We used to make pizzas at home with readymade bases topped with a childhood favourite tomato sauce bursting with all kinds of veggies. I would usually add mushrooms. And then maybe peppers. And then definitely a lot of cheese. Then as an afterthought, I would add olives. I was what pizza purists call blasphemy. Until my pizza base wasn’t practically groaning with the weight of toppings, I assumed it would taste like nothing but dough.
Then one day, I decided it was time to make pizza base from scratch. This recipe has never ever ever failed me. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made it. It’s easy, it’s whole wheat and it’s always good. But guess what, homemade pizza base is more fragile and therefore me and my overloaded pizza had to go take a long walk. I graduated to fewer toppings, with more flavour. Spinach and feta (YUM), sauteed mushrooms and maybe, maybe, just one more topping of some kind.
But the sauce. Still tasted so unauthentic to me. I never figured out why. Maybe I was cramming too much into it? Maybe the tomatoes weren’t right? After Italy, I felt even more insecure about my tomato sauce version. It was so so so basic but unbelievable. The margherita there was literally sauce and cheese. How would I make that at home! Then I saw this gem of a recipe. Basil INSIDE the sauce! I was sold.
I am so proud to announce that this new tomato sauce hits the spot! It will remind you of familiar takeout pizzas. I don’t know if basil is the secret, as much as simply using fewer ingredients. It’s merely a puree made in a blender, spread directly onto the base, cooking to a dark reddish-brown in the oven. Your sauce might be more green than red when you make it, do not freak out. It darkens as it sits, and once the pizza is baked, the world is good again.
If you’ve eaten pizza at a Moshe’s you will appreciate the fact that this one isn’t about the shape as much as about the flavour. Pat the dough down into whatever your brain processes as a circle, top with a bit of sauce, lots of mozzarella and sliced tomatoes. Bake, top with fresh basil and preferably, chilli flakes like the Chipotle version by Sprig. The smokiness of the fine red powder takes this pizza to a whole other level.
Ok, the pizza base. Whole wheat flour gives it a heartier, more earthy flavour. It’s more filling which makes it completely ok to call this pizza healthy. Spread the sauce out to the edges as much as possible because they tend to dry up pretty fast. Do not be afraid of the yeast, it’s easy. It’s not a fiddly dough and comes together without much heartache even in our temperatures.
Crisp on the edges, chewy towards the center, stringy mozzarella all over the place, the most perfect tangy tomato sauce tying it all together.
Seriously, you have no reason not to make this! It’s the homemade pizza you’ve been waiting for 🙂 I know the recipe looks REALLY long, but it’s just a few basic steps split up to make life easier. I promise!
What you’ll need:
For the pizza base
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast (I use Blue Bird)
1 and 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour plus more for the dough
For the sauce
2 large tomatoes, firm but bright red
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (I used a bit more for extra flavour)
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the toppings
Mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced
Fresh basil leaves
What to do:
1. In a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar. Heat the water in a small bowl until warm, but not hot. You should be able to comfortably place your finger in it. Pour this warm water over the yeast and sugar, mix and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, until bubbly/frothy on the surface. Covering the bowl with clingflim helps speed things up. If you find the yeast doesn’t bubble up, it means your water was too hot or the yeast is dead. Make sure you use yeast well within its expiry date.
2. Once the yeast has bubbled up or ‘proofed’, add the olive oil, honey, salt and mix.
3. Add the flour and mix slowly until the dough starts to come together. Sprinkle flour onto a clean work surface, tip the shaggy dough onto it, and begin to knead until you have a smooth, elastic ball of dough. This should take about 5 minutes. Poke the dough with your finger, if it bounces back slowly, it is ready to rise. I don’t always go by the finger poke test if I’m short on time (and I was when I made this pizza!), but it’s a good trick to a fluffy pizza base always. If it doesn’t work for you, knead for about 10 minutes and you’re good to go.
4. Lightly grease the mixing bowl with olive oil, place the ball of dough in it and roll it around to coat all sides. Cover with clingfilm and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size.
5. After the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm and give the dough a satisfying punch to deflate it. Split it into two, roll each half into a ball and place in two individual, lightly greased bowls, covering them with clingflim. Let the dough balls rest at least 20 minutes.
Each of these dough balls will make one 12 inch pizza. If you do not need two at a time, do not let the second ball of dough rest for 20 minutes. Instead, place it directly in a greased ziplock bag, squeeze out all the air from the bag, seal tightly and freeze for up to 3 months. Before you plan to use it, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and then allow to come to room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing as written below.
6. Preheat the oven and a baking tray to 250 C. You need it to be hot, hot, hot.
7. While it preheats and the dough rests, make the sauce. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and squeeze them upside down to remove the excess juice and seeds. Blend them along with the garlic and basil. Add the salt and pepper and mix well. You could strain if it’s too thin but I didn’t find that necessary.
8. Remove the hot oven tray and carefully grease it with a bit of oil. Not greasing somehow has never worked for me, I’ve ended up with stubborn slices stuck to the pan and violently having to rip them off. I’ve also tried using baking paper to prevent sticking and that’s a good option too.
9. Place one dough ball onto the tray and begin spreading it outwards from the center until you have a roughly 12″ circle. You will land up with a thin crust pizza. Leaving it less than 12″ will mean adjusting the baking time and a thicker crust.
10. Brush a teaspoon of olive oil onto the crust to prevent the topping from making it soggy. Spread 2 to 3 heaped tablespoons of the sauce, making sure to touch the edges. Use less rather than more sauce. Top with as much cheese as your heart will allow you, and finish with the sliced tomatoes.
11. Bake the pizza for 15 minutes or until the crust is crispy, the cheese is bubbling and golden-brown and the tomatoes have wilted just a bit.
12. Top the hot pizza with fresh basil leaves, slice and serve!
Congratulations, you just made pizza from scratch 😀