Anyone who knows me knows how important pizza is to my soul, my personality, my body, my heart, my brain. Pizza is me, I am pizza. So, living in a place like New York, why would I go through the trouble of making my own when I have such good options literally everywhere? Well, that's a great question and I'm glad you asked. First, this isn't for me, it's for you. And I'm guessing that at least a few of you don't live in New York, but maybe want to have delicious pizza in your own home, without having to slide a frozen disc off a cardboard slab.
Second, even as someone who lives in a place with abundantly excellent options for 'za (nobody calls it that), I can say it is extremely fun to make your own. As I'm sure you can imagine, I am very picky when it comes to pizza and I have a lot of opinions (sauce ratio, texture and doneness of crust, toppings), so the idea that I just get to decide my own pizza destiny is – thrilling. Yes, I am a control freak, and by making my own pizza, I let that freak flag fly.
That all said, I am not a pizzaiolo (surprising, I know). I have not studied pizza-making in Rome and I've never been to Naples. Not only is my oven not fuelled by wood, but also it barely fits a large baking tray. But am I going to let any of that get in the way of making my friends what I would consider to be a very good pizza in the privacy of my own home? No.
Tips for throwing a pizza party
Throwing a pizza party in your home will earn you a lot of new friends. Here are some tips to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Make the dough and sauce ahead.
- Make the dough the day before, if you can. Store it in the fridge, and when it's go time, transfer it to the trays, let it prove another 30 to 40 minutes, add the toppings, and bake. The sauce can be prepared in 20 minutes, or up to one month ahead and frozen; take your pick.
- DIT (Do It Themselves). Grate or slice the mozzarella, tear the kale, slice the onions, pick the herbs, cut the meat, and set them all out along with the open tin of anchovies, jar of chillies, and other things you may want on the pizza. This encourages friends to live out their own pizza-topping fantasies.
- Embrace the semi-homemade. Since you're putting all your love into the dough and sauce, everything else can be (and should be) store-bought.
To begin: crushed peas with burrata and black olives. Photo: Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott
Crushed peas with burrata and black olives
I'm sure you've already figured this out, but I'll say it anyway. This "salad" is just an excuse to eat an extraordinary amount of cheese. It's also a way to eat an extraordinary amount of peas, which I love. For what it's worth, I am not the kind of person who insists on shelling in-season, farmers' market peas (I think frozen peas are pretty damn good and can absolutely be used here), but if you happen upon them, there is no dish more worthy of the glory of fresh peas than this one.
- 30g (¼ cup) oil-cured black olives, pitted
- 80ml (⅓ cup) olive oil
- 315g (2 cups) fresh peas, or thawed frozen peas
- 2 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 125g (3 cups) roughly torn spicy greens, such as mustard greens or rocket
- 1 large handful mint leaves, torn
- 2 tbsp finely chopped chives
- 1 handful parsley, tender leaves and stems
- 2 tbsp lemon juice, plus extra to taste
- 2 balls of burrata cheese, drained (you can also use mozzarella; just expect a different visual)
- Combine the olives and olive oil in a small bowl; set aside.
- Place half the peas in a medium bowl. Using your hands (or, if you're more refined and/or own one, a potato masher), crush the peas. (You're looking for crushed peas, not a puree, so don't bother using a food processor.) Add the remaining peas and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the greens, mint, chives, parsley and lemon juice together in another medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and a bit more lemon juice if you like.
- Tear the cheese into pieces and arrange on a large serving platter or in a shallow bowl (you can also cut the burrata, but tearing it is much easier). Scatter the peas on and around the burrata. Top with the olive mixture, followed by the spicy greens and herbs.
Do ahead: Peas can be seasoned a day ahead, covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator.
The main event aka My Favourite Night is Pizza Night
For the overnight focaccia, tonight dough
I have a lot of strengths, but "planning ahead" is absolutely not one of them. The idea that I'd make a bread dough and leave it to prove overnight so that it can develop flavour and structure to bake the next evening is a really great idea, and something that I have done before. But a more likely scenario is that around 3pm the day I'm planning on having people over, I think "Wouldn't it be nice to have fresh focaccia with dinner tonight?" Yes, it would be!
And so, because I am the master of my own destiny, I spent some time cheating the system and disgracing professional bakers everywhere, developing a focaccia that can be made in just a few hours. Does it use freshly milled grains and a naturally fermented 58-year-old starter? No. Is it fluffy and light and oily and crispy and tender and chewy? Absolutely. If you do have the time, it will of course benefit from an overnight rest in the refrigerator, but if you don't have the time, just know that you will still have something truly excellent.
The recipe that follows for this particular kind of pizza, which I would classify as a grandma style of sorts, starts with a fluffy, oily, spongy dough (the same one that gets you focaccia), turns into a crispy-edged crust, and takes kindly to an array of toppings. I myself am an extreme traditionalist and think that a cheese or pepperoni pizza is the pinnacle of perfection, but if you have an avant garde pizza preference, then you do you.
Regardless of combos, to achieve ultimate pizza success, always use less sauce, cheese and toppings than you think. More is not more here; in fact, more will result in a heavy, doughy, soggy-bottomed crust! And bake it longer than you think: crispy crust, both edges and centre, is what we are after.
- 2¼ tsp instant dried yeast
- 2 tsp honey
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus lots extra for coating the bowl and pan and drizzling
- 500ml (2 cups) warm-ish water
- 750g (5 cups) strong (bread) flour, plus extra for dusting; plain flour will also work, although the dough might be slightly less elastic
- 1 tsp salt
- Whisk the yeast, honey, two tablespoons olive oil and water in a large bowl. Add the flour and, using a wooden spoon, mix to casually blend (it will still be a craggy mess; that's fine). Add the salt and continue to mix until the dough goes from craggy to kind of wet and shaggy; the dough is going to be too wet and sticky to knead at this stage, so don't worry about getting it nice and smooth yet. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm spot until it doubles in size, about an hour or so.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using the palm of one hand, press into the dough, turning and folding it onto itself (a.k.a. kneading) a few times (the dough will still be sticky but much more manageable) until it comes together and starts looking smooth and elastic. Feel free to dust with a little extra flour occasionally, but not too much.
- Once the dough is looking nice and smooth, drizzle a bit of olive oil into that same bowl to grease it up, then put the dough back in. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough sit in a warm spot until it doubles in size again, another 45 minutes to one hour.
- While the dough rests, get on to making the pizza sauce, pepperoni and/or lemony greens pizza toppings.
- To make the pizzas, divide the risen dough in half. Pour enough olive oil onto two large baking trays, to generously coat the entire trays, using your hands, spread it all around. Turn each piece of dough onto one of the baking trays and again using your hands, coax the dough into a flat, even layer. (It doesn't need to stretch to the exact size of the tray; it'll puff up and fill in as it proves and bakes.)
- Drizzle the top with lots more olive oil and lightly drape a piece of plastic over for its final nap, letting it rest in a warm spot for another 30 to 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 230C.
- When ready to bake, the dough will look light, puffy and buoyant. To test this, use your fingertips to press the dough lightly. It should bounce back ever so slightly. (If it sinks and deflates, you've over-proved the dough and it might never recover. But let's not assume the worst – and even at its worst, you'll still have something edible and you can call it flatbread!) Using the tips of your fingers, lightly dimple the surface, kind of like you're playing the piano.
- Top the dough as desired, using the suggested toppings.
Makes 2 pizzas
Here you'll find a very basic pizza sauce, one that is simpler and quicker than a sauce for, say, lasagne – plus a few options for how to top your pizza.
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 800g tin whole peeled roma (plum) tomatoes, crushed by hand
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- chilli flakes, to taste
- Combine the garlic, olive oil and tomatoes in a medium pot over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mixture is slightly less saucy than when you started, 15 to 20 minutes. Season again with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.
Do ahead: Tomato sauce can be made up to five days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to two months.
For the pepperoni pizza
- pizza sauce (see recipe above)
- 225g (2 cups) grated or thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
- 115g pepperoni, sopressata, coppa, or other spicy, cured meat
- ½ small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced (optional)
- olive oil, for drizzling
- flaky sea salt
- Spoon just enough of the pizza sauce onto the dough to lightly coat. Scatter with the mozzarella, pepperoni slices and some onion, if you like. Drizzle with olive oil, especially around the crust, and sprinkle with flaky salt.
- Bake, rotating once halfway through, until the crust is totally golden, bubbly and puffed, the cheese is melted and browning, and the pepperoni has filled with its own fiery orange fat (the best part of a pepperoni pizza!), 30 to 35 minutes.
- Once the pizza is out of the oven, dust it with optional extras such as parmesan or nutritional yeast, chopped chillies or chilli flakes and maybe some chopped fresh herbs, if you're wild about herbs (as I am). Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.
Lemony greens pizza (unbaked). Photo: Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott
For the lemony greens pizza
- 250g (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves torn into 5cm pieces
- olive oil, for drizzling
- ½ small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced (optional)
- finely grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
- flaky sea salt
- 1 large handful mixed tender leafy herbs such as parsley, basil, mint and chives
- 1 lemon, for zesting and juicing
- Season the ricotta with salt and pepper. Massage the kale with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Dollop the ricotta onto the dough and scatter with the kale and some onion, if you like. Grate some parmesan or pecorino over and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with more olive oil, especially around the crust, and sprinkle with flaky salt.
- Bake, rotating once halfway through, until the crust is totally golden, bubbly and puffed, the kale is wilted and charred, and the onion is softened, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Once the pizza is out of the oven, top it with fresh herbs, lemon zest, and maybe a few anchovies. Squeeze the lemon over and let cool slightly before cutting and serving.
Additional, optional toppings
- ﬁnely grated parmesan or pecorino
- impossibly tender roasted garlic
- spicy, oily Calabrian chillies, whole or coarsely chopped
- chilli ﬂakes
- dried or fresh oregano
- nutritional yeast flakes
- anchovy ﬁllets
A very fine spritz
I am a huge fan of the spritz – Aperol spritzes, Campari spritzes, Cappelletti spritzes, white wine spritzes; basically anything that can be spritzed, I'll spritz it.
I prefer to think of the low-alcohol spritz as a light, easy refreshment rather than "a cocktail". This allows me to drink several over the course of many hours without getting unreasonably drunk. Ditching the word cocktail also allows me to use a ratio, not a recipe. (No disrespect to spritz recipes, but let's just say that in no universe am I busting out a small measuring cup to make a cocktail as casual as this.) Looking and tasting like a fantasy vacation, spritzes are universally appealing and bring joy to everyone who is lucky enough to be drinking one.
There are many ways to make one of these delightfully effervescent beverages, and I don't think anyone should feel hemmed in by exact measurements or specific ingredients. My most basic version involves one-third sweet-bitter liquor, one-third sparkling or even regular wine (while I don't encourage the drinking of sub-par wine, this is actually a good time to use a bottle of sub-par wine), and one-third soda water (seltzer or club soda). Keep in mind that these ratios will not be the same depending on where you go and who you ask, but this is a good place to start.
Fill a large glass of your choosing (rocks glass, wineglass, highball glass, anything goes!) with ice. Fill it one-third of the way with a sweet-bitter liquor, such as Aperol, Campari, Cappelletti, Lillet or Suze (there are lots out there, so feel free to experiment). From here, top with one-third sparkling wine, regular white wine or rosé, and then top the remaining third with soda water. Garnish with a lemon, orange or grapefruit slice, wedge or peel. Now go forth and spritz away into the night (or day).
This is an edited extract from Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman, published by Hardie Grant Books $45. Photographer: © Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott