Pizza 101

All the info you need to turn yourself into a pizza-making hero.

01 Feb 2012

Thin and crispy or thick and doughy? Lots of topping or a sparse scattering of choice ingredients. Purist or pineapple? Whatever your fancy, making pizza at home is not as difficult as you think once you've got the basics right. Then scroll down for 10 lip-smacking recipes.


Pizza has been a basic part of the Italian diet since the Stone Age. Legend goes that the pizza in its earliest form was a crude bread that was baked beneath the stones of the fire. After cooking, it was seasoned with a variety of different toppings and used instead of plates and utensils to sop up broth or gravies. Then there's also the rumour that the Greeks first used 'pizza' as a plate from which they could eat various other foods.


The best pizza base is made with yeast, which may be time consuming but is worth the effort you want the real thing. You can use instant yeast, but even then the result won't be quite as good as when you use real active dry yeast. For a basic pizza base you'll need 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast, a pinch of sugar, 170 ml warm water, 500 ml flour, 15 ml salt and 15 ml olive oil. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees celsius. Place the yeast, sugar and water in a bowl and set aside in a warm place until bubbles form, about 15 minutes. Add the flour, salt and oil, mix to form a smooth dough and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put in a clean, oiled bowl, cover and allow to stand in a warm place for 20 minutes. Roll out to about 3mm thick on a sheet of non-stick baking paper dusted with semolina. Add your topping ingredients and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

While the Italians love their pizzas as plain and simple as possible, we've come to love the overloaded, extra-cheese pizzas made popular by the Americans. Though you can do as you very well please, do try the 'real thing' every now and again, which is the Margherita made from a perfect base spread with a homemade tomato and garlic paste: Saute 1 chopped onion in 30ml olive oil for 5 minutes. Add 4 cloves chopped garlic and saute for further 3 minutes. Add a x 410 can of chopped tomatoes and 25ml tomato puree. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese and some torn basil to finish.

In some parts of Italy it's even simpler: Brush pizza bases with 45ml olive oil; top with 4 finely chopped garlic cloves, 4 sliced tomatoes, 40ml black olives, 5 ml fresh chopped oreganum and 3ml fresh chopped marjoram. Sprinkle with 350g grated mozzarella cheese and bake at 200 degrees Celcius for 15 to 20 minutes.


But experiment with a combination of two or three of smoked salmon, peppadews, broccoli, Italian smoked sausage, olives, pesto, lemon garlic chicken, capers, anchovies, roasted eggplant, caviar, caramelised onions, artichoke hearts, baby tomatoes and/or prawns to create a most magnificent gourmet pizza. And don't be shy to load on the fresh herbs (origanum, basil, marjoram, rosemary, garlic chives), or to use a variety of cheeses, such as Provolone, shaved Parmesan, goats' cheese or Gorgonzola. Always balance your toppings between something flavoursome, something bulky and something bland or light rather than putting lots of stuff on that all taste similar and are the same size.


Another popular thing done in the name of pizza is a pan pizza. This is so simple to make and great for breakfasts. If you're not particularly fussy, simply make a sticky batter-dough by mixing self-raising flour with a little olive oil and as much water as you need, spoon and flatten in a big, hot pan and allow to brown and cook through. Seal the top briefly under the oven grill, load anything and everything on top that you like, smother in cheese and grill again until it looks just right.

Calzone is another favourite. It's basically a stuffed and folded pizza resembling a large 'turnover' and made as an individual serving. Fill your dough with anything from a variety of meats, vegetables and or cheese, fold over, seal and deep fry or brush with olive oil and bake. That's it. Finally, fruit pizzas or dessert pizzas are becoming all the rage, and why not. You could use the basic pizza dough, a cookie dough or puff pastry and top it with ingredients such as cream cheese, berries, sliced apple, sour cream, mascarpone, cinnamon, flaked nuts, berries, kiwi fruit and Mozzarella. You could either bake the crust and then top with fresh ingredients, grill all briefly or bake in a moderate oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot or chilled.

10 things to do with pizza:

Pita pizza

Tuna pizza

Pizza quiche

Party pizza

Homemade proscuitto pizza

Homemade caprese pizza

Broccoli and garlic pizza

Marinated chicken and three cheese pizza

Roast potato, emmenthal and rosemary pizza

Perfect pizza


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