Making good pizza in a conventional oven is a challenge, but not impossible; preheating the oven to its highest temperature and cooking on a pizza stone or sturdy baking sheet placed directly on the oven floor will result in a non-soggy base and a risen, chewy crust.
The dough recipe below is a truly excellent one for pizzas and flatbreads. It has a fantastic flavour and, although you have to plan ahead, it is far superior to hastily proved bases and may be frozen for later use. You’ll need a couple of silicone baking mats – they conduct heat well and are non-stick – but oiled, non-stick baking paper will do just as well. My final tip? Don’t overload your pizza. Fewer, good-quality toppings will let the dough shine through; too many will make it too wet.
My best pizza dough
(Makes 6 rounds of dough for 6 pizzas)
This is a wet, loose dough, so don’t add lots of extra flour. Oil your hands and the work surface so that it doesn’t stick.
650g 00 flour or strong white flour2 tsp sea-salt flakes1 heaped (one 7g packet) instant yeast (or 12g fresh yeast)4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed440ml cold water
1. Combine the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of a food mixer or a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and water and mix with the dough hook at low speed for 8 minutes to form a sticky, elastic dough. Alternatively, combine the wet and dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, then kneed on a kitchen surface with oiled hands for about 10 minutes.
2. Oil a work surface and your hands.
3. Tip the dough out and divide into 6 with an oiled knife.
4. Shape each piece into a ball, tucking the edges under to make a smooth top. One dough ball will make one pizza.
5. Pop each dough ball into an oiled freezer bag and secure the top. If you prefer, you can space the dough balls out in an oiled roasting tin and cover with oiled cling film.
6. Chill for 1-3 days to prove and develop the flavour. At this stage the dough can be frozen for up to 6 months and defrosted in the fridge overnight when needed.
7. Once proved, remove the number of dough balls required from the fridge and leave, still bagged or covered, to come to room temperature for 1-2 hours. Shape and cook, as directed in the following recipes.
Quick tomato sauce
To make a simple sweet and thick tomato sauce for both pizza and pasta, empty a 700g bottle of tomato pasta into a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of sun-dried tomato purée, 1 whole, bruised garlic clove, a handful of basil leaves and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, stirring often, until thick. Remove the garlic cloves and season to taste.
(Makes 1 large pizza, serves 2)
Seek out fresh ricotta in an Italian deli for this tomato-less pizza, or look for buffalo ricotta on supermarket shelves.
About 2 tbsp coarse polenta or cornmeal Olive oil, for shaping 2 dough balls (from the My Best Pizza Dough recipe), combined and brought to room temperature 150g ricotta cheese, drained 1 x 125g ball buffalo mozzarella, drained and torn into pieces 1 red chilli, finely sliced 4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced Salt and pepper 50g wild rocket leaves 30g Parmesan, shaved Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 230°C, gas mark 9, or as hot as your oven will go, and slide a pizza stone or baking sheet on to the base to pre-heat.
2. Using oiled hands, gently stretch the dough out into a rectangle, a little large than a sheet of A4. The pizza should have a slightly thicker, 2-3cm border all-around the edge. Leave to prove for 10 minutes.
3. Dot spoonfuls of ricotta and pieces of mozzarella all over the surface, scatter with chilli and spring onion and season with salt and pepper.
4. Remove the pre-heated tray or stone from the oven an place the pizza on the sheet.
5. Slide back on to the base of the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is puffed and gold and the topping is bubbling.
6. Finish by scattering with rocket and Parmesan, then drizzle with olive oil and slice into long fingers.
Cherry tomato and basil oil focaccia
(Makes 1 large focaccia)
Keeping the cherry tomatoes attached to their stalks is entirely optional, but it does look striking, and the stalks can easily be pulled away after cooking.
Large handful of basil leaves 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for shaping 3 dough balls (from My Best Pizza Dough recipe), combined and brought to room temperature 400g cherry tomatoes, attached to their stalks, if desired Large pinch of coarse sea salt or sea-salt flakes
1. Crush nearly all the basil leaves (reserve about 5) and the olive oil together in a pestle and mortar and leave to sit while the pizza dough proves.
2. Using oiled hands, gently pull the dough into a rectangle and put on a large ovenproof dish – it should almost reach the edges. Press down to the base of the dish with oiled fingers to create dimples all over.
3. Push cherry tomatoes into some of the holes, still attached to their stalks if desired. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and leave to prove in a warm room for 30 minutes.
4. Pre-heat the over to 200°C, gas mark 7.
5. Strain the basil oil to remove the crushed leaves and pour it all over the surface of the dough, allowing it to pool in the dimples. Scatter with the reserved basil leaves, turning them in the oil, sprinkle with the salt and bake for 2-=25 minutes until golden and risen.
6. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Alsace-style tarte flambée
(Makes 1 tart, serves 6 with a side salad)
This impressive tart makes for an easy lunch or light supper, with none of the last-minute pressure of pizza cookery.
