’s dad made it, using the bread-maker to knead the pizza dough and piling on whatever toppings came to mind. Lately it’s been Dominos, which has become more and more uninspiring as a Friday treat. So much so that this week there was a cry for homemade once more. Ruby and I rolled up our sleeves and set to making our best handmade pizza ever. Incidentally, this is the first time child no. 1 (aka Jude) showed any interest in our baking endeavours, and made his own.
Pizza dough (compiled from many, many different recipes)
250g bread flour
5g quick yeast
30ml olive oil
semolina for dusting
Easy tomato sauce
140g tin of tomato puree
2 garlic cloves crushed
large pinch of oregano / basil
large glug of olive oil
tablespoon of water
large pinch of salt
grind of pepper
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and water in a well in the centre. Mix all the ingredients together to form a claggy dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously for 10 mins. Place back in the clean, oiled bowl and leave to prove for about an hour or until doubled in size. Meanwhile combine all the ingredients for the tomato sauce, give it a good mix, and leave to stand.
When the dough has risen punch down and tip out onto a half floured, half semolina-ed surface. Pre-heat the oven to 220-230c with a pizza stone or baking tray inside. Divide into three pieces for small pizzas, or two for larger pizzas. Roll out each piece into a rough circle with a rolling pin. Or if you’re feeling brave squish each piece flat and then toss and twist to create a circle (we have yet to master this technique). When the dough is nice and thin spread with the tomato sauce and top with mozzarella and any topping of your choice, followed by a sprinkling of olive oil to make it nice and oozy. Then remove the pizza stone/baking sheet from the oven and slide the pizza on very carefully!
Bake for 10-15mins in the very hot oven until the top is browned and bubbling, and the base is cooked.
Ruby stuck to plain Marguerita with onions, Jude topped his with salami, while the grown-ups threw caution to the wind and plastered on goat’s cheese, pineapple, sundried tomatoes and chopped onions, drizzled with chilli oil. While maybe not quite up to the mythical standards of Il Passegero pizzas, our offerings were deliciously decadent, far better than the expensive cardboard cut-outs delivered to our door.
And for the life of us, we still can’t remember the name of the the little village…