Pizza Recipes For Your Wood Fired Oven

Introduction To My Pizza Dough

Knead Dough

I give my pizza dough recipe with some trepidation. When I first started using a wood fired oven and making pizzas, people would press their favourite recipe on me and tell me it would never fail - and then it would. Or they would say it made a really light pizza and I would follow it to the letter and the pizza would end up heavy enough to be an anchor for a boat…

This went on for some time and left me lying like Pinocchio to each 'expert' I had consulted about how well their recipe worked (and, of course, these lies can keep coming back to bite you for years, particularly if you consult people that you actually intend to have round for pizza!) It also left me feeling vaguely hopeless. After 3 or 4 'never fail' recipes fail, you can't help but conclude that the failure is you…

After weeks of never being sure what was coming out of the oven, I hit upon a recipe that worked. I thought that this recipe was THE ONE and I stuck to it like wet dough to the bench. You know what though? I don't think that recipe was THE ONE any more than any of the others were. I know this sounds a bit like the Matrix, but what I think happened was that I had finally reached a level of competency with the dough and with my oven that made all recipes THE ONE...

Different yeasts, different flours, different levels of humidity in the air, different kneading and knocking down techniques, different ovens, different fires and different toppings - there are a hundred reasons why the same recipe turns out different from person to person and from day to day. The good news is that you can usually eat the evidence and, while it may not be quite how you want it, homemade pizza is pretty much always DELICIOUS.

How to Make Pizza Dough

Just get in and make some!

Pizza Dough Recipe yeast yeast starter yeast starter Pizza Dough Recipe frothy yeast Pizza Dough Recipe Frothy yeast close-up

When I started to compile this section and I actually looked at what I do to make pizza, I realized I actually make pizza in two different ways, depending on how we've fired the oven.

Traditionally, pizza was a baking day snack; a kind of reward for the hard working baker and their hard working helpers for firing up the oven and endlessly kneading all that bread dough. When the oven was really hot and the coals were first taken out, the bakers would take a little dough, chuck whatever was lying around on top and make themselves a quick snack before they loaded in all the loaves.

If we are firing the oven for a day's adventure, I'll do the same. I'll steal a bit of bread dough after it has proved the first time and after getting the rest of the dough made up into loaves and ready for their second prove, I'll press the stolen bit out fairly thin, top it with whatever I've got to hand and as soon as I've removed the coals, bang it in.

This pizza will cook in a flash. Well actually, if it cooks in a flash, you haven't really made a pizza, you've made a tester and that burnt object in a round shape is telling you your oven's still too hot to cook in! If you think the oven is too hot, rather than burning your lunch, it's much easier to sprinkle a little flour on the floor to check. If the flour burns really quickly, it's too hot in there! You need to 'pat' the floor with the shovel a few times (to remove the toasted flour) or sweep it away with the Natural Bristle Brush and wait a little longer, or, if the flour really incinerates, you can wait a while and re-try, or use a clean, damp mop to cool the floor. See Firing Up Your Wood Fired Oven section for more detailed advice on working out and adjusting oven temperature.

What you're looking for is to see the flour change colour and go all brown and toasty before it starts to burn up - that's when you know the temperature is right.

Anyway, the pizza should cook in 1½ to 3 minutes - just time for everyone to wash up and get a drink. Pull your pizza out and depending on what you're cooking next (check out the possibilities in the Firing Up Your Wood Fired Oven section) either eat your pizza straight away or let it cool slightly while you put your 'next course' in.

This is a long way of saying that, if I'm making bread that day, I use my bread mix as a pizza base and whatever the mix and method, the pizza always turns out great. So don't get too hung up on THE ONE…

If we've lit the oven especially to make pizza (which is what happens most of the time, particularly in summer), then I make my dough (recipe follows - eventually!), let it prove and when I start to knock it down, I yell at Pete to hurry up and light the oven. Pete makes a big, quick, hot fire and when it's burned down a fair bit (say ½ to ¾ of an hour) we just push it back, test the floor (see above) and start whacking those babies in.

If you have guests coming over, do think about timing and stuff, but don't stress too much. It only takes a couple of logs to keep the oven hot once it's reached temperature and after the initial feast, you can just move the fire back to the middle, keep it tamped down all day (just adding the occasional log) and even in a drunken stupor, you can usually manage to re-fire and be back in business in about 15 minutes.

One final thing. Before I used a wood fired oven, I used to make (and like) really thin pizzas. That's because, if it's cooked in a normal oven, or if you're using bought pizza bases, you're eating the pizza IN SPITE of the crust, not because of it!

When you make your own dough (and it's THE ONE for you) and when you're using a wood fired oven, it's a whole other ball game. The crust you get is just so delicious that you don't want to skimp on it! I'm not talking soggy old deep-pan pizza here, I'm talking crusty crust that puffs up around your filling and crunches when you cut into it and reveals a light, steamy, soft centre, like a really good piece of fresh bread.

I get really disappointed when people go to all the trouble of making their own dough, firing the oven and then they produce these thin, miserable things that look and taste like the last Sao biscuits left over from a party. It seems to me that some people take the idea that thin crusts are more authentic WAY TOO FAR. You don't want an inch of dough to chew through, but neither do you want to be eat toppings off a tile - find a happy medium, people!

Tracy's Matrix 'THE ONE' Pizza Dough Recipe

Makes 3 Large or 6 Small pizzas

Oven Trowel Tool

Pizza Dough Ingredients:

  • 3 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 650 ml lukewarm water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 kilo of bread or pizza flour
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Extra flour

Mix the yeast and the sugar in a small bowl and then add the water. Stir briefly until the yeast and sugar are dissolved.

Tap water is fine to use (though purists will tell you they can taste town water in the dough!). Whatever water you use, the important thing is to make sure it's at the right temperature. If you are running the tap, before you measure your water out, put your hand in the flow and check that the temperature feels neutral on your skin.

With regards to the oil, if you are also making bread with this dough, you would leave the yeast, sugar and water mix to sit for 10 minutes at this point - until the yeast is fully activated and the mixture gets frothy - before you added the oil. If you are just making dough for pizza, you don't need to wait; you can add the oil to the water straight away.

sifting flour mixing dough shaping dough into a ball dough before rising dough after rising pressing out dough flipping pizza dough 1 flipping pizza dough 2 pressing dough into tray

Sift the kilo of flour and the salt into a large bowl. Put the extra flour through the sifter too, but leave it to one side to use as you need it to stiffen your dough and flour your hands and work surfaces.

With regards to flour, don't use your bog standard plain flour from the supermarket. It's too weak and doesn't have enough gluten. I think that branded 'strong white' or '00' grade bread and pizza flours are the best everyday choice.

If I want to give the dough even more taste and grunt, I'll go to a specialty organic shop and look for some really finely ground semolina flour or some great stoneground or wholemeal flour and use them in place of a quarter of the bread and pizza flour.

By now, your yeast mix should have sat for a few minutes. Even if I've added the oil straight away and I'm not waiting the 10 minutes for full activation and bread making, I always do the yeast mix first and let it sit for the couple of minutes it takes to sift the flour, because then I can check that there is at least some bubble/froth action happening and be sure that the yeast is alive and functioning.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and salt and pour in the yeast mix.

Using a fork, slowly gather the flour into the liquid. If you've never done this before, the object is to keep 'shearing' layers of flour off from around the rim of your flour pond and incorporating them into the liquid. Once all the flour is incorporated and you have a kind of rough ball of dough, use some of the extra flour you put aside to flour your work surface and your hands, then turn the dough out onto it.

Knead, adding some of the extra flour to the dough, the bench and your hands as required, until the dough is smooth and elastic. In this beautiful state, the dough will bounce back if you poke it and it will have absorbed enough of the extra flour that it no longer sticks to your hands or the bench. If you are smart, you can judge your flour-additions well enough that you can 'make' the dough absorb all the extra flour you have scattered around on the bench and you have no real cleaning up to do.

Once the dough has turned into this smooth, responsive, living thing, place it into another large, well floured bowl. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough as well, then cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise until it's doubled in size. This usually takes about 40 minutes here where we live on the subtropical east coast of Australia, but it can take a bit longer when the weather is cold.

Punch down the dough several times to release the air and then split the dough into the required number of pizzas.

Lightly flour your work surface, your hands and your rolling pin and gently roll the small lumps of dough out to create your pizza bases. Turn the bases as you roll and, at the slightest sign of sticking, re-flour your bench or the rolling pin. When the base is about half a centimetre thick, you're done.

If you think rolling pins are for sissy boys and you've always fantasized about spinning circles of dough high in the air; instead of the above, you need to give your dough pieces another knead, concentrating on keeping the dough fairly moist and using as little extra flour as possible. When the dough is pliable and alive again, give your work surface a light sprinkle of flour and working from the middle, start pressing the dough out with your palm. Keep moving the dough around, keeping just enough flour underneath it so it doesn't stick.

When you have a thick, flat round, 1.5 to 2 cm deep, dust your hands lightly again (including the tops) and, if you're planning to bare bake, also sprinkle some flour on a clean bit of your work surface - make it a big enough area to put your finished base down on. If you're not bare baking, grease your trays. Pick the dough up and get your hands underneath it. You want your hands fairly close together and kind of half on their sides with your thumbs sticking out across the middle and the dough draped over the top.

Using your thumbs, start turning the dough - kind of sliding it over your hands - stretching it a little as you go. Sooner or later your inner Italian will come to the fore and you'll start to give the dough a little spin. As it spins, its own weight will make the dough stretch out and the force of the spin will keep it fairly round. It's not hard and you don't have to throw the dough high up in the air or twirl it like a maniac to make spinning work for you.

Regardless of whether you roll or spin, the dough needs a final 15-20 minute relax before cooking. Once upon a time, I would try desperately to reach this point exactly 15-20 minutes before I wanted to cook, so that everything flowed perfectly. This is easy if you're talking about doing one or two pizzas for your own tea, but if you're cooking a feast - stuff that! - the last thing you need is timing worries or to be trying to roll bases out with guests underfoot.

Make your dough nice and early, roll your pizzas bases out well in advance and stack them on a tray or a plate, one on top of the other, with silicone (baking) paper between them. Seal them with plastic (glad) wrap and put them in the fridge. Get them out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before you want to begin topping them and just separate them and lay them out on the bench on their individual sheets of silicone paper.

If you want to bare bake (i.e., cook your pizzas without trays, directly on the oven floor), it's definitely worth your while having a read of our Bare Baking section, as there are a couple of little tricks in it that will make this part of the process easier.

Regardless of the cooking method, when you are ready to top your pizzas, just slide your hand under the silicone paper and upend the pizza base on your greased tray or floured bench.

Your pizza base is now effectively upside down. What this does is to put the surface of the dough that's been exposed to air and is a little more dried out on the bottom, reducing the chance of it sticking to the bench or the shovel and helping it firm up quickly if you're cooking on a tray.

Incidentally, whilst doing the bases in advance and putting them in the fridge for 2-3 hours is a positive help, I've never had much luck freezing the bases.

No matter how much flour I use, I find that the surface of a defrosted pizza base is just too wet to get really nice and crisp. If you want to freeze dough for some reason, do it at the 'little lump' stage (before you roll it out) and it will defrost and re-activate just fine and you can adjust the flour level to account for the excess moisture as you knead it out.

Decorate your pizza base

If you're bare baking, dust your shovel with corn flour, slide it under the base and head for the oven. If your not, just put your trays in.

The pizza is ready when the crust is golden and puffed up and the cheese is melted and brown.

NOTE: If you don't have a wood fired oven and you've read all of this either because you're into food fantasy or because you're preparing for when you DO get an oven, DON"T DESPAIR, you can still improve the quality of the pizza experience you are having.

How To Make Better Pizzas - Even in an Electric or Gas Oven

1 - Make your own pizza bases - bought ones NEVER taste as good. Experiment with different moisture levels, different levels of elasticity, different resting times and find what works best in your oven.

2 - Reduce the 'wetness' of your pizza. The biggest problem with electric and gas ovens is that they just don't get hot enough to cook the pizza base to a good crunch, so anything you can do to assist in keeping the base dry helps. Use a really solid base-sauce and don't use really wet toppings, like raw tomato slices - cook or drain wet ingredients first to reduce the moisture you are adding to your pizza.

3 - Concentrate on getting maximum heat. Never cook more than 2 pizzas in the oven at once and if possible, cook them one at a time, with 10 minutes between each 'session' to allow the oven to reheat.

