If you’re reading this, it is probably because you enjoy cooking. If you enjoy cooking, you probably enjoy doing the from-scratch square-one type of cooking that I do.
And you probably also experience those days where, despite your best intentions, you run dangerously low on time and have to *looks down in sorrow and says in hushed voice* cheat. It’s ok… so long as it tastes good, and you don’t let ready-made pasta sauce or gravy powder (gak!) become staples. Life is too short to try to manhandle a vast mass of pizza dough when your guests are already banging on the door and baying for food; cooking should be a pleasure not a last-minute pain in the gizzard. A grumpy cook makes miserable food! Which makes miserable guests!
Having a few cheats in your back pocket is useful when time is of the essence. This one came about this past Saturday: I knew I wanted to make a pizza but I’d long run out of homemade frozen pizza dough and by the time I got to the supermarket I had only 30 minutes to shop, get back home AND do all the pre-preparation before the doorbell went. And also look like I had NOT been rushing around all day (this is very important, otherwise they will take your Domestic Goddess badge away). I could not bring myself to go to the pizza place next door to the supermarket – no, I’m not that much of a food snob, it’s just that I lived on fast food before I learned to cook. The smell of cardboard-y pizza base or fried chicken fat makes me turn a greener shade of pale, and if I don’t eat it I certainly wouldn’t expect visitors to.
Then I remembered that this particular supermarket has a huge bakery section, with every possible variety of bread ever (including, once, a bread crocodile complete with sunflower seed claws). And I figured pizza dough… bread…. they’re kinda sorta in the same family. Like – carbohydrate cousins. So I grabbed a large round bread, pizza toppings (I forgot one of them – I was in a rush. It’s not like anyone notices the absence of asparagus on a pizza). I waved my magic wand aka bread knife in the loaf’s direction and a yummy hybrid of pizza and sub appeared. Awesomeness!
For one absolutely deliciously shameless faux-pizza:
1 large round loaf of bread. The shop only had the revolting “Mushroom & Cheese” type left when I got there, if I’d been a bit earlier I would’ve gotten a plain one instead. Don’t get the fluffy mass-produced white sponge type – a solidly built home-made type is called for.
Approx. 4 tablespoons of tomato paste – stick the rest into a little zippy bag in the freezer for another time, another pizza.
Lots of cheese, one of which MUST BE mozzarella. What’s the point of pizza without gooey cheese strings?
Pizza toppings of your choice – I like a concoction of chopped up roast chicken, sliced brown mushrooms fried with butter and garlic, ripped-up black forest ham, asparagus (oops) and crumbled feta (oops again), and then lots of fresh rocket to add freshness and bite. And also to create the illusion that salad was involved.
Righty-o. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Using a bread knife, slice the top crust off the bread. The amount you slice off will depend on the density of the bread – if it’s a light airy whisp of bread, you don’t need to take much off. If it’s a denser loaf that could be used as a door-stop on a windy day – give it a good trim, you don’t want to be chewing through all of that. Pull a bit of the soft stuff out to make a bit of a crust round, being very careful not to rip out any holes in the base, or make it so thin that it cannot support the hot topping. Pay attention because I speak from experience – the reason the base of my pizza appears to be so lumpy is that I tried filling the holes with ripped-out bread. It did not work, and the affected pizza wedges disintegrated on me. They still tasted good though.
Turn the crust and bread inners into breadcrumbs to go into the freezer for another recipe. Unless it is covered in greasy mushrooms and cheese the texture of chewed bubblegum, in which case the bin is the safest place for it.
Spread the tomato puree over the prepared base, followed by grated or ripped up cheeses. I used mature cheddar and lots of mozzarella; the cheese will act as the glue to keep the toppings on. This is the point at which I stopped, with the prepared filling in a separate dish (I didn’t want the bread to start sucking moisture out of the filling, and going soggy on me). When the time is right, lavishly apply the prepared topping and pop it in the oven (10 minutes! I kid you not) so that it can be eaten hot – cold gummy pizza will not win you any fans. The crust will be golden and crispy and the toppings heated through. Garnish with fresh rocket leaves and the tiniest of tiny trickles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (see? It is kind of like eating a salad. Kind of).
To make up for cheating on the base, impress everyone by cutting it with a shiny mezzaluna and large flourishes of your knife-wielding arm. Use the words “rustic” and “artisanal” if you must. No-one is going to turn their nose up and say “well, you didn’t make it yourself” – these are your friends, not those catty people on Come Dine With Me.
Happy Cheating & Eating!
PS: The pretty but naughty vintage pics are all by Anne Taintor, with whom I have a little obsession.
PPS: You may read this and ask incredulously “but why not just use those readymade pizza bases from the frozen food section of the shop, you madwoman?”. It’s because I firmly believe that a base made of corrugated cardboard would be more tasty and nutritious. That is all.