If the world has been engaged in a pizza war – thin against thick crust it would seem the thin crust has won decisively, Neapolitan-style pizza rules and the deep-dish square pizza is decidedly passé. The thinner the crust the better, at some of the cooler pizzerias the crust seems to be barely there, after paying twenty bucks for a tiny, super thin pizza, with a sprinkling of (admittedly high quality topping) I still feel more than a little hungry and asking in the words of the late, great Peggy Lee – ‘Is that all there is?.
Lately, I’ve been yearning for a slightly thicker base on my pizza, it may just be my counter cultural reaction to the thin base, low carb obsessed moment we are living through, but what is wrong with having a bit of crust on your pizza. I’ve had Tessa Kiros’s wonderful book of family food ‘Apples for Jam’ for a few years now and accompanying picture for her deep dish pizza has made my mouth water ever since I first sighted it. Unfortunately I didn’t have a tray large enough make her recipe. That is the thing about deep-dish pizza, you need to bake a great slab of it to get the appropriate ratio of moist, gooey tomato, cheesy filling to crust. After scouring my local shops without any luck, I finally went online and ordered a large pastry tray so I could finally try my hand at this thick, slab pizza. A family dinner for my son’s ninth birthday seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it out.
I make pizzas a lot for my son and his friends at home – I make Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough, bake them on a stone and they are pretty good pizzas… good enough for me anyway! But I’m not really driven to recreate restaurant quality pizza in my home. I like pizza, it’s great thing to make if you have kids in your life but I’m not obsessed with it, as entire meal I find it bit unsatisfying and cooking pizza for a crowd is hard work. For my son’s seventh birthday, I made pizza for a hoard of 25 kids and their parents. Luckily, my niece showed up with a friend and I enlisted them as pizza slaves for the afternoon – otherwise I would have been trapped slaving over a hot oven all day.
Which brings me back to deep-dish tray pizza. Friends! – This is the perfect party pizza. There’s none of the endless kneading, rolling, resting, heating the pizza stone, putting it in the oven, sliding it round and then taking it out again and again, for the thin crust, Neapolitan style pizza. With the deep dish pizza the dough is so sticky and wet you can barely knead it anyway – you kind of slap it together, let it rise, punch it down, slap it on your oiled tray, spread it out, let it puff up a bit, drench it in tomato sauce, throw it in the oven and twenty minutes later you have a great slab of pizza to carve up, which is hearty, satisfying and delicious. This pizza is good warm but almost as good at room temperature and kids seem to love the tomato-ey, cheesy simplicity of it. Now picnic season is now upon us, I think it would also make excellent picnic fare, you can bake your pizza and take it along to enjoy with friends in your favourite park or at the beach.
Notes on the Recipe
I’ve used Tessa’s Kiros’s recipe for La Pizza Rossa from Apples for Jam. I cooked the tomato sauce for a lot longer than she suggested, and mashed the bits of tomato against the side of the saucepan, because I don’t have a handheld blender to roughly blend the sauce as Tessa suggests, and my son has a horror of large pieces of undercooked tomatoes in his sauce.
La Pizza Rossa
- 435ml (16¼ oz/1¾ cups) luke warm water
- 20g (¾ oz) fresh yeast crumbled, or 10g (¼ oz) active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 600g (1lb 6oz/4¾ cups) plain all purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons of fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed a bit
- 800g (1lb 12oz) tinned, diced tomatoes
- 3 basil leaves, torn
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 250g mozzarella cheese grated coarsely. (The pizza can be made without cheese but if you are having cheese put it on about ten minutes into the cooking time. You can also add salami and olives if you like as well).
For the tomato topping – heat the oil with the garlic in a saucepan and when you begin to smell the garlic, add the tomatoes, basil and one teaspoon of salt. Cook for about 15 minutes over fairly strong heat, until the sauce loses its wateriness and looks thick and bubbly. If you like you can whiz the sauce a couple of times with a hand –held blender to make it a little smoother, but still keep some chunks. If you haven’t got a handheld blender I find it better to, add some water to the tomatoes, cook the sauce for a lot longer (1/2 an hour to one hour) and mash the tomato pieces against the side of the saucepan to blend them into the sauce.
FOR THE DOUGH
- Put the water, yeast, honey, olive oil and three fistfuls of the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and leave for 20–30 minutes until the mixture looks foamy on top. Mix in the rest of the flour and the 1½ teaspoons of salt. The dough will be very soft and sticky- but don’t be tempted to add more flour, it needs to be sticky otherwise your dough will be too dry.
- If you have a dough hook and a mixer you can mix the dough for 3–4 minutes, if you don’t have a dough hook the dough will be too soft to knead so you will have just slap the dough, from side to side in the bowl until forms a soft sticky ball. Cover the bowl with a cloth or gladwrap and leave it in a warm place to rise for 1½ hours or until the dough has puffed up and doubled in size.
- Oil a 28 x 38 x 4 cm (11 x 16 x 1½ inch) baking tray. Punch down the dough with one firm blow to the centre. Spread the dough gently into the tray, stretching it out to the edges. (My dough was so sticky I had to rub my hands in flour to be able to stretch it out) If the dough won’t stretch leave it to relax for another five minutes before trying again. Make sure the dough doesn’t break anywhere and it is more or less evenly spread.
- Put in a warm dry place, and cover the tray with some tea towels draped over glasses or glad wrap stretched tight over the tray so it doesn’t touch the dough as it rises. Leave for 45 minutes or so until the dough has nicely puffed up.
- MEANWHILE HEAT YOUR OVEN TO ITS HOTTEST TEMPERATURE.
- Dimple the top of the dough here and there with your fingers, so that the tomato has some nests to settle into (Take care not to deflate your dough) Ladle the sauce over the top and gently spread it out over your dough with the back of the ladle. It may seem like a lot of sauce but you need lots of sauce to keep the pizza moist.
- Put the tray in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (this depends on how hot your oven is) until the pizza is golden. If you are using cheese scatter this over the pizza about 10 minutes into the cooking time. Check that the bottom is crusty and crisp and cook for longer if you need to.
Cut up into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. It can also be reheated. Makes about 12–16 pieces.