I thought I had my fingers in lots of pies – but my friend Giuseppe Mascoli seems to be outdoing me somewhat. As well as being one of the brains behind the lovely Soho club, Blacks, Giuseppe also runs a thriving wine supply business and his successful pizza joints, Franco Manca in Brixton market, Chiswick and Westfield, where he creates his famously delicious sourdough-based pizzas with pretty much all-British produce. Giuseppe's pizza is baked in a special wood-burning oven created on site by artisans from Naples.
When I joined him for a pizza back in December, our feet never touched the ground, as Giuseppe whisked me off to show me his amazing new unit that makes bread in traditionally-built brick ovens.
Making pizzas at home, however, is unfortunately never going to be quite as good as when you cook them in one of those professional, red-hot pizza ovens. Quite a few people are installing pizza ovens in their gardens these days – and in fact I have a great example down at my place in Devon that comes from Bernito (bernitopizzaovens.co.uk).
If you're not lucky enough to have a pizza oven, you can still create delicious home-baked pizzas either on a pizza stone (available at all good kitchen shops) or on a heavy baking tray.
A pizza baked at home will need to be rolled out or shaped a bit thicker than the pizza that you get in shops, and as you will need to cook it for a little longer in a domestic oven, the base will probably be slightly harder and more biscuit-like in consistency.
Here is Giuseppe's simple recipe for pizza dough that you can make at home, along with some inspired ideas for different filling and toppings.
Giuseppe's pizza dough
Makes 6 pizzas on a 32cm pizza stone or using two large baking trays
1ltr of lukewarm water
1kg strong flour
A further 650g of strong flour
12g dried yeast
30ml olive oil
With a spoon mix 1 kilo of the flour with 1 litre of lukewarm water and 3g of the dried yeast. Transfer this batter to a sealed container and refrigerate it for about 12-16 hours. Remove the batter from the fridge and leave at room temperature for one hour. Add the salt and the remainder of the dried yeast, then add the 650g of flour and knead by hand for 4-5 minutes, adding the olive oil towards the end. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm room for one hour.
Cut the dough into 6 even-sized pieces and mould into balls on a lightly floured table. Place the balls on a tray leaving a space of 6-7cm in between each one. Then cover the tray again with the damp cloth.
After one hour the balls will be ready to be shaped. Roll them out on a floured board or table to about 25-30cm in diameter using a floured rolling pin and then finally leave them to rise for about 10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to its maximum heat and place your pizza stone or baking tray inside to heat up for about 20 minutes. Take however many pieces of pizza dough you want to cook, add your desired topping from the selection and slide on to your stone or tray and bake for about 10 minutes or less.
Tomato and mozzarella topping
Blend a tin of good-quality tomatoes in a food processor and add a little salt. Spread the tomato mixture thinly over the pizza bases, adding 100g sliced buffalo mozzarella, a little olive or cold pressed rapeseed oil, basil and a little grated Parmesan Reggiano or mature sheep's cheese to each one.
Black pudding topping
Make the tomato and mozzarella topping as above, scattering 30g of black pudding and 40g of chopped cooking chorizo to each pizza before cooking.
Calzone stuffed with pork scratchings
Place 100g of mozzarella, some black pepper, 40g of ricotta, 30g of Parmesan and 30g of pork scratchings that have been soaked in milk for 3 hours over half the pizza (Giuseppe recommends Tom Parker Bowles's new pork scratchings, available at Selfridges and Harvey Nichols). Fold the pizza in half before sliding on to the hot stone or tray and bake for 6-10 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven. You can top this with a bit of tomato sauce once out of the oven.
Home-made pork sausage pizza
Mix together 250g of coarsely minced belly pork, 250g of coarsely minced pork shoulder, 2tsp of salt, 100ml of cider, 1tsp of crushed fennel seeds, and half a tsp of ground black pepper and leave in a sealed container in the fridge for two days.
Using the sausage meat, make small balls or discs which are about half an inch in diameter, using about 50g of the mixture per pizza. Place on top of the mozzarella and tomato base recipe given above.
I asked Giuseppe for other ideas for toppings and he suggested a blue cheese version, using 40g of blue cheese such as Colston Basset or Stilcheton, 70g of mozzarella, 1 tbsp of fresh, chopped, peeled tomato and 3-4 rashes of streaky bacon per pizza.
Or try this fish version, using fresh sardines or herrings. Take 4 sardine fillets tossed in salt and oregano, 2tsp of fresh, chopped, peeled tomato, olive oil, garlic and oregano. Spread the tomato on the pizza base and lay the fish over, adding a bit more garlic, oil and oregano as you wish.
For more information about Franco Manca, see francomanca.co.uk