Before you even turn the oven on, arrange the oven shelves in the position that will best maximize the air flow between the pizzas - once it's fired up, you don't want to have the oven door open for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Before you even think about putting your pizzas in, crank the oven temperature up as high as it will go and leave it at that level for at least half an hour.

Before you even think about opening the door, make sure your pizzas are absolutely ready and that you have one in one hand ready to go on is as soon as you open the oven and the other (if you are cooking two at once) really close by.

4 - Get yourself a pizza stone. It's amazing the difference a cheap (around $20) piece of clay can make! One of these babies will give you the closest possible thing to a wood fired pizza experience that you can get in a normal oven, because it allows you to cook the underside of your pizza at the same time - speeding up the general cooking process and crisping up your base.

Just pop the stone/s (one per pizza) into the oven before you start to preheat it. Let the stone and oven heat for as long as possible (half to three quarters of an hour) and then, working quickly, carefully lift the stone out and adapting the bare baking techniques to suit your skill level and equipment, deposit your pizza on the stone and get it back in the oven as quickly as possible.

Your pizza will cook a lot more quickly on the stone then you will be used to, so keep an eye on it.

If you want to cook more than one pizza on the stone, you need to reheat it for 10-15 minutes first.

The Perfect Pizza Base: 'Cherry Tomato' Sauce

cherry tomato rows cherry tomato closeup cherry tomatos on sink Cherry tomato pizza sauce Spreading Sauce

I don't know what it is about cherry tomato sauce. Maybe it's so good because of their size - by the time they've finished cooking they're almost caramelised. Maybe it's because they've got that concentration of flavour that small and dwarf things have, maybe it's because they've got a bit of tartness and bite. Whatever it is, once you've tried it, you'll never go back…

We grow those 'Tom Thumbs' (the quite large, elongated ones) and we pick them as a whole stem, which I then drape around the kitchen and leave to really ripen up. Whether you're using home grown ones or not, don't make the sauce until they're really ripe and some are a bit squishy.

If you have to buy them and they're pricey, you can use half Roma or normal tomatoes, but again, make sure they are really ripe.

I use a big, shallow, heavy bottomed pan, so that the moisture will evaporate quickly. I put a fair dob of butter into the pan and then start chucking the tomatoes in. I cut enough of the tomatoes in half to 'juice up' the pan so it'll be moist and they won't fry too much, but I leave most of them whole and let them break down as they cook. I discard or cut off any bad bits as I go. If the pan is getting dry, I watch them fairly close at the start and help them along their way by squashing a few with the back of a wooden spoon, but I don't like to add any water until they have softened up and made a sauce by themselves.

If you're using some Roma or normal tomatoes, cut them up and they'll get you started.

Once you have a sauce, I add loads of fresh rosemary, lots of minced up garlic and a fair bit of minced up chilli. I use water and cheap white wine alternatively to keep it thin enough to move around and not stick. You don't have to pay the pan a whole lot of attention, just add some water, stir and come back in 5 minutes and check it out. If it's going 'glup, glup, glup' and you can see the bubbles spluttering where it's simmering, it's getting too thick and you need to add more water or wine and go away again.

It's a good thing to make while you're cooking dinner because you're close at hand but you've got something else to do. With a big pan, you can process a huge batch (12 - 16 punnets) in about an hour.

After about three quarters of an hour of simmering, I chuck in some salt and pepper and some brown sugar. Don't overdo the salt and pepper; you can add more at the end.

With the sugar, there's a literal and figurative 'sweet spot' that you want to hit and I can't give you a quantity to get there, but when you hit it, you'll know.

It helps if you taste the sauce before you add any sugar. It'll be a bit bitter and a bit bland and you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. Just keep adding a spoonful of sugar and tasting it until all of a sudden it goes KEBANG and you've got this explosion of tomato, chilli, rosemary, garlic and wine on your tongue…

When you reach that point, add one more spoon of sugar, and continue moistening and reducing as before.

After another 15 minutes or so, an even more intense, sticky flavour will start to come through as the sugar caramelises. When you get that really intense flavour, add a last splash of wine, bung the heat up a little and stay stirring the sauce and popping any aberrant cherry tomatoes that still haven't done it themselves until the spoon leaves a gap behind it as you stir the pan - you need the sauce to be really thick to make a good pizza base.

However good this sauce tastes to you now, it'll taste even better in a day or so. It freezes really well or you can sterilize some screw top jars, bottle it when it's really hot and it will keep forever in a cool dark spot in the pantry.

There you have it, the Perfect Pizza Base.

Don't just limit yourself to pizzas though

Why Don't You -

Tomato and Zucchini Sauce Matriciana Pasta

Thin the sauce with white wine and fish stock, add a twist of orange peel and your favourite seafood for a beautiful Bouillabaisse.

Add some fried onions and bacon, some bacon bones, butter beans and a dollop of molasses, then simmer for an hour for authentic Boston Baked Beans.

Stir through some cream and lemon zest, reduce slightly, then poach green prawns in the sauce and top with lots of fresh basil for the perfect Prawns Gambini.

Brown some marrow bones and onions and add them to the sauce with red wine and root vegetables for classic Osso Bucco.

Add some salami, red wine and parsley for a delicious and quick pasta sauce or use to make perfect Bolognaise or Matriciana.

Brown off some gravy beef, onions and bacon. Add sauce, beef stock, red wine, garlic and mushrooms. Simmer till melting. Stir through a little cream cheese and top with some sour cream and parsley for an incredible Stroganoff.

Cook your favourite vegetables - any combination of potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant, red peppers, mushrooms, corn, zucchini or beans - and layer, alternating vegetables with a little cherry tomato sauce and béchamel, then finish with béchamel, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for luscious Vegetables Au Gratin.

Using beef or vegetables or even fresh crab meat, make yourself a great Lasagna.

Top freshly cooked schnitzels with sauce and half parmesan and mozzarella. Grill until cheese is golden for the perfect Parmagiana.

Use sauce to make instant Nachos or cook it off with beans and/or mince for real Nacho sauce. You can also use it as a Salsa for Burritos and Enchiladas - it's always a perfect match with avocado.

Fry big, fat, Crispy Chips or roast some potatoes and smother them with cherry tomato sauce, sour cream and shallots.

Pizza Toppings

garlic prawn seafood pizza Pizza #1 Cutting pizza with mezzaluna Pizza #8 Pizza #213 Pizza #2 Pizza #3 Prosciutto and Anchovies Pizza 1 Pizza #4 Uncooked-Salami-and-Basil Pizza uncooked on tray Ready to eat pizza Pizza #3 Seafood Pizza Pizza #22 Tomato and oregano on pizza

You know all the usual combinations, if you want something different though, here's a few topping ideas to inspire you…

Garlic Prawn Pizza
Very 1970's Queensland this one: peel and butterfly some nice big green tiger prawns, toss them with lots of finely diced garlic, a little melted butter, parsley and pepper. Spread your pizza base with tomato sauce, arrange the prawns and top with some shaved parmesan. Cook, then squeeze over some lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley and sea salt.

Peking Duck Pizza
This is my all time favourite pizza. Spread some Hosin sauce over the pizza base. Top with bought or homemade Chinese BBQ duck. When the pizza comes out of the oven, scatter over julienned cucumber and finely sliced shallots (spring onions).

Moroccan Lamb & Yogurt Pizza
Lightly fry off some lamb mince, diced onion and a little chilli and add a pile of cumin and whatever other Middle Eastern spices you've got lying around. Cover the base of the pizza with tahini and top it with the lamb mince. When it's cooked, add some lovely thick yogurt flavoured with lots of roasted garlic and lemon juice so it really zings. Usually I've got this stored in a squeeze bottle so I can splurt it on in a spiral. Top with lots of chopped coriander leaves and a little mint.

Smoked Salmon & Dill Pizza
Spread a reasonably thin layer of room temperature spreadable cream cheese, yoghurt or crème fraiche over the pizza base. Top with paper thin red onion rings and cook it off. Cover it with a pile of smoked salmon, dill, capers and black pepper. Squeeze lemon juice all over the top.

Eye Fillet & Caramelised Onion Jam Pizza
Caramelise some onions, add sultanas, beef stock and some port and reduce to a sticky paste. Allow to cool, smear over the pizza base and cook. Before you put the pizza in, grill a nice piece of fillet to medium rare and leave it somewhere warm to rest. Whilst the pizza is cooking, slice the fillet thinly and pile it on top of the cooked pizza. Put some horseradish cream in a squeeze bottle and squeeze it over the pizza. Sprinkle with parsley.

