Stretching the Dough
I never used to be the sort of girl that would even attempt making pizza at home. I was far too much of a food snob. I was all ...."there's absolutely no point unless you have got a wood-burning pizza oven..." And so it would have remained, if it had not been for my children. Well, Amelie my daughter in particular, whose diet has become so limited that she has reduced her entire eating repertoire to Marmite Rice Cakes, pizza, chocolate and crisps. To avoid malnutrition, I turned to making pizzas myself and attempted to load them with anything I could get away with, that had some nutritious value. One such evening, Hugh, the partner, arrived home from work, stuffed a couple of slices in his mouth and announced "Well, we won't be going to Pizza Express again!". And then I thought, well maybe I will give it a go. After all I could buy the most fantastic ingredients for an adult version and it might be fun. And then I remembered Vallebona.
I first discovered Vallebona from another blogger, Keiko who is a photographer. She had been working for them producing some beautiful photographs, as always, for their website. She described this fantastic Sardinian deli, with the most wonderful produce and I was dying to visit it but since she lives in Suffolk I imagined it was going to be miles away. I could hardly believe it when I discovered it was literally 10 minutes away from where I live, in the middle of an industrial estate, between Homebase and our local dump. And what a shop! Fantastic cheeses all in perfect condition in a lovely walk-in fridge, maintaining just the right temperature. Amazing selection of charcuterie from Coppa to Bresaola. All sorts of Prosciuttos, Smoked Pancetta, Rosemary Porchetta, Mortadella and my favourite Salame Finocchiona Toscana packed full of fennel seeds. Then there are the more unusual Salamis made from Lamb, Vension and Wild Boar and the lovely Stefano and his wife Naoko and their fabulous staff are more than keen for you to try everything before you buy. You can pretty much eat lunch they are so generous with their tasters. They also have a wonderful selection of store cupboard goods including pasta and lovely Sardinian crisp flatbreads, honey and oil, vinegars and biscuits. You will want to buy everything, but beware, produce this good never come cheap. That is why pizza shopping here is such a good idea, as it makes your purchases go a long way. In the absence of Mozzarella I chose some Scamorza but I could have tried the Provolone. I bought a piece of lovely fatty Salame Rustico but again, the spicy Picante, the Wild Boar and the Felino Salame were all delicious. I tried them all! Next I chose some beautiful marinated baby artichokes hearts and some delicious Spiced Anchovies. Expensive, Yes, but that lot is going to make quite a lot of pizzas.
If you want you can even buy stone baked Pizza bases, which I have to say, are really good, but I still prefer to make my own. You may not have a Vallebone on your doorstep, but if you are in a city I bet you have a good Italian Deli somewhere nearby.
This recipe is adapted from Jamie at Home.
I make up a kilo at a time and after prooving I break it up into portion sized balls, about 6-8, wrap them in cling film and freeze them. Remove from the freezer about an hour before you want to make your pizza. Leave to thore at room temperature. 1 kg strong white bread flour or Tipo "00" flour or 800g strong white bread flour or Tipo "00" flour, plus 200g finely ground semolina flour 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt 2 × 7g packets active dried yeast 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 650ml lukewarm water
Sieve the flour/s and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or greesed clingfilm and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.
Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands - this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straightaway, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas - this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.
Place a large flat oven tray in the oven and heat the oven to as hot as it will go (not grill). Roll the dough out into rough circles, about 1/4-inch thick or thiner if you like and place them on slightly larger flat baking sheet which has been well dusted in flour. Top with whatever you like. Though the secret with pizza is not to put on too much toping. When the oven has reached max heat slide the pizza off the small baking sheet directly onto the hot oven tray. This will ensure that you get a crisp base. Cook for about 5 minutes.