I had a phone call from my lovely Dad the other day. Amongst other things, we had a nice chat about how for once my weather is better than his (thunderstorms/tornadoes on the Florida Gulf coast and unseasonably sunny weather in Edinburgh). But he couldn’t help being blunt about something that needed bringing to my attention. It is something that some of you may have noticed but been too shy to point out. That is, that I’ve featured beetroot in at least four posts. “What’s with all the beetroot?” were Dad’s exact words. I apologise. I’m still in the shallow end of this blogging thing so I have a lot to learn, balance being one of them. Sorting out page breaks is another. I will from henceforth relinquish my self-appointed post as beetroot PR supremo. I’m not saying I won’t feature it. Oh no, I use the vegetable too much to retire it. But 4 posts out of 15 is a little excessive.
Even if you like beetroot as much as I do you might be relieved that today’s recipe doesn’t feature it, not even in a tiny supporting, non-speaking role. Instead I give you a zingy, light pizza with the usp (unusual selling point) of not having tomato sauce or cheese. Technically I’m not sure it qualifies as pizza, and I would be happy to be corrected if it’s not. Wikipedia, Britannica and various know-it-all websites define pizza by its inclusion of tomato sauce and cheese. Perhaps my recipe has more in common with the cheeseless pissaladiere of southern France, or maybe the nearly-nude olive oil and rosemary pizza bianca. I’m not quite sure what this is. For now, it is pizza.
I concocted this simple, but flavour-packed ‘pizza’ because (I’m whispering), I don’t really like pizza. There. I said it. It’s not that I never eat the stuff, because if someone orders a big pizza I will certainly help myself to a slice: I’m not crazy, or weird. But neither am I fond of the typical thick-crusted behemoths with the chewy bubblegum-esque cheese and wheelbarrow of toppings. I love a thinnish, bubbly olive oil-enriched crust with just a scatter of things like marinated artichoke hearts or semi-dried tomatoes, but this is largely fantasy, unless you go a bit up-market and a bit knife and fork. The posh pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen or Pizza Express are quite nice but most are unfortunately loaded, and I mean loaded, with sodium and saturated fat. A nice, occasional treat, but not an anyday choice if you value your heart and kidneys – or waistline. I much prefer this eat-in option. And I hope you give it a try, even if you quite like pizza with the works.
The make or break point for any pizza is the dough. For years I persisted with making a heavy-ish wholemeal dough, thinking that the only way to redeem pizza nutritionally was to go all out with the fibre. It tasted nice, but what I really wanted was a thin crusted, delicate pizza, with a bit of crunch, but also a soft interior. I also like the random bubbles you get with these kind of pizzas – somehow the bubbles make it taste even more delectable. But I was darned if I could achieve this with wholemeal. So, I ditched the wholemeal, holier-than-thou dough for perfectly respectable white spelt flour dough.
Other than flour type, what separates a passable pizza from a lustable pizza is the rise. A great pizza is worth waiting for. But not too long. Especially if you have a family. For this pizza I have played around with various types of dough until I reached a balance of lightness, through the dough proving (fancy word for rising), and speed, through not having to wait ages on the proving. Peter Reinhart, the much-lauded bread guru, has an unbeatable ‘delayed fermentation‘ (or you could also call it ‘delayed gratification’) dough that I have tried, but as I don’t always think that far ahead, I’ve relaxed a bit and settled on a perfectly acceptable – to my mind – one and a bit hour rising time, and quite a bit less bother. If even my version sounds taxing, by all means use bought dough, but honestly I do think you will find this an easy and delicious option, especially with the inclusion of lemon thyme and lemon zest. You can also use this dough to make wonderfully light crackers: just roll out thinly, slice, bake until golden and puffy, and top with olive oil, extra herbs and salt. Yummo.
As for the scant toppings, what can I say – unusual. To my mind perfectly decent pizzas can be ruined by putting everything you like on something that you want to rise. The physics don’t add up. I think pizzas are best with just a few well-chosen toppings, but making a number of different pizzas to get the variety we all crave. This pizza dough makes enough for 4 generously-sized individual pizzas. Make them all different and have a slice of each. Best of all worlds.
