Makes 4 pizzas to feed 4 hungry people
Prep time: 1 1/2 hours including dough rising time
The day I learned that there exists a traditional type of pizza from Naples that has no animal ingredients was the day I knew I would remain a happy vegan forever. Who needs cheese on your pizza anyway?
Pizza marinara is made with nothing but tomatoes, basil, garlic and oregano, and if you get it right there is nothing like it on earth. You certainly don’t want to be messing up those sublime flavours with a pile of rubbery soy cheese.
Perfecting my pizza marinara has been an ongoing project for a few years now. I have spent embarrassingly long stretches of time watching Youtube videos of Neapolitan pizzaioli (pizza chefs) doing their virtuouso thing, shaping the dough, dressing the pizzas and shunting them into the wood-fired oven with style.
After a couple of years’ practice I have finally got to the stage where I can shape the dough without a rolling pin, although my clumsy technique is a million miles from the macho flamboyance of the pizzaiolo. As you can see from the picture, I still need to improve my skills and get my crusts thinner. The perfect pizza marinara is a high goal to aspire to, and probably a lifetime’s achievement. Luckily, second-best efforts also tend to taste mindblowingly good.
I would argue that homemade pizza marinara is a definite frugal dinner, despite the high oven temperatures, because the results are consistently better than anything you could buy in most local takeaways (um, unless you actually live in Napoli, obviously).
If you were strict about the authenticity of your ingredients – as the Italians are – then I think you’d find the cost would ratchet up pretty quickly. But if you stick to basics ingredients you still get a stunning result, and at a very reasonable price.
I invite any Italians reading this to look away now as I describe the ingredients I use for my pizzas. In an ideal world of course it would be Caputo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. But in the real world, where every penny counts, it is ordinary bread flour cut with Smartprice plain; Smartprice tomatoes, slowly cooked to a thick sauce; and (brace yourselves) ordinary rapeseed oil, which is surprisingly good as a drizzle due to its mild flavour.
I know that Smartprice tomatoes are not San Marzano tomatoes. You don’t even need to cook San Marzano tomatoes before spreading them on a pizza. If you did that with Smartprice the results would be – well. A bit watery, shall we say.
The only thing you can really do with Smartprice tomatoes is slow-cook them to drive off the wetness, and bring up the flavours with salt, pepper and a dash of sugar. If you do that, you get a final flavour that’s immeasurably richer and better to eat.
So this pizza may not please the purists but it would certainly make most of the rest of us quite happy. There’s nothing like that crunch in the mouth as you take the first bite; your eyes roll back in your head as your mouth fills with those beautiful big flavours. Ah, pizza. Along with the rest of the world, I am in love with you.
Making decent pizza takes practice, there’s no getting away from it. What I describe here is just my own approach. Neapolitan pizzaioli would form the dough into little panelli (dough balls) and leave to rise for a long period, using only a small amount of fresh yeast to achieve a slow rise. In the interests of practicality I use instant yeast and only let it rise for one hour.
If you want to get serious, I would suggest a bit of internet research. The Pizza Pilgrims describe a great technique here which I have found really effective in getting a good crunchy base without access to a wood-fired oven. And check out Youtube instructional videos like this one to get a sense of the love and care that goes into true pizza di Napoli.
I have included the cost of running the oven in my calculation which for me was about 12p. However, I have an A-rated oven and I’m not on a prepayment meter, so if neither of these is the case for you then you may find yourself paying more.
Strong white bread flour, 250g, plus extra for dredging – 14p
Smartprice plain flour, 250g – 8p
Dried yeast, 1 tsp (7g) – 4p
Salt, 1 tsp – 1p
Vegetable oil, 1 tsp
Vegetable oil, 1 tbsp – 2p
Garlic, 1 clove, crushed – 3p
Smartprice tinned tomatoes, 2 x 400g cans – 62p
White sugar, 1 tsp – 0.5p
Salt and pepper
Garlic, 4 cloves, thinly sliced (I didn’t put sliced garlic on the pizza in the pictures, because they were destined for little kiddies) – 12p
Dried oregano, 2 tsps – 5p
Fresh basil, 8 leaves, torn – 15p
Vegetable oil for drizzling, 4 tbsps- 8p
Salt and pepper
First make the dough. Stir the yeast into 325ml of warm water and let it come to life for five minutes, until you see patches of yeast rising to the surface. Stir in the flours and salt and knead vigorously for about ten minutes until smooth and elastic. Shape into a big ball, pour about 1 tsp of oil over the surface to stop it sticking, and leave in a clean bowl covered with a teatowel in a warm place for about an hour, until well risen.
Make the tomato sauce: in a medium saucepan, fry the garlic gently in the oil for two minutes until fragrant. Tip in the tomatoes and add salt, pepper and sugar. Let simmer slowly for a good half hour, until reduced. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or sugar as necessary.
Towards the end of the dough rising time, prepare your pizza making operation: get the oven heated to its highest setting. Get your toppings all laid out on the surface. Get a large ovenproof frying pan heating up on the hob. I have a cast-iron griddle which does a great job (see pics).
Punch the dough down and divide it into four pieces. take one piece and shape it into a ball. Flatten it a bit and dredge it generously with flour on both sides.
Now you want to flatten it out as thinly as possible. It is fine to do this with a rolling pin. Don’t roll the edges too much. You are supposed to push the air pockets out to the edges of the dough, rather then push them out completely.
When the frying pan is really hot lay the flattened dough on it, tidying the edges so it forms a rough circle.
As the bottom cooks, dress the pizza: lay a ladleful of tomato sauce in the centre and swirl in a wide circle. Scatter the basil, sliced garlic and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 tbsp of oil over the surface.
After a minute or two the pizza edges will start to rise and the bottom will have browned. At this point transfer the pizza, frying pan and all, to the top shelf of the oven. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are well risen and blackened in places.
Repeat for the remaining three pieces of dough. If you have more than one frying pan you may be able to get a system going with one in the oven and one on the hob – I haven’t tried this yet but will definitely have a go next time!