Sunday 4 November 2012

Pizza the past

I've got a fairly substantial collection of cook books, a few Nigellas, a shelf of Jamies and an array of Delias. Some I cook a lot of things from, some (and I'm talking about you here The River Cafe cookbook) barely see the light of day. Skulking around on the bottom shelf, a bit unfashionable although affectionately remembered, is The Dairy Book of Family Cookery.

Those of you of a certain age may remember this fella. Produced by the Milk Marketing Board, my mum purchased this from Hank our milkman (no idea what his real name was but he looked like Hank Marvin) in 1983. It was one of the first cookery books I'd ever really looked at and probably the first one I tried to cook something from. For some reason I went for saute potatoes, which may give you an insight into the aspirational 80s style of the book!

To be honest, these days I don't really make anything from it, I think in the main I like to keep it around for the nostalgia. With one exception. Quick pizza.

I know what you're thinking, quick pizza either involves 'a mum's gone to Iceland' or 'where's that Dominos leaflet gone?' scenario. Both of which are viable alternatives when a pizza emergency calls (and I have to say both crop up in the Blackbird Bread coop). However, if I have some time, and the ingredients, I'll often knock this up for Saturday lunch. It's ideal if you fancy a homemade pizza but don't have the time or inclination to mess around with bread dough (even Mr B feels like this on occasion).

In fact this scone-style pizza base also featured in one of my home economics classes (taught by the lovely Mrs Rock) around the same time the Dairy Book of Family Cookery graced our milk round. I don't know if the redoubtable Mrs R got her inspiration from here or from the equally redoubtable Delia (there's something similar in the Complete Cookery Course). Over the years I've tweaked it a bit here and there, sometimes I play around with the scone base, vary the toppings, experiment with the cheese but the base is more or less courtesy of Mrs Rock and the Milk Marketing Board, so in homage to a couple of old friends ...

Scone-based pizza

For the base
225g self-raising flour
half a teaspoon of salt
75g butter
150ml milk

For the tomato sauce*
glug of olive oil
1 small onion finely chopped
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
pinch of salt and sugar; grind of black pepper to taste

For the topping
whatever you fancy - we usually have child-friendly toppings (ham, pineapple, sweetcorn) and less child-friendly ones in disguise (mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, tuna) not necessarily all on one pizza!
Sprinkle of dried oregano
200g or thereabouts of grated cheese - I usually use cheddar for this sort of pizza

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter (room temperature will make your life easier). It needs to look like breadcrumbs. Gradually add the milk (you may not need all of it) to make a soft dough. Bring it together a bit with your hands then tip it out onto a floured board.

A note on what to bake it on 
You'll need something to cook the pizza on, being bready people we have a stone which we also use for bread making. If you have one, pop it in the oven to start heating up around 180 degrees. If you don't, use something like a fairly strong, flat baking sheet or tray. You get a better result if you heat the stone or baking sheet first, and transfer the pizza onto it when it is assembled - tip from Rachel Allen below. Frankly, this can be a slightly hazardous process, as you may lose the pizza or the hairs on your arms, so if you don't fancy trying to get the pizza on to a hot tray or stone just put the base when it is rolled out straight onto an unheated one. You may just need to make sure the bottom isn't soggy when you take it out of the oven!

I digress, back to the dough, knead it a little on the board, roll into a ball and then using a rolling pin, roll it out to around 1cm thick. You'll need to shape it a little to reflect the shape of the tray or stone you are using. Put to one side while you make the sauce.

For the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until it has softened. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and seasoning and leave to cook out and reduce on a gentle bubble for around 20 minutes. Sometimes I get the sauce on first before I make the base, I like to mix it around - that's how I roll. You want it to reach the point where you have a thick sauce and most of the liquid has gone. This may make more sauce than you want to put on you pizza, but I tend to use the whole tin of tomatoes and save the extra sauce for pasta or another pizza.

*You could just avoid this and use tomato puree and spread it straight onto the pizza base. However, I find the flavour a bit dull. And I find the extra sauce handy for the freezer.

Spread the sauce on the pizza base, as much or as little as you want (although remember the more moisture you have from the sauce or the toppings the more will soak into your base). Sprinkle over the oregano (I like to add it here rather than in the sauce as it tastes more herby in the finished pizza, although I've also added it to the scone mix too).

Arrange your toppings and sprinkle over the cheese.

If you are using a preheated tray I picked up a tip from Rachel Allen of using a flat cold baking sheet or tray to transfer the pizza straight to the preheated one in the oven. You just need to sort of slide it over and give it a little flick (and Aretha style, possibly also a little prayer!). If you are using a cold tray just pop it in the oven.

It will need around 20-25 minutes depending on if you pre heated your tray or stone.

Cheesy, retro, goodness!

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