Field Mushroom, Garlic & Rosemary Pizza
Glaze pizza base with a little melted butter. Lay sliced mushrooms (preferably wild, or a mix of strong flavoured 'rooms, like Swiss Browns, Shitakes or Ceps, directly onto base and sprinkle on a little red wine & black pepper. Top mushrooms with lots of finely diced garlic & rosemary sprigs. Cover with grated parmesan and cook. Decorate with chopped parsley.

Spinach, Blue Cheese, Smoked Chicken Pizza
Wilt some spinach and with a fork, mix half of the spinach into equal parts room temperature spreadable cream cheese and blue Castello. Spread this mix over the pizza base. Top pizza with remaining spinach and pile high with shaved smoked chicken. Crumble some more blue Castello and a little grated parmesan over the top and cook. This pizza also works really well with fresh oysters instead of the chicken.

Fish, Fennel & Black Olive Pizza
Thinly slice some fennel bulbs. Cook the fennel in your usual tomato sauce base until it has softened. Cool. Spread over pizza and top with any good reef fish fillets cut up into small chunks. Sprinkle over pitted and slice black olives and a little parmesan and mozzarella. When cooked, top with freshly diced fennel tips.

Smoked Turkey & Cranberry Pizza
Mash a little cranberry sauce into cream cheese to form a nice pink paste. Cover pizza base with the paste. Top with lots of smoked turkey slices and then a little mozzarella and parmesan and cracked pepper. When the pizza is done, top with a drizzle of cranberry sauce and lots of coriander and pistachios.

Grilled Eggplant & Yoghurt Pizza
Slice eggplant into 1cm thick slices. Scour both sides lightly and marinate for ½ an hour in a little olive oil, garlic and soy sauce. BBQ eggplant slices until crispy on the outside and mushy in the middle. Cool. Spread yoghurt or tahini thinly over pizza base and arrange eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle over some Hungarian sweet paprika. When the pizza is cooked, top it with a big dollop of hommus or tzatzki.

Red Pepper & White Anchovy Pizza
We're pretty big on white anchovy fillets here at the moment. Buy, or chargrill and remove the skins from some red peppers. Slice into long, thin pieces, almost like juliennes. Spread tomato sauce on pizza base and slice white anchovies in half, lengthwise. Arrange red pepper and anchovy slices in lines over the pizza. Sprinkle over diced black olives. Top with ½ mozzarella, ½ parmesan. When cooked, sprinkle with rocket.

Lamb Backstrap, Beetroot & Ricotta Pizza
Grind up some yellow mustard seeds and use them to roughly coat the lamb. Grill it to medium/rare and rest. Cover pizza base with ricotta or cottage cheese. Grate fresh beetroot and mix with a little orange zest and brown sugar. Put on pizza and bake. Slice lamb and pile on top of pizza. Sprinkle over a little orange juice and some coriander leaves.

Artichoke, Prosciutto & Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza
Brush pizza base with a little melted butter and crushed up garlic. Spread with prosciutto slices and then arrange cooked fresh globe artichokes or tinned artichoke hearts over the top. Break up some buffalo mozzarella and spread it over the pizza. Season with cracked black pepper and lemon juice and cook.

A NOTE OF CAUTION

Pizza #2

A lot of cooks, myself included, have trouble knowing when to stop. We love to feed people and we like it to be over the top. Given that and despite the million toppings above, when you're topping pizzas, you need to exercise some restraint. IN A REALLY GOOD PIZZA, LESS IS MORE. For instance, applying pizza sauce is more rough plaster by a cheap landlord than icing a wedding cake - the last thing you want is to apply a nice thick, even coat that goes right to the edges. Similarly, a 'bad' pizza more often has too many toppings than too few. Consider the way the fast food boys apply their toppings, with each ingredient making a separate layer, like the soil deposits in an archaeological dig - 'oh there's the ham era, followed by the mushroom period which leads into the cheese zone'.

