First up in celebrating our multi-cultural foodie society, is the great Italian classic, pizza. For those of you so deeply ingrained in patriotism that you have never had, enjoyed or endorsed a pizza, you are missing out.
The act of covering a fermented bread with toppings and cheese in fact goes back as far as the Ancient Greeks, who favoured herbs and oils and local cheeses. The first recorded use of the word ‘pizza’ was over a thousand years ago, and the stretched-out dough that forms today’s modern Italian-style pizzas dates back to somewhere in the 1700s.
Pizza Express (heard of it? It’s a restaurant popular in the UK that specialises in pizza. You might have seen one) was opened in 1965 after the founder was so inspired by a nosh in Naples that he brought an authentic pizza oven back to England. AND A CHEF FROM SICILY. UKIPpers look away now, because Pizza Express is a direct product of immigration.
I’ve made my own pizza twice in the last month, as it is traditional in our household for birthdays to hold a ‘pizza party’ to celebrate special occasions. The format is simple and enjoyed by children and adults alike: make a simple pizza dough, cut it into little rounds, assemble scraps and leftovers from the fridge and grate anything sad looking rolling around in the vegetable drawer, and invite everyone to make their own pizza. It’s an hour’s entertainment for next to nothing, and guarantees that even the fussiest guests will eat their dinner because they made it themselves.
So without further ado and in homage to the Sicilian chef who snuck across the ocean and brought us Pizza Express, here’s my Birthday Pizza recipe, updated for the 2015 birthdays and made ever so slightly healthier. Viva la immigration. My tummy thanks you, Mr B.
Made 30 smallish round pizzas, recipe easily halved:
280g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour
2 tsp fast action dried yeast
250ml warm water
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt (feel free to reduce or leave out if making for children)
extra flour to dust your baking tray
First put 100g of the flour into a bowl with the yeast and stir slowly as you tip in the warm water. As soon as it’s come together, add the oil, sugar and salt and remaining flour, and mix well until everything is combined. This should take less than a minute. Lightly flour your worksurface and knead until it is springy to touch.
Flour the inside of your bowl and pop the dough back into it, cover with cling film and leave it for at least half an hour for the yeast to activate. This year I was organised and made mine 6 hours ahead of time; it needed a bit of knocking back but it was the best pizza dough I’ve made yet.
When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 200C. (This is slightly lower than previous pizza dough recipes as the mini ones are teeny tiny and need a slightly gentler cook.)
Dust your baking trays with a little extra flour. Add some more to your work surface and roll the dough out. Cut it into circles with either a large cookie cutter or by tracing around a side plate with a blunt knife. Or a good large mug will do.
Smear the top with pizza sauce (recipe here >>> ) or a squidge of tomato puree if you’re feeling lazy. Top with desired toppings, generally the odds and sods from the fridge in my case, if you’ve never had yesterday’s tikka masala or bolognese on a pizza, you haven’t lived. Add liberal amounts of cheese for melty goodness, and cook for 12 minutes or until crispy around the edges. Allow to cool, and devour. And raise a glass to that Sicilian chef, and the many others before him, who perfected the art of the pizza, and generously shared it with us. Grazie!
Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe