Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
Pizza is one of those foods I think I can safely say I’ve eaten my own weight in. A long-time fan of that Italian masterpiece, I’d have one every night when I finished work at a local pizza restaurant. I never got bored.
I did have the occasional mozzarella mishap, however. One night, having imbibed freely in town, I bought a twelve-inch pizza, with lots of toppings and heavy on the garlic and chilli. The walk home took about 10 minutes, and I promised myself that, ravenous as I was, if I resisted the urge to dive into the pizza, and ate it at home, I’d enjoy it more.
Carrying the box flat, and with the smell of garlic wafting up my nostrils all the way, I finally succumbed only yards from my front door. As I picked out a slice, I dropped the whole thing, and it landed face down on the road. Distraught, I scooped it all back into the box, but when I got home I saw that there was grit, a cigarette end, leaves and suchlike mixed in with the mushrooms and olives.
Deflated, I made toast.
Vegan cheese has had a level of bad press, and I admit that some of the ones I’ve tried have been less than palatable. Part of the problem is that it is difficult to replicate the way traditional pizza cheese melts into that familiar stringy mass. The race is on as several huge companies seek the perfect vegan cheese, but in the meantime there are many delicious versions available that work well on pizza. After a period of trial and error, I now know which brands I prefer.
These days, there are many meat substitutes that replicate those that go on pizza, plant-based pepperoni being an obvious one. There is though an abundance of toppings available from your local greengrocer or supermarket. These include onions, garlic, mushrooms, chillis, bell peppers, eggplant, sweetcorn, black olives, spinach, artichokes, tomatoes and, of course, pineapple.
Which Flour Is Best?
- Plain/all-purpose flour makes a great pizza base. I sometimes buy strong bread flour for the job, and I have experimented with so-called double zero fine flour, and while these work very well, plain flour makes a satisfying pizza base too.
- Wholemeal/wholewheat flour also works well as pizza dough, although the finished product is more dense than that made with white flour. That added density does bring added nutrients, however, so if a rustic pizza on a rougher base is your thing, knock yourself out.
Which Yeast Is Best?
At the aforementioned restaurant, we crumbled fresh yeast from a block into a bucket of warm water, which we whisked up and left to foam. That amount of liquid was needed for the pizza production line of a busy restaurant with a takeout service, but in the less frenetic confines of your average kitchen there are scaled down approaches, two of which can cause confusion: dried fast-acting yeast, and instant dried yeast.
- Dried fast-acting yeast: This comes in small cans, and it needs to be activated in warm water with sugar. This is often labelled fast-acting, meaning it has to be mixed with water an sugar in order to activate.
- Instant dried yeast: This usually comes in sachets. It has everything added and it can be dry-whisked directly into the flour, to be activated when the warm water is added and kneading begins. To add to the confusion, instant yeast is now also available in cans.
When kneading pizza dough by hand, it should come together as a soft and pliable ball pretty quickly. Pressing and folding the dough with the heels of the hands is an effective method, as is grabbing the dough repeatedly in alternate hands.
After kneading, the dough should be placed in a bowl with sufficient room for it to rise, covered and left in a warm place for about 30 minutes. Before pressing the dough onto your pizza tray, give it another kneading for a minute or so, to get rid of the larger air bubbles (a process known as knocking back).
Should We Toss the Pizza Dough?
When we see pizza chefs spinning dough in the air, there is a method to their madness, as explained in the video below.
One pizza chef at the restaurant where I worked made a point of tossing dough in that manner whenever a group of young ladies came up to the counter. But this Bobby Dazzler took the skill to a whole new level, performing a single hand clap while the dough was in the air, and then catching it and repeating the process. He impressed his dough-tossing skills onto unsuspecting women so many times, he became known to all as The Tosser.
The science behind tossing the dough may be valid, but I’ve had many a delicious pizza that has been simply pressed out in the tray. I do toss my pizza dough occasionally, but just to test my skills for fun. And it definitely is a skill, as the chef in the video below demonstrates.
My Go-To Pizza Sauce Recipe
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or 1 cm water for oil-free)
- 1 small or ½ medium onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you’re a fiend)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 can Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Saute the onions in the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the garlic, oregano and chilli flakes. Continue to saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Pour in the tomatoes and add the sugar and the tomato paste.
- Stir everything about and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Leave the sauce chunky if that is your bag, or blend if a smooth sauce is desired.
Tip: This sauce is best made ahead of time to allow the flavours to infuse.
There are some local takeaways that load up a pizza with toppings, and then add the cheese last to create a bubbling crust over everything. I did try one such pizza, but found it way too greasy, and with me having no gallbladder to help break down the fat, it was a one-off experience. The takeaway where I worked is still going strong after over thirty years, and it has never wavered from its rule of, working from the bottom up, base, sauce, cheese, topping.
Loading too much topping onto a pizza can make the base soggy. Having said that, my favourite pizza contains onion, mushroom, garlic, black olives, pineapple, jalapeños, sweetcorn and yellow peppers. I layer these out carefully, and the base comes out crispy every time.
Pizza Dough Recipe
Here’s what I did to make enough dough for the 12-inch pizza in the photo above.
- 1¼ cups plain/all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon instant dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Place the flour, yeast, oil and salt into a large bowl, and dry whisk to incorporate everything.
- Add the warm water in stages and stir until a dough is formed.
- Knead the dough for 3 minutes, by which time it should be soft and not sticky.
- Place the dough in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.
- Knead the dough 1 minute more, and press it out onto an oiled pizza tray.
- Lay the pizza base in a warm place while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Top your pizza as in the four-segment photo above.
- Bake for 15 minutes, but check after 12.
- Slide the pizza onto a board, slice and enjoy.
Vegan Bolognese Pizza Sauce
To refer back to the restaurant where I worked, a huge pan of bolognese sauce would be cooked up and used across the menu. Aside from spaghetti duties, it was layered up in lasagne, mixed with spinach in cannelloni, and dolloped onto pizzas. This bolognese pizza proved very popular with revellers on a Sunday night.
As a change from vegetables on your pizza, why not try vegan bolognese sauce? Here is my recipe, which I drop onto the pizza by the tablespoon.
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 onion, minced or finely chopped
- 1 carrot, minced or finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, minced or finely chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups veggie mince
- 1 tin plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon cornflour/cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion and celery over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.
- Add the carrot, garlic and oregano, and continue stirring.
- Stir in the mince and the bayleaf.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and 1 cup of the stock.
- Stir everything together and lower the heat.
- Simmer gently for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if needed.
- Stir in the cornflour/cornstarch, and simmer gently for 1–2 minutes to ensure everything is incorporated.
- Spoon onto your pizza on top of the cheese, and bake for 12 minutes.