Andreae Prozesky says there’s no pie like-ah the pizza pie.
I’m good in the kitchen, it’s true. I’m not going to lie.
I have an impressive set of skills, honed over the years and bolstered by an encyclopedic—perhaps even freakish—knowledge of things foodular. I have confidence. I have problem-solving skills. I have one foot planted in theory and one in experience.
And I still can’t make decent pizza dough.
I’ve been coached by some excellent pizza makers, and still I’m rubbish at it. My pizza dough comes out flabby, too thick and too white, or too thin and slightly charred. I really could do better, but I suppose that what it comes down to is that I just couldn’t be bothered. It’s one of those things that I would just as soon leave to the professionals. Like pedicures and neurosurgery.
As a result of this impediment, my intake of gooey, melted cheese is far lower than the recommended weekly amounts for a lacto-omnivore of my age and height. My daughter seldom eats pizza at all, which is a shame really, given her great passion for tinned, sliced black olives and nitrite-treated meats.
Normally, when faced with a food challenge, I would tie my hair back, get out a giant bag of flour and get to it. I would make batch after batch until I got it right. But I’m a bit more crooked than usual these days, and my patience isn’t quite what it should be, so I’m going to turn to the ready-made, the prefab items offered up in crinkly cellophane at the grocery store. It’s unlike me, I know, but I can’t be like me all the time. Too exhausting.
There are plenty of ready-to-use pizza bases out there. Unfortunately, their problem is that they’re horrible. Doughy, salty, and dry, they call to mind the trenchers of stale bread that were used for plates by medieval castle-dwellers. They’re fine if you’re planning to pick all the toppings off them and then throw the crust to the dogs, but is that really the best use of your money (and your dogs)?
Pita bread is a classic choice for the one-serving, home-assembled pizza, and it’s not a bad one. Sometimes you can find Greek-style pitas—even whole wheat ones, if you’re lucky—at grocery shops around here, and they can be quite good. They’re thicker then the pitas we’re used to—think “souvlaki” and you’re getting the picture.
But if you’re stuck with plain pitas, try this trick, courtesy of a fellow Scopemaker whose wisdom is great: open the pita up along the seam just enough to be able to spread a layer of grated cheese in there, and then go about topping your pizza as normal. Surprise! Hidden cheese! Double the melty goodness!
If you want to step away from the whole pita thing, though, here’s another option: grocery store naan.Yes, the Indian flatbread you use to scoop up your butter chicken. You can easily pick up white and whole-wheat varieties at the giant mega supermarkets, and while they’re not like the bread you get at your favourite curry place, they make great pizza bases. While I’d love to take credit for this discovery, I actually got the tip from a Nigella Lawson book, but I’m sure Ms Lawson wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you.
The breads usually come two to a pack, and they’re kind of triangular, but that only makes things more exciting, really. They make a nice, crispy crust, and since they’re cooked in a tandoor—or so the makers would have us believe— they have a smokiness to them reminiscent of pizza from a proper wood-burning oven.
One thing about doing pizza at home is that your oven will never be as hot as the one at the pizzeria—those babies run at about 700F. So, for the proper effect, you want your oven as hot as you can reasonably get it—450F is about all you can ask a home oven to reach.
And you’ll get lovely crispness if you place the pizza directly on the rack rather than on a pan, but that can be tricky. Here’s how one pizza goddess I know does it: flip a cookie sheet over and assemble your pizza on it so you can actually shake the pizza off the pan onto the rack. Let the pizza bake on the pan for a few minutes, then grab the pan out from underneath and gently shake the pizza off. Then bake a few more minutes on the bare rack.
It takes practice, but you’ll get it—you’re far more patient than I am.
SEXY PIZZA TIME
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what to put on a pizza, but if you’re lacking inspiration, try one of these:
• olive oil, sautéed baby spinach, goat cheese, and pine nuts
• tomato sauce, mozzarella, pineapple, and banana peppers
• cream cheese, mozzarella, and smoked salmon (which is an approximation of the pizza I saw advertised on Pizza Hut billboards in Paris at Christmas… things are very, very different there).
• olive oil, tomatoes, bocconcini (little squidgy unripened mozzarella balls packed in water), and basil
Make sure you don’t overload the pizza, or your crust will be burnt before your toppings are heated through. Many a delicious pizza has been ruined by topping overload.
One thing not to do is throw too many prefab ingredients on top of one another, because you will end up with the saltiest pizza ever. Store-bought naan plus Knorr jarred pesto plus grocery store roast chicken plus parmesan equals sodium hell.
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