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for rolling and shaping 200g smoked bacon lardons 3 onions, finely sliced 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus a few extras to garnish 2 dough balls (from My Best Pizza Dough recipe), combined and brought to room temperature 5 tbsp crème fraîche
1. Heat the olive oil and add the lardons. Fry over a medium heat until pale golden. Scoop on to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.
2. Turn the heat down and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Cook gently, stirring often, for 15 minutes, until very soft, but not highly coloured.
3. Stir the lardons back in with the thyme.
4. Roll the dough out between 2 oiled silicone mats or sheets of non-stick baking paper to form a large circle, about 25cm in diameter. If you have a shallow round tin of roughly this size, tuck the dough into it.
5. Spread the crème fraîche over the base and top with the onions, thyme and lardons.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, until the dough is puffed and golden at the edges. Scatter with extra thyme.
Artichoke, olive and parma ham pizza with an egg on top
(Makes 1 pizza, serves 1)
About 2 tbsp coarse polenta or cornmeal Extra Virgin olive oil 1 dough ball at room temperature and 2-3 tbsp tomato sauce Half a 125g ball buffalo mozzarella, drained and torn into pieces 3 pieces marinated artichokes heart antipasti in oil, drained Small handful pitted black olives Pinch of fresh or dried oregano leaves Fresh free-range egg A few basil leaves 2 slices Parma ham, torn
1. Pre-heat the over to 230°C, gas mark 8, or as hot as it will go.
2. Prepare a sturdy baking sheet or pizza stone as described in the Piazza Bianco recipe.
3. Place a large baking sheet or pizza stone on the base of the oven.
4. On a work surface, lay out a silicone mat or a large rectangle of non-stick baking paper and scatter it with polenta or cornmeal to stop the pizza from sticking.
5. Using oiled hands, gently tease and stretch the dough out into a rough round, about 19cm in diameter. The pizza should have a slightly thicker border all around the edge.
6. Spread the tomato sauce sparingly over the pizza, keeping the border clear. Leaving a space in the centre, dot with the mozzarella, artichoke pieces, olives and oregano. Carefully break the egg into the centre of the pizza.
7. Slide the pizza into the oven as before and leave to cook for 12 minutes, or until the dough is puffed and golden, and the topping is bubbling. Scatter with basil leaves and extra fresh oregano.
8. Finish with the Parma ham and a drizzle of olive oil.
Garlic and herb flatbreads
(Makes 9 small flatbreads)
These chewy breads, best made on the day, are an ideal accompaniment to antipasti.
3 dough balls (from My Best Pizza Dough recipe), kept separate and brought to room temperature
For the Garlic and Herb Oil 4 sprigs rosemary, roughly chopped or bashed 4 sprigs thyme, roughly chopped or bashed 2 garlic cloves Coarse sea salt, plus extra to scatter 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil Coarse sea salt to scatter
1. To make the Garlic and Herb Oil, strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from their stalks.
2. Crush in a pestle and mortar with the garlic and a large pinch of salt; brushing the herbs thoroughly will bring out their oils. Add the olive oil and set aside to infuse for anything from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
3. Divide each dough ball into three pieces. Using oiled hands, tease and stretch each piece into a thick round of about 10cm in diameter.
4. Spread the rounds out on a large baking sheet, lined with non-stick baking paper.
5. Press into the dough to create dimples and spoon a little Garlic and Herb Oil over each. Scatter with a little coarse sea salt.
6. Cover the breads loosely with oiled cling film and leave to prove for 30 minutes.
7. Pre-heat the over to 200°C, gas mark 7.
8. Remove the cling film from the dough and bake for about 15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Eat warm or cool.
Sweet lemon, cinnamon and olive oil crackers
(Makes 3 sheets of crackers)
These crackers are crisp, so one dough ball –divided, stretched and rolled very thinly –will go a long way, serving up to 10 with ice cream.
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon 1 tsp ground cinnamon 100g golden granulated sugar 1 dough ball (from My Best Pizza Dough recipe), at room temperature Extra virgin olive oil, to stretch and roll the dough
1. Pre-heat the over to 200°C, gas mark 7.
2. Pulse the lemon zest, cinnamon and sugar together in the small bowl of a food processor for about 20 seconds.
3. Divide the dough into three pieces. Keeping the other two pieces covered and using oiled hands, stretch one piece of dough into a rough square until it is about 1cm thick.
4. Roll the square out further between two large, lightly oiled sheets of greaseproof paper or silicone baking mats, using firm pressure until the dough is so thin you can almost see through it. You should have a rough rectangle.
5. Transfer the dough and sheets or mats to a baking sheet. Carefully peel away the top layer.
6. Dredge the dough’s surface with sugar and bake the whole wafer on the lower layer of paper for 10-12 minutes until pale brown and crisp.
7. Cool before breaking into uneven shards. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough.
8. Dredge with sugar and serve with ice cream and berries. The wafer may be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in a cool place.
Styling/ Karen Akhtar Photography/ Jonathan Gregson