(makes four pizzas)
For the base: 100g white sourdough starter; 400g strong white flour (preferably Italian ‘00’ pizza flour), plus extra for dusting; 7g table salt; 260g tepid water; Plenty of semolina, for dusting (flour will do, though)
For the topping: 3 garlic cloves; 1tbsp good olive oil; 400g tomato passata (sauce); Salt and freshly ground black pepper; 2 x 125g balls of mozzarella; Cured meat or salami (optional); A handful of fresh basil leaves (optional)
1. It’s best to make your dough at least 24 hours before you plan to make pizza. The dough keeps for three to four days, at least, and I know those who always have a supply of sourdough pizza dough in the fridge, just in case. Make sure your starter is healthy, and mainly consists of white flour.
1. For the dough: In a bowl, weigh out the flour and add the salt. Mix together to combine, then add the tepid water and starter. Use a wooden spoon to combine into a wet and sticky dough. Cover the bowl and leave for at least an hour at room temperature.
2. You could vigorously mix this dough, but we don’t want to overdevelop the gluten. It should remain soft and sticky.
I’d do a couple of stretches and folds, and watch it rise over about six to eight hours at room temperature. It should be very bubbly and sticky. At this point, cover with a plastic bag, put it in the fridge and leave it. It’s best used between 24 and 48 hours.
3. For the pizza sauce: Peel and finely chop the garlic and place it in a pan with the oil. Gently infuse over the lowest heat for five minutes (don’t burn it). Add the passata, stir and turn up the heat to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be prepared in advance and chilled, if you like. Slice the mozzarella and wrap in kitchen paper or a cloth, to dry.
4. Dust the work surface with plenty of semolina and a little flour, or just flour if you don’t have semolina. Turn the dough out and add more semolina and flour again. Divide your dough using a scraper into four equal lumps, and coat each with semolina, too. It’s not possible to use too much.
Once the dough is divided and the toppings prepared, you can preheat the grill as hot as it goes with the door as close to closed as possible, and then put a cast-iron pan or surface on the hob to heat as hot as you dare.
5. Work quickly. Dust some semolina on a tray or peel (a special handled tray for pizzas). Take a piece of dough and stretch it flat. Don’t use a rolling pin. Throwing the dough in the air and spinning it really does help. You want the centre almost translucent with a 1cm-thick edge to give a good puff and stop the sauce leaking.
Place this on your peel. Give it a good shake to make sure the dough isn’t sticking. Add more semolina if it does. Spread three to four tablespoons of sauce on top, plus a quarter of the mozzarella and some slices of cured meat or salami, if using. Add a few fresh basil leaves, if you like.
6. Give it another shake, then gently slide this onto your smoking hot pan. Use thick, thick oven gloves to move this under your grill, and shut the door (or close it as much as possible if your grill turns off when you shut it). Cook for two minutes, then check. You want the edges of the crust to be just about blackening, and the cheese melted and bubbling but not browning. Keep going if it isn’t.
Lift up the edge to check beneath. If it’s still soggy on the bottom but done on top, put it back on the hob for a minute or two. For the next pizza (if the first wasn’t quite cooked underneath) you can leave it on the hob for up to a minute before placing under the grill.
7. Enjoy hot, as fresh as possible. It takes the sacrifice of one person to make the family’s pizza, but it’s so worth it. Between each pizza, get your surface back on the hob to heat up to frightening levels again before you slide your next pizza on top. The dream is to have two surfaces, for back to back pizzas.