There are weeks that are made for steamed vegetables, and weeks that are made for nuts and grains, and then there are weeks that are made for absolutely nothing but pizza.
“I think,” the Tall Man said, sort of thoughtfully, on Friday afternoon, “I think the thing I like best in the whole world (excluding you) is pizza.”
And it had been a pizza sort of week. The kind of week where every day has another meeting, or another form, or another chapter of bloody Proust. The kind of week where it rained every time on my walk home. The kind of week where therapy seemed a good bit worse than staying untherapised and fully neurotic. The kind of week where every day got a tiny, tiny bit worse than the one before. That’s a pizza week if I ever saw one.
So we had pizza, and the week improved.
We had this pizza, in fact, which is a little bit thinner and cracklier than a lot of pizza, and a little bit spicier and deeper than a lot of pizza, and a little bit sexier than nearly every pizza in the world. It’s pizza for grown-ups, almost more like a piled-high flatbread than anything else. It’s also oven pizza. Oven pizza! Crispy, flatbread-y, decadent oven pizza.
It does require you to heat your oven hotter than you thought possible (hotter than the heart of the sun, if your oven will go that far), but it’s quite worth it, I think. Especially if you don’t have any heating and it’s suddenly freezing in your tiny flat. Is there anything else to say about pizza? You know you love pizza. I know I love pizza. Let’s all eat pizza.
Awful Week Oven Pizza
Serves 6 easily, with an absolute riot of leftovers.
(And a terribly small appendix)
200g rye flour
300g 00 flour (sometimes also called “pasta flour”
300ml warm water
One sachet (7g) instant yeast
Two tbsp olive oil
A good pinch of salt
Bit of extra flour; bit of extra olive oil.
You can do the dough by hand, or you can do it by mixer-with-dough-hook. My mixer is new. I am astonishingly, hopelessly proud of it. I expect I used to feel that way about my hands, too, (back when they were as shiny new as my mixer) but for now I’m using the precious beloved mixer. It really is astonishingly pretty, and very effective at this sort of thing. But hands are really just as good.
In any event, sift your flour into a biggish bowl; add your yeast, and make a well in the centre. Pour in your warm water, and your olive oil, stir briefly, and let sit for a few moments. I’m not sure why this is necessary, but it does seem to be. Add your salt. Then either get your hands in (you know how to knead, all hands and warm dough coming together, folding it over and under itself until it stretches and forms), or flip the mixer-with-dough-hook switch to the lowest possible setting. Ten minutes hand-kneading, eight minutes machine-kneading (four minutes on the lowest speed, four minutes on the slightly higher speed). And then..that’s it. Take your formed dough, and pop into an oiled bowl (I just oiled the mixer bowl, post-facto), and cover with a tea towel, in a warm dark place.
In my case, this is under the table, with the space heater on. Which, coincidentally, is my favourite place in the whole flat, but I don’t mind sharing it with the pizza dough.
Wait four hours. Possibly a little longer. Resist the urge to peek.
Turn your oven as high as it will go, about an hour before the dough is ready, says Felicity Cloake. It really does work, but is
a bit quite vastly wasteful of electricity. Of course it is. It will not be the end of the world if you don’t do this (preheating for an hour), but if you want your pizza Roman-pizza-cart crispy, it does work beautifully. Put your trays (I used an ordinary baking sheet), or your pizza stone (fancy) in too.
When you’re ready to go (sauce made, toppings chopped), take the tea-towel off. Marvel at how much your dough has risen. Marvel at dough, generally. Marvel at yeast. You have called these tiny tiny insensible creatures to do your bidding- to live at your bidding!- and they have. Yeast is mad. Yeast is the nearest most of us will come to being God. Bread making is playing God, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. I love it.
Prepare yourself a work-space: a flat place big enough to wield a rolling pin in, dusted lavishly with flour, and a rolling pin. I did this part on a slate balanced on my knees, because the tiny flat is very tiny, and it worked after a fashion. Moderate, occasionally poor, occasionally very poor.
Pluck a smallish fist of dough, and by some unholy combination of tugging and pulling and rolling (I cannot do the thing that you are supposed to do, spinning it on my fists like a circus lady, but I get by with a rolling pin), form your pizza base. As thin as you like. Thinner. Go on. A bit thinner. Flour the slate-plate some more if it seems to be sticking. The thinner you get it, the better, I think with this one.
With an oven glove, take the hot baking tray out of the hot hot hot oven. Balance the hot baking tray on the unlit hob, or trivet of some kind. Don’t touch it. I mean it. It’s hot. With some combination of luck and unexpected dexterity, flip your rolled-out pizza base onto the hot tray, and turn your attention to the next two chapters.
For the sauce:
Three medium, pre-boiled beetroots
Two large red onions
Some kind of chilli sauce: I used one from the Hogsback Brewery, which Tall Man got as a Christmas present. It’s absurdly good.
And two teaspoons of this. You can probably estimate the amounts needed just for two teaspoons in this, I think.
