In Greece, Sunday is, traditionally, “friends’ day”. This means that, usually, someone comes over and we cook and have a good time over a meal. That’s mainly because Sunday is game day – we all gather in houses and watch football (soccer in some parts of the world, you know, the European football, not the American kind!), and then football (this time, I mean the American kind!) and everything else in between.
Most times, these “meals” start at early noon and go on until late at night! We eat, drink beer and yell at the TV a lot. At the end of the day, we return home, happy or sad for our teams, but certainly a lot closer to each other.
Now, due to the fact that I have a cooking virus, these little get-togethers usually take place at our home. Lately, they have started involving simpler forms of food, and, at the same time, are becoming more and more often. The financial crisis is to “blame” for both of these. Now, I’m all for meeting with friends, AND I’m all for simple forms of food, so – if I forget for a minute about all the taxes I have to pay as an unemployed person, that far exceed my income – the financial crisis is not so bad, eh?
Anyway, this Sunday was no exception. Even though sports season is long over, we still get together with our friends and enjoy our balcony. This time, we had to talk “business”, so, obviously, there was beer and fingerfood. We laughed and gossiped a lot, and did some serious talking too. That’s the correct way to do business: content, with a smile.
Being Italy people, we opted for pizza. I always make pizza from scratch, because it is not as hard as it sounds and it actually tastes about 1,593 times better than ready-made pizza. It just takes a lot more time. Some of what follows is tips we… kindly extracted from my cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s sister, who was Italian, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember what of all of these is standard recipe and what is Italian pizza-making wisdom. I’ll just tell you how I do it, secrets and no secrets alike!
At this point I should say this: there are many pizza crust thickness standards that confuse the world. There’s very thin and crispy and a tiny-bit thicker and then there’s thick and fluffy (which I think is mainly eaten in Sicily), but the one I like – and make – is thin thin thin/crispy crispy crispy. So bear with me if you’re a thick-crust lover, vabbe’?
For the dough, you will need (for two baking sheets – two pizzas):
1 ½ tsp dried yeast
3 Tb olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt
300ml warm water
Start by mixing the yeast with 2 Tb water and leaving it for five minutes. Meanwhile, put the flour and the salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In there, place the yeast/water and 3 Tb oil and start mixing. Slowly start adding the water and keep mixing, until you have a sticky dough. It’ll be very sticky and you will think you’ve done it all wrong, but you haven’t.
Take that sticky dough and any dough-pieces that may still be in the bowl, place it on a floured surface and start kneading. It’ll take you about ten minutes of kneading, until it stops being sticky and turns into an elastic dough. Try to make it into a ball and pressing it down with the inside of your wrist. It is a great meditation too, for real, my mind always relaxes when I do this.
When the dough is no longer sticky and is elastic enough (it’s elastic enough when you pull out a piece of it and it doesn’t immediately break off), oil a large bowl, put it in there, cover it with a damp towel and place it somewhere warm and safe from cats/kids/earthquakes.
This is the dough before rising
Cover it up and leave it for 1 1/2 hours
In about an hour and a half, it will have doubled in size. When this happens, punch it down (it’ll make a “pfff” like air is coming out – air IS coming out – but don’t expect it to be something loud, you’ll probably just feel it on your hand) and leave it for another couple of minutes.
This is it, after 90 minutes. See how big it got?
Your dough is ready to be rolled!
Take the dough in your hands and separate it in two equal pieces. At this stage, the official pizza making rules (you thought there wouldn’t be any? Hahaha!) state that professionals shouldn’t use a rolling pin, but should always roll the pizza dough by hand. Which is why you see all the pizza chefs (pizzaioli in Italian) throw the dough in the air, putting on quite a show. Of course, I don’t do that. I would probably end up with a very surprised dough-covered black cat. I use a rolling pin, instead. But you are more than welcome to try it!
So, start rolling with your rolling pin until very thin. Carefully remove it from your working space and place it on an oiled baking sheet. From here on, you are welcome to improvise. You can have whatever you want on your pizza, there are no rules. I usually make sort of a Margherita for me, which means some tomato passata, mozzarella, basil and garlic (I put two cloves this time). Pizza AND an Italian flag, all at once! Mr. S chose to put passata, mushrooms, bacon, green pepper, black olives and oregano on his.
My version of a Pizza Margherita (with garlic)
If you have children, make it a game with them, get them involved in the process, have them choose their toppings, have them place the toppings on the pizza, maybe make mozzarella designs on the pan, everything is allowed!
Bake your pizza high in the oven at 240 degrees for 10-15 minutes.