For my birthday last year, my husband bought me a breadmaker. Up until this point, I had always been a breadmaker sceptic. Bread has an unearned reputation for being difficult to make, and I couldn't see why it was necessary to buy an inconveniently large and ugly machine to do a job that can readily be done with your hands on a clean work surface.
To my surprise, however, I am a convert. The inconvenience of breadmaking is all in the waiting. It's an enterprise which takes time, and unless you're planning to spend ages hanging around the house, it isn't always practical. Breadmakers still require advance planning, but they unshackle you from the kitchen.
One of the great benefits of owning a breadmaker is that it makes it a whole lot easier to make delicious homemade pizza instead of ordering takeaway or buying a piece of horrible refrigerated cardboard from Tesco. It's so easy that, providing you remember to put all the ingredients in the machine before you go to work, it is something that you can knock together without much effort after a long and tiring day in the office.
Today, I decided to make two pizzas - the first was a blue cheese and red pepper pizza, based on my normal recipe, and the second was a more experimental tomato-free pizza bianca with potatoes (carb overload!), garlic and rosemary.
The recipe below is for two pizzas, but you can easily vary the quantities depending on how much you want to make.
For the dough - both pizzas
3 cups of strong white bread flour
1 ⅛ cups of water
½ teaspoon of salt
1 sachet of yeast
1 tablespoon of olive oil
For the tomato sauce - first pizza
400g chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt and pepper
Additional toppings - first pizza
120g grated mozzarella (use the cheap stuff for pizza, and don't use mozzarella in brine, otherwise you'll end up with a very watery pizza!)
65g blue cheese - gorgonzola is good
½ red pepper chopped into strips
Toppings for the pizza bianca - second pizza
250g new potatoes, boiled and sliced
1 small red onion
Sour cream or creme fraiche
4 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper
For the dough
If you've got a breadmaker, just bung all the ingredients in the breadmaker an hour and a half in advance, and put it on the dough setting. If you are doing it before you leave for work, use the timer delay to start the programme an hour and a half before you get home.
If you don't have a breadmaker, mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and then add the water. Using your hands, combine the ingredients and knead until they form a ball. Once all the ingredients have come together, tip the dough onto a clean work surface and then knead with the olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel, and leave for an hour and a half.
Once the dough is ready, divide it into two pieces. Then take two lightly oiled baking trays and place the dough halves in the centre. Using the flats of your hands, gently stretch the dough to cover the tray. You should aim for it to be around half a centimetre thick. Then set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. To stop the dough drying out, you can cover it with a piece of lightly oiled clingfilm placed directly onto the dough.
For the sauce
Put some olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and gently fry the garlic. After about a minute, add the tomatoes, lemon juice, tomato puree and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and then simmer for 10 minutes. You don't want this sauce to be too chunky, so if necessary, use a potato masher to make it smoother.
One of the secrets to a good pizza is to be sparing with the tomato sauce. The amount here is enough for 2-3 pizzas, so freeze any that you have left over. It will also keep in the fridge for a few days.
Assembling the first pizza
Using a spatula, smear a quantity of the tomato sauce evenly across the base. Then sprinkle the grated mozzarella evenly across the sauce. Then break the blue cheese into small chunks and scatter them across the pizza. Then scatter the slices of red pepper over the pizza.
Assembling the second pizza
Using a spatula, smear a thin layer of sour cream across the base of the pizza. Season well with salt and pepper, and then finely chop the rosemary and garlic and scatter them over the sour cream. Arrange the sliced boiled potatoes evenly over the sour cream layer and season again with salt and pepper. Then finely slice the red onion and scatter that over the potatoes. To finish, dot the pizza with small dollops of sour cream.
To make pizza, you need to get your oven really, really hot. This will ensure a nice and crispy base which is soft and chewy inside. I set mine to 240C. Once the oven is at the right temperature, put the pizzas in for 15-20 minutes. The pizza on the lower shelf may take a bit longer. Once the cheese or sour cream is turning golden, they are done. Take them out and leave to stand for a couple of minutes before slicing and serving.
I reckon the quantities here will serve 3-4 people. If you want to make less, reduce the quantities for the dough to 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cups water.
The great thing about pizza is that the number of potential toppings is huge. For a regular pizza, I always use tomato sauce and mozzarella as a base and then vary the other ingredients. So instead of blue cheese and red peppers, I might use Monterey jack and jalapeños. Or spinach and ricotta. Or caramelised onions and goats cheese. Use your imagination!