In the fantasy long running pizzeria competition that is my life, the winners are: Size – Pat’s Pizza, West Haverstraw (1980s); Hipness with tradition – John’s Pizza, Bleeker Street NYC (1990s); Flavour – The original Franco Manca, Brixton Market (2000s); Ambience – Zì Caterina, Pompeii (2010s).
But the gold medal went nearly 20 years ago to an unnamed kiosk under a flyover near Agrigento, where individual pizzette of unimaginable deliciousness were still being cooked to order late, late at night for lost travellers. The offerings made here at home in a regular oven cannot compete with the elite company above, but they are fresh, tasty and easy to freeze.
- Ingredients: For the bases of up to six individual pizzette – 450g plain white flour, 7g fast acting dried yeast, approximately 300ml liquid, 40 ml olive oil, 1/2 tsp sugar, salt, pepper
- Topping: 400ml sugo (see recipe), plus any of the following: a packet of mozzarella, a small tin of anchovies, cooked sausage, ham, fontina cheese, olives, sliced peppers, chillis, capers, fresh herbs.
- Method: Sift the flour into a largish bowl. Add the yeast, sugar, and salt, then the liquid. I boil a kettle and pour out about 150 ml into a mug, then fill up with cold milk and stir around. When this has cooled down (lukewarm) it can be poured onto the flour and stirred through. Then add the olive oil and begin to bring together with your hands. Turn out onto a cold lightly floured surface and knead for at least 10 minutes. You should notice that the dough becomes smooth, soft and springy, absorbing all the little doughy bits to leave the surface free of flour. If it seems too dry add water. Too wet? add a little more flour.
Return the dough ball to the mixing bowl. Wet your hands and spread a layer of moisture over the dough ball. Then cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place like a proving drawer until the dough has doubled in size, probably about an hour. Take out the dough, which will be leavened, and knock it back. Knead for a minute or two and leave to rise again.
After this, knock the dough down again and divide into 6 equal portions. For each one, roll or gently pull into a round shape. I use a cake tin base as a guide. Carefully place each dough base onto a foil lined oven shelf, which has been oiled. Cover the base with sugo, leaving gaps. Then either leave as is to garnish with fresh ingredients after cooking or add the topping you desire: say mozzarella, black olives and herbs. Or maybe anchovies, capers and chilli flakes, or sausage and fontina cheese – it’s a very personal choice. Leave to prove for 15 minutes, then slide the tray into a very hot oven and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Have a look and if necessary slide each pizzetta off the foil and directly onto the bars for another few minutes, so the bottom is cooked. Maybe grill the top for a moment too.
Once out of the oven, plain tomato pizzette may be garnished with fresh toppings – tomato, rocket, parmesan or prosciuto. Or these bases can be frozen and more toppings added another day.