Florence is one of my favourite places. We spent some great days wondering the streets in the sunshine, frequently stopping at Grom for pistachio or hazlenut gelato. At night, stumbling home with full bellies after a few glasses of red listening to the sounds of street musicians. Sounds good right? Well let’s gloss over the heated argument I had with an Italian shop owner about a travel adapter.
Our travel guide had given us some poor recommendations. One occasion saw a pizzeria owner show us so much contempt – I can only assume I insulted both his wife and kids whilst ordering bread sticks in Italian. One balmy night in Florence, we headed South of the river to Gusta pizza. The pizzeria was small, packed with locals and tourists huddled round barrels with pizza on paper plates and delicious wine in plastic cups. The incredible pizzas were cooked right in front of you in big wood fired oven in the corner. We loved them so much we ordered two more and scoffed them down next to the imposing Pitti Palace. Whilst I’ll never replicate those pizzas, with the help of a pizza making class whilst in Italy, I’ve managed to make something quick and pretty tasty indeed.
Here’s my thin and crispy margherita. The trick, like all Italian cooking, is to keep it simple and use good quality ingredients. If you do have a pizza stone then brilliant, a slab from B&Q will do too. It helps to cook the pizza fast in a super hot oven to give a crispy, blackened base. If not a pizza pan with holes in will do. I use beer rather than just water which helps give a much needed, malty taste to the base, perfect for dipping your crust in some garlic mayo.
ONE First whisk the beer, yeast, water and oil in a bowl and add your flour and salt to the mix. TWO Get your hand in, making a claw shape with your hand and turning the dough like it’s a massive dial whilst rotating the bowl THREE Once roughly combined, oil a clean work surface and knead for 10 minutes FOUR I tend to divide the dough into 150g and make them into ball shape, Leave the balls to rise for 1 hour FIVE Whilst the dough is on its way empty the tin of tomatoes in a saucepan and roughly tear some basil in to it. Season with sea salt and black pepper and leave on a low heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally SIX Preheat your oven to as high as it will go with your stone in the oven!
SEVEN To get a really thin base, roll out your dough so its almost see through. When confident, stretch out a bit using your hands EIGHT (The tricky bit) I remove the pizza stone from the oven carefully using oven gloves and quickly spread over the dough NINE Top the pizza with a ladle full of sauce, scatter 5 large leaves of basil and tear the mozzarella over the base, covering the basil with the cheese TEN Cook for 7 minutes but keep an eye out, it will cook fast. Enjoy.
ELECTRIC MIXERS You can of course combine and knead the dough using an electric mixer by mixing on the lowest setting as you add the water using the dough hook. Then turning up the speed to the next setting for 3 minutes. BUT where’s the fun in that?