If you really like your carbs maybe lay on a some thin slices of leftover new potatoes that have been lightly lightly pan-fried in garlic oil. Now if that doesn’t tempt you to put away the pizza menu, I don’t know what will…
Nutrition Notes: I am not going to tout this as a health food just because it isn’t covered in cheese and pepperoni, but it is certainly on the healthy side for a comfort food. You could add more fibre to the dough by using half wholemeal and half refined, but I’d just as soon add fibre by eating a few slices with a substantial mixed salad. Be fairly generous with the olive oil to keep everything lovely and moist, and don’t skimp on the peppery Vitamin C-rich rocket leaves – they balance the oily tuna and the salty capers. Btw, rocket is also packed with beta-carotene, fibre and an amazing anti-cancer chemical called sulphoraphane. If you can eat a good handful of rocket everyday – or other sulphoraphane-containing veg such as broccoli, kale or cauliflower, you will be doing your body a big favour. Here’s just a short list of how this potent phytochemical helps prevent and fight cancer:
• Reduces DNA mutation, which is a precursor of cancer
• Slows down the increase of abnormal cells
• Increases apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells
• Helps prevent benign tumors becoming malignant
• Prevents metastasis- the spread of cancer
• Reduces the growth of blood vessels which supply tumors with glucose and oxygen (angiogenesis)
• Boosts the immune system
Basically sulphorophane is a one-compound warrior, attacking cancerous changes at many levels. It also helps keep our arteries ‘fur-free’, staves off age-related retinal damage, is anti-diabetic and reduces the level of a harmful gut bacteria called H. pylori. And it comes in delicious packages too.
Tuna and Creme Fraiche Pizza
This pizza turns out stupendously well baked on a pizza stone. These are basically flat stones or pieces of ceramic that more evenly distribute heat than metal or glass, and will give your finished pizza a professional result. You can get them at any cook shop, on the Internet, or go to the the hardware store and buy a flat, unglazed quarry tile for about 50 pence. Buy a few for baking a couple of pizzas at a time (I have a fancy pizza stone and a DIY tile, and they work equally well). The only caveat for using a stone as opposed to a baking sheet (which will warp at the super high temps needed for great pizza) is that it needs to go in a cold oven and heat up over 45 minutes, and then it needs to cool down in the oven while you are enjoying your lip-smacking pizza. Not really tricky but necessary to prevent the stone cracking.
500g/18 oz refined spelt flour OR strong/bread white flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp fast-action yeast (or use fresh and dissolve in warm water first)
Maizemeal (cornmeal) or fine polenta or semolina for dusting (gives a restaurant-style crust which is lovely and crunchy)
Tub of creme fraiche – I use half-fat, but push the boat and use full-fat if you like
Fresh lemon juice and lemon zest from one lemon
Best quality jarred tuna in olive oil (enough for four pizzas)
Marinated artichoke hearts, halved
Caperberries (the big ones with stems) or capers
Fresh lemon thyme leaves
Fresh black pepper
Anchovy fillets in olive oil OR anchovy-stuffed olives, sliced
Chilli flakes, optional
Fresh rocket/arugula for scattering
To make the dough mix the flour, salt, yeast, lemon zest and thyme leaves together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle, and add the warm water, oil and honey. With one hand in a claw shape mix the ingredients to form a rough dough – much better than a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a flour-dusted surface and start kneading away for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. It may seem really sticky at first but it will smooth out. I usually cheat and use a dough hook fitted to my precious Kitchen Aid mixer (a favourite present), but I rough mix it by hand in its metal bowl first. Give it a five minute kneading if using a mixer. When you have a silky smooth dough, which should spring back a bit if prodded, pop it into a large oiled bowl, cover and let double in size, probably at least an hour. Here in cool Scotland I usually stick it in the airing cupboard otherwise I might have to wait a couple of hours.
When risen, gently knock the air out of the dough with your finger tips before tearing off four equal pieces. Use a rolling pin or your hands to roll or stretch one piece into a thin shape (round, oblong, teardrop – whatever you like), not more than 5 mm thick, thinner if you can.
Partway through the rising time put your pizza stone in a cold oven and then turn it up to 250C/480F. If you don’t have a stone heat up the oven to this temperature just before you want to bake.
When it’s time to bake your pizzas organise your toppings: mix lemon juice and zest into the creme fraiche, to taste; tear up the tuna into generous chunks; snip the anchovy fillets into slivers if you like. Take out your exceedingly hot pizza stone, scatter it with maizemeal and carefully lay on one pizza base. Working quickly, slather on some creme fraiche and add a quarter of all of the toppings, except the rocket. Bake for 5-10 minutes, depending on how ‘fast’ your oven is. I like the base to be crisp and the edges golden brown. Remove and immediately drizzle the edges with more olive oil (or garlic oil if you have some) and scatter over a generous amount of rocket. Now get on with the remaining pizzas. If you are using a baking sheet, preheat it for a few minutes before continuing as above. Buona fortuna!