If you look at a traditional Italian pizza though, the sauce is just casually smeared on and the individual toppings are SCATTERED quite sparsely over the pizza, so that in any one bite you might get dough, sauce, one topping and cheese, but in another bite you might get just dough and one sort of topping or dough and sauce or dough and cheese or maybe even (shock, horror!) just dough, but that this sparseness will taste delicious because each mouthful will be light; crunchy yet soft and flavoursome yet specific. On no account will the pizza be heavy, wet, doughy and confusing. So yes, hard to accept though it is, it really is true - in pizza toppings at least, it IS possible to have too much of a good thing!

If you still need convincing, try these two classic examples of less is more:

Margarita Pizza: make some kick-ass THICK tomato sauce, smear it on your base LIGHTLY with the back of a spoon - stay away from the edges - get a few real buffalo mozzarella balls, break them up roughly - they'll melt and spread out as they cook, rip up a few fresh basil leaves and toss them on top and bake.

Swiss Pizza

Swiss Pizza: lightly fry a couple of rashers of bacon, transfer to paper, drain fat off from pan, then deglaze pan with a little white wine. When wine gets syrupy, add some garlic and pepper and then some cream. Reduce cream mixture slightly, cool. Use this as your sauce, smear onto base, cut bacon rashers into squares and dot around pizza. Scatter some thinly sliced mushrooms between the bacon pieces, sprinkle with parmesan and bake.

Special Tips for Seafood Pizza

Seafood pizza - featuring prawns and avocado

Seafood is fantastic on a pizza and everyone goes for prawns, but personally, whilst I love a big juicy prawn, fish and scallops really stand out on pizzas.

The first trick with seafood pizzas is to resist the ubiquitous packet marinara mix - it's frozen, it's not Aussie, it's a little dangerous, and it's all different seafood that needs different times to cook. I know it's cheap and perceived as easy, but go for good quality, only 1 or 2 types of seafood and use it sparingly: that's trick number two.

Seafood pizza - featuring prawns Seafood pizza - featuring scallops

You see, even if (or maybe, especially if) the quality of seafood you use is good, if you leave it too thick, it won't cook through in the short time your pizza is in the oven.

I guess it's another of those unnatural less is more things: with prawns, I either cut them in half, longways and scatter them about or, leave the tail on, but butterfly the meat and spread the 'wings' out flat.

With scallops (even though I love the big, fat, roe-on ones for anything else), our little Queensland scallops with the roe removed come up way tastier on pizzas then the big ones and are actually even better if you cut them crossways in half so that they're even thinner.

Tracy's Best Seafood Pizza: The Fish Burger Pizza

Fish Burger Pizza #1

First up, prepare some really nice simple homemade Tartare Sauce.

When making Tartare, remember, good Tartare has enough solid ingredients to make it more the consistency of a mayo-based salad than a sauce, so don't hold back…

To a bowl full of good quality bought or homemade egg mayonnaise, add ½ - 1 finely diced red onion, equal quantities of finely chopped fresh parsley and fennel sprigs (NOTE: all great mezzaluna practise - not that I'm hinting or anything!), a heap of baby capers and some cracked black pepper. Stir it all together and leave in the fridge for several hours or even a whole day, so that the flavour really develops.

Fish Burger Pizza #2

Cover the base of your pizza with your preferred tomato sauce. Arrange your beautiful thin fish fillet pieces on top.

Fish Burger Pizza #3

Sprinkle over a little parmesan. Cook pizza until fish is opaque.

When the pizza is done, squeeze with a little lemon and grind over some black pepper, then strew with finely diced Sorrel leaves (an intense lemony, herby, leafy taste that's perfect with seafood), drizzle with Tartare Sauce and enjoy - it's just wave after wave of flavour in your mouth…

Special Tips for Vegetarian Pizza

Vegetarian Pizza - featuring pumpkin

You may have noticed Pete and I like our meat (and seafood!). Never-the-less, we also love our garden and home-grown produce, so a good vegetarian pizza can really hit the spot. Also, we do have a few vegie friends - the ones who can stomach watching a pack of carnivores devour a side of beef in front of them whilst they nibble sedately at their plantly fare - sometimes it's almost like a scene from the Bible here - you know, where the lions lie down with the lambs!

Anyway, I reckon the reason they risk it is because we do vegies well: they are always fresh and in season and at their peak AND (here's the secret) usually, they've been cooked in advance.

Crisp capsicum and other vegie matter is all well and good when they're acting as decorations or as part of the overall taste sensation, but when the veg is the feature, cooking it in advance really develops the flavour. Potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, mushrooms, capsicum, eggplant and even quite a few of the greens, are all better 'main' toppings if they've had a light steam or roast.

