Before embarking on my recipe for a Classic Pizza you need to make decisions on two ingredients. Both are easily omitted so use them or not, But they are like signature ingredients to me and I wouldn’t dream of making a pizza without them 🙂
Polenta (corn meal) on the tray:
Before putting rolled out dough onto your baking tray, sprinkle the ungreased surface with a light dusting of Polenta. The sandy texture does three things.
1.) Adds a texture to the crust base that used to identify a traditional Italian Pizza.
2.) Allows air-flow beneath the pizza that helps the crust bake more evenly.
3.) Creates a no-stick surface. Your pizza will slide right off the baked tray.
(If you elect not to use Polenta, rub your baking sheet sparingly with olive oil.)
Sea Salt in the dough:
I’m a huge fan of natural sea salt. I love the big chunky granules that need to be pummeled with mortar and pestle. One day I neglected to finish the pummeling and added the partially ground salt to the pizza flour by mistake. The result was unexpectedly delightful and I’ve since made it a part of my pizza bases and homemade breads.
Instead of the salt being evenly distributed in the dough you’ll find these tiny nuggets of salty flavour that periodically burst in your mouth, turning every bite into a virtual treasure hunt. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly become addicted to the adventure!
(If you opt to use plain table salt, use ½ tsp less than the recipe calls for below.).
My Classic Pizza recipe is in two parts: The Sauce – made ahead of time and left to stand in the fridge and The Base – begun at least 1 ½ hours ahead of serving time.
Preface: About once per year, when tomatoes are the most plentiful and least expensive, I will indulge in a flat and make my own sauces from scratch, just the way Mama Sr. (a lovely Sicilian woman from New Jersey) taught me almost 50 years ago. Whole tomatoes, capsicum (bell pepper) red onion, brown sugar, paprika and dried parsley are all slow simmered for several hours before being emulsified with a speed stick and put into canning jars. Throughout the year, these jars become the bases for all my Italian sauces, from traditional spaghetti to sweet chilli, to my own version of homemade ketchup. But for this exercise I am using store-bought tomato paste, sold in Australia in 1 cup jars as opposed to the small, slender tins sold in the US. For this recipe, 1 jar of tomato paste would equal 3 US tins.
Note: As a diabetic, I use only stone fruits as they are the lowest GI and only those brands that declare there is no added sugar But is sugar isn’t a concern, feel free to experiment.
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup (aprox) juice from tin of stone-fruit (apricot, peach or mango)
1 tbsp each dried oregano, basil, parsley
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
¼ tsp each table salt and black pepper
Blend all ingredients (do not cook) and store in fridge until ready for use. Excess amounts will keep nicely in fridge or freezer. Depending on how much sauce you prefer on your pizza, this could yield enough pizza sauce for as many as 12-16 pizzas and last for several months.
3-4 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
¾ cups cold milk
¼ cup hot water
1 packet dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp partially-pummelled chunky sea salt (see above)
The Base Step 1
Add hot water to cold milk. (Result should yield tepid mixture. If not, adjust with either hot or cold water and pour off all but 1 cup.)
Whisk in sugar + dry yeast. Let stand 5 minutes (until yeast rises).
In large bowl, with your fingers, blend salt and 3 cups flour. Make a well and pour in milk/yeast mixture. Smoosh it all together into a loose pile. Drizzle a nice grade of olive oil (or grapeseed oil < my fav) in three long strokes across the top (think Zorro) and then seriously knead the lot. Add dustings of flour as needed (usually between ½ and ¾ cups total) until dough is no longer sticky and forms a nice firm ball. (Should take less than 5 minutes.)
Cover with clean cloth or paper towels and place in a dark, cool corner to rise for 1 hour. (It’s ok to fudge on the timing. Either side of an hour is fine as long as it’s risen some – and even letting it go for up to 2 hours is ok too – you’re only going to punch the air out of it anyway.)
The Base Step 2
When you’re ready to knead the dough again, stop and preheat your oven to 180c (375f) and prepare your baking sheets.
This recipe will make two rectangular pizzas the size of a standard cookie sheet. The crust is thin (like a New York Pizza) but will hold its shape. To make a thicker crust, either use all the dough to make one pizza, or make two small rounds. Your choice.
Either sprinkle a fine layer of Polenta on the trays or lightly oil with whatever oil you’re using in the dough mix.
Dust your rolling surface and knead dough ball for just a couple of minutes. (If you’re doing 2 pizzas, divide the dough ball in half. I use a kitchen scale but you can eyeball it.)
The Base Step 3
Now get out the rolling pin and start stretching the first (or only) ball into shape. Flip the dough as you roll it out so the rolling action gets both sides of the dough. Just keep at it until the dough is the shape and size you’re after. Each time you flip the dough be sure to dust a tiny bit more flour onto the surface so it never sticks.
If you’re using the Polenta, lift the finished dough with both hands, (I’m short – the dough goes about halfway up my arms to to keep the dough from ripping) and then GENTLY lower it straight down (like a helicopter) onto the granules. Resist the urge to stretch the dough out to the edges of the tray as any mucking about will disrupt the evenness of your Polenta layer. You can, however, push and poke and stretch your dough on the oiled baking tray to your heart’s content!
Assemble your toppings – anything goes but I always manage to come back to my old stand-by of chopped mushrooms, pineapple, Bermuda onion, black olives, salami and either ground beef or pork – grated Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese.
Spread sauce over the pizza dough leaving an inch at the very edge. I was taught to use a soup spoon for this process but I know some cooks use a spatula. No worries.
Add your toppings.
I hesitate to give a cooking time as I use an old oven that never cooks the same meal twice in the same time. But if I had to guess I would say around 20 minutes for the thinner crusted pizzas and maybe 5-10 minutes longer for the thicker crusts. This is just a guess – I start checking it at 15 minutes and then have a sticky beak every 5 minutes after that.