Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My fucking food bag: pizza marinara

It’s called marinara because it was the food of Neapolitan fishing crews, but after this point the theories vary: it was either the flavoured bread they took out on long expeditions, or a pizza sold on land. According to this latter version, ironically the marinara would be a pizza minus the fish: that is to say a pizza with anchovies, only without the anchovies, sold to impoverished fishermen at times of high fish prices and not dissimilar in this to that great Sicilian dish, the ‘pasta with sardines at sea’. As in: ‘Why are there no sardines in this pasta?’ ‘They are at sea.’

There is an ancient pizzeria in Naples called Port’Alba, and it is here that, as the legend goes, a pizzaiolo first decided some time in the 1730s to use humble garlic as a substitute for the noble anchovy. Regardless of whether you credit this theory or not, the basic fact remains that for centuries pizza marinara was poor people’s food, its ingredients being the cheapest one could imagine at those latitudes: flour, water, yeast, tomato, garlic, salt, olive oil, oregano. So in today’s instalment of my fucking food bag – where I don’t send boxed ingredients to your home, and you still get to cook yourself, but hey, at least it’s free – I’m going to take you through this very simple preparation.

There really is no point in making a pizza marinara. You have to make two. Unless you have tiny hands, kneading pizza dough for a single, thin disc is frustrating and a waste of effort. So the ingredients are for a half-kilo dough that makes two bases, but instead of making the second pizza I’m going to teach you how to make focaccia with potatoes and rosemary while I’m at it.


500 g of flour
70 ml extra virgin olive oil
Fresh baker’s yeast (10 g)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Lukewarm water (275 ml)

Let’s pretend I hadn’t taken you through the pizza process before. It was years ago now. Also I may have tweaked the recipe somewhat.

Get yourself some fresh yeast. I buy mine in 1 kg bricks at Moore Wilson’s in Wellington – did you know? baker’s yeast freezes fine – but most supermarkets in the country that still bake their own bread sell it in 100 gram lots for a dollar, though sometimes you have to ask. You need just 10 grams, which you’ll leave in a cup of lukewarm water and sugar (one teaspoon) while you clean your cooking surface and assemble the other ingredients.

Put 500 grams (four cups) of flour in a mixing bowl, mix in two teaspoons of salt and add 50 ml (roughly three tablespoons) of olive oil. Now, seriously: it has to be extra virgin. It barely costs more than non-extra virgin anyway and makes untold difference.

At this point the yeast should have started frothing in the cup. We’re looking for this sort of effect. If it’s very fresh, it will audibly fizz.

Chuck the yeast in, add as much lukewarm water as you need to get to 275 ml. It’s important that you do this. Don’t skimp on the water. You don’t want a stodgy dough.

Now you mix the lot with a spoon or other implement in the bowl, until the liquids are well absorbed.

Then you move the rough mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough. I’m not going to tell you how – just remember to push with your palms rather than mix with your fingers. The mixture at this point should be soft but sticky. Knead and add a bit of flour if necessary until it stops sticking to the kneading surface and your hands, but not so much that the dough loses its lightness and elasticity. I cannot over-emphasise this part. It’s the only thing standing between you and champion pizza-making.

At the end, we want a ball like this, which we’ll put back in the bowl to rise in a dark, warm place for an hour or so, or until it has doubled in size.

In the meantime, crack open a can of boiled peeled tomatoes, add a pinch of salt. I pulp the tomatoes with a mixer these days, so it becomes a smooth sauce. You’re only going to need a third or so, use the rest for cooking something else or freeze it to make more pizzas. Cut the garlic cloves quite thinly. Now is also a good time to turn the oven on and pre-heat the hell out of it. Hotter the better.

Once the dough has risen, split it in half. Stretch one half into a disc of the diameter of your largest oven tray using your hands, a rolling pin or gentle persuasion. You don’t need to grease the oven tray, unless it’s one of those deep, thick ones. However, for thin pizza it’s much better to use a thin aluminium tray if you have it. Personally I’ve stopped mucking around with pizza stones altogether.

Add the sauce – four, five tablespoons – and spread it on the base. Sprinkle oregano. Lay out the garlic slices. As for the oil, the highly codified rules of authentic Neapolitan pizza demand that you pour it using a copper vessel with a long spout in a spiral motion starting at the centre. A drizzle is sufficient.

Slide it into the oven for as long as it takes. If you have a good oven, it will be as little as 8 to 10 minutes. In a wood-fired oven at the prescribed surface temperature of 430°C it’s supposed to take no longer than 90 seconds. Our kitchen oven is very sluggish, hence the paleness – but you have to take it out when the bottom is done.

This is it: consume. It’s great summer fare, light, tasty, good to take out for walks or throw at vegan friends. Admittedly I buy some of the ingredients in bulk (flour, yeast), but I’ve costed it generously at $1.20. Those impoverished Neapolitan fishermen really knew how to stretch the budget.

Speaking of which, we’re going to use the rest of the dough. (Although it too freezes fine.) I’ve started making thin focaccia again, using the entire surface of the tray for half a dough – as thin as pizza, in other words.

There used to be a place in Piazza delle Erbe in Verona where you could buy excellent pizza by the slice but one of their specialties was focaccia with potatoes and rosemary I've tried to recreate ever since. The ingredients – bear with me here – are potatoes and rosemary.

You slice a medium-to-large potato very thinly. Justine suggested I used the slicing blade of our grater this time, and it worked well. Spread the base as per the previous procedure – you don’t need to grease the tray this time either – lay out the potatoes, sprinkle the rosemary, do the spiral-motion thing with your olive oil. Then add salt. Rock salt is perfect here. In New Zealand this kind of salt still sells for extortionate prices in small spice-style containers, but you can also find it by the bag at human rates. Grind some on top and slide in the oven. It should take even less than the pizza to cook.

This will set you back another dollar or so, is also vegan and highly delicious, though it can take a couple of tries to locate the perfect cooking point.

Let me know how you get on.