We tend to keep things quiet on New Year’s Eve. Last year we were asleep well before midnight because we had to get up in the morning for a trip, which was perhaps a bit too quiet, so this year we have decided to fire up the outdoor oven and throw in some pizzas.
The wood fire oven sits in the paddock behind the shed, where I built it a couple of years ago. I followed the River Cottage Bread Book method of building a clay oven, using clay and sand from the farm, some railway sleepers, and bricks from our fallen down fireplace. It has since been partially destroyed more than once by cows, sheep, and the weather, but is still in a workable state (if with a slightly wonky arch). If you have the space and the time – it took me a few weekends, but it was free – I would absolutely recommend building one. It takes a bit of firing, which is why I don’t use it very often, but for making pizzas it is definitely worth the effort.
The topping recipes, including the sauce, have all been perfected by my wife, leaving the pizza bases to me. The best pizza bases I ever made came from the recipe in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Maker’s Apprentice. That was also the most difficult dough I have ever worked with – it was so stretchy that a piece the size of a coin would unfurl to the size of a dinner plate as soon as you looked at it. I now use a much simpler, and almost as good recipe for the dough, which is a little firmer and a lot easier to handle.
Tomato Sauce for Pizzas makes enough for 8-10 (freeze half for next time)
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- small handful of basil
- 1 tin good quality plum tomatoes
- salt and pepper
- Heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium heat and add the garlic. Fry until just beginning to turn golden.
- Add tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper, stir.
- Simmer on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Halfway through, crush the tomatoes with a spoon.
- Cool before using on pizzas. Each pizza will only need just over a tablespoon of sauce.
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 3g instant yeast
- 5g salt
- 160g warm water
- 15g olive oil
- Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl and tip out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film, for about 90 minutes or until doubled.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each into a round. Rest for 5 minutes. At this stage, you can also refrigerate until needed.
- One at a time, roll the dough out until about 5mm thick. Transfer to a bread peel or the back of a baking sheet well dusted with semolina flour.
- Add toppings, then slide into the wood fired oven, directly onto the stones. Bake for 3-6 minutes, turning if necessary. Remove to a low oven to keep warm.
- Repeat with the remaining pizzas.
It is also possible to cook these pizzas in a conventional oven. Preheat the oven to maximum with a pizza stone on an upper-middle shelf. Cook as directed, leaving the oven to preheat again for a couple of minutes between pizzas. It will not result in the same crisp base, and cooking time will be longer, but they will still be delicious!
We vary our toppings depending on what we feel like and how many people we are making pizzas for, but these are a few returning favourites.
- Smoked salmon, garlic oil, cream cheese, and asparagus
- Sweet potato, feta, and seasonal vegetables
- A mix of deli meats with or without small homemade meatballs with mozzarella
- Potato pizza – we first tried this in Venice and it is amazing!
- Hawaiian – My father in law’s favourite – ham, pineapple, onion and tomato with mozzarella. Delicious pizza sacrilege that would have half of Italy in tears.