The thing about sauce is this: you could very easily use ordinary shop bought pesto, and nobody would think you were any less fancy. And that lazy/fancy combination is usually fairly close to my heart. I know. Why bother making something complicated when the simple thing will get you just as many bonus points?
And yet. And yet. I find myself recommending you make this chilli-beetroot sauce. It’s faff, and another pan to wash up, and time, and oh god it all sounds so dreary and adult and and and yet. And yet. This beetroot sauce is really, really worth the extra effort. I promise. Would I lie to you? It’s rich, and spicy, and hot, and deep, and it goes so gorgeously with crisp bread and soft cheese, and I really think you ought to make it. I really really think you ought to make it. Come with me here. Just this once. I will never tell you to do anything that isn’t absolutely more rewarding to eat than the faff it is to make. Come on. Here we go. So.
Slice your onions into half-moons, and press down on their centres to split them off into thin curved laces; tip the whole lot into a saucepan with some olive oil, and either two heaped teaspoons of that Lazy Girl’s Secret Weapon (I’m proud of that, I am), or some plain ordinary chopped garlic and a hefty squodge of tomato puree, the kind from a tube. Stir it round in a no-nonsense sort of way; turn the heat to medium-low; add a splash of water or even something boozy; cover; walk away, and dice your beetroot.
I like my beetroot relatively solid; Tall Man likes his essentially mashed. (You can see here our comparative laziness.) You do you, but on the small size. Say fingernail-sized cubes?
Stir your onions, which should be twisting and softening and going a little caramel-y. You can take as long as you like, with this part. Absolutely as long as you like. That’s the lovely thing about caramelising onions: no hurry. When your onions have reached a point you’re happy with (for me, about twelve minutes after they went in), throw in your beetroot, a good glop of chilli sauce, a squodge more puree, an enormous grind of black pepper, a pinch of salt, a really thorough stir, and bam the lid back on. While the sauce is bubbling and softening- and turning an astonishingly lovely shade of pink- flick your eyes down to Chapter Three, and consider your toppings.
For the toppings:
1/4 butternut squash
A good fistful of caraway seeds
A splash of olive oil
Some sort of cheese: we had some soft goat’s cheese, and some mozzarella. Why not?
Blackberries (trust me! I promise!)
You can, obviously, use whatever toppings you like. It’s your pizza. But these worked bloody beautifully for us.
-The mushrooms and saucisson are, I think, pretty self-evident. Slice them up, on they go.
-The cheese, too. Tear it up, on it goes.
-The butternut squash is absolutely gorgeous: a sort of garnish, sliced as tinily and delicately as you can (impossibly small slivers), and tossed into a pan with some dry-fried caraway seeds and a generous splash of olive oil. Covered, and occasionally stirred, for about ten minutes, and then spooned over the sauced-and-topped pizza. Just beautiful.
-And as for blackberries… I’m rather pleased with that one. I’m a blackberry sort of lady, and they are all autumnal and foresty.
So. You have your toppings prepared; your sauce thickened and bubbled together; your dough, rolled out and splayed across a hot hot oven tray; and your oven, hotter than it’s ever been.
Spoon your sauce over the dough. Scatter over your cheese. Add mushrooms, or saucisson, or both. Blackberries? Perhaps. Sprinkle over your caraway-squash. A pinch of sea salt, a grind of black pepper.
Back into the hot oven for between four and six minutes. Have plates (or chopping boards, like us) ready. Oven glove. Pizza out. Tray back in. Eat. Rejoice in being alive. Isn’t that the fucking tits? Aren’t you astonished at how clever you are? Isn’t everyone praising you to high heaven? Aren’t you a crazy genius of pizza? Look how happy you’ve made everyone. Look how happy you’ve made yourself. My god. You’re wonderful, and so is your pizza. Doesn’t that make up for every meeting and form and endless, irretrievable chapter of Proust? You’re the best, you are. Have a glass of wine, and another bit of pizza. Feel justly proud of yourself. That’s how you turn a week around. That’s why some weeks are pizza weeks. You’re great, and I love you. Pizza!
It might be worth my saying here the combinations of toppings we had, because they were all rather lovely. We made six thinnish pizzas between three of us. I do not regret a second. Nor should you. Never regret pizza this good. Never regret anything that makes you as happy as this pizza ought to.
First and second pizza, pictured directly above: beetroot-chilli sauce, mozzarella, saucisson sec sliced very thin, and a scattering of squash-bits. Tall Man’s favourite.
Third pizza: a very thin layer of chilli sauce, straight from the jar, mozzarella, and saucisson. I think this was our friend DVB’s favourite.
Fourth pizza: chilli sauce as above, goat’s cheese, saucisson.
Fifth pizza: beetroot-chilli sauce, goat’s cheese, blackberries, saucisson, squash. My favourite. Like woods in autumn. Bit dizzying from how nice it was, actually.
Sixth pizza, pictured at the very top of this post: pesto, oyster mushrooms, goat’s cheese (sliced), and halved-blackberries. Absolutely beautiful: sharp-sweet blackberries; sour-soft goat’s cheese; familiar, slightly tinny pesto. I loved this one, too.
Happy pizza. x