Tracy's Best Vegetarian Pizza: Thai Red Curry Pumpkin Pizza

Thai Red Curry Pumpkin Pizza

We've had great pumpkins this year (Queensland Blues of course!) because they got good frosts in winter and that really sweetens them up.

If you grow pumpkins, try and time them so they are nearly ready just before the cold and then leave them to get frosted on the vine and wait for the vine to start to die back. Then, if you cut them off the vine, leaving about 10cm of stem attached and store them somewhere cool, dry and dark, you'll have fantastic flavour-filled pumpkins for months.

Cut pumpkin into small cubes and toss with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a little olive oil to coat. Place pumpkin on a baking tray and while the oven is heating for your pizza adventure, put the tray in and brown and just-cook the pumpkin pieces.

Thai Red Curry Pumpkin Pizza #2

NOTE: The 'drama' of the starting fire is great for cooking pumpkin as it will caramelise the sugar and brown the outside of the pieces quickly, but the inside of the cubes will stay reasonably firm.

Cool pieces. Spread pizza base with your favourite Thai-style red curry sauce (either home-made or bought is fine, but if a paste, thin slightly with coconut cream or yoghurt). Top with roasted pumpkin pieces and a little parmesan and bake. When cooked, sprinkle with fresh coriander, roasted cashews and if you like things hot, a little diced chilli or chilli sauce.

Dessert Pizzas

Pizzas and Calzones (folded over pizzas) make great desserts. Just top your base with fresh or stewed fruit, sprinkle with raw or brown sugar and bake. Serve them with ice-cream or a dollop of yoghurt, cream or mascarpone.

If you want to, you can also incorporate a base layer of cream cheese, mascarpone, pastry cream, ice cream toppings (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, etc) jam or even caramel (yum!).

These are the ones we do over and over...

Pecan nut dessert pizza Banana dessert pizza

Apple Pie Pizzas
Stew apples as you would for apple pie and cool - place on pizza base. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cook and serve with ice-cream and/or custard. This works with any fruit but (as well as apples) is particularly good with nectarines, peaches and rhubarb.

Hot Strawberry Pizza
Mix together some yoghurt, a couple of egg yolks that have been beaten well and a little sugar and use it as a 'sauce' for your dessert pizza bases. It turns out like a tart pastry cream but is much less trouble to make. Spread the 'pastry cream' on your pizza. Cover it with halved strawberries and some sugar or glaze and bake. It's delicious. If you want to be really decadent, instead of the 'pastry cream', mix a little cream or yoghurt through Nutella and use that as a base.

Fig Pizza
If fresh figs are in season, this is a great way to enjoy them. Spread a little fig jam over the pizza base. Top with fresh fig slices and brown sugar. Cook and serve with a dollop of mascarpone.

Caribbean Pizza
Cover pizza base with caramel - the one that comes in a tin or you make by boiling up a tin - homemade caramel sauce will split under the intense heat. Top with banana slices and chopped pecans, glaze with brown sugar and dark rum, sprinkle with coconut and bake.

Special Tips for Dessert Pizzas

Kids love desset pizzas

Kids love dessert pizzas - it's a great way to involve them in the pizza party, it's a great threat to keep them well behaved until the end of the evening and it's just great full. stop. to see them covered in chocolate and cream and sticky and happy and having a good time…

In fact, I too have never actually met a dessert pizza I didn't like, so I don't really know if you could call these special tips. They're more general observations!

Dessert pizzas make a mess. This is just the price you have to pay. You can try and minimise it by planning and confining the prep to a specific (easy to hose down!) area, you can make sure you crimp up the sides of your pizza base to contain the fillings as best you can, but basically, you just have to SUCK IT UP and go with it. If this is a problem, tell yourself: the heat of the fire will clean the oven, the dog will eat the big scraps, and overnight, the ants and wildlife will take care of the rest!

Piping bags in use while preparing dessert pizzas

Piping bags, squeeze bottles and dusters all add to the fun of preparing dessert pizzas. As do lollies and biscuits. Think Snickers bars, Cherry Ripes, Smarties, Tim-Tams and Mint Slices; not to mention after-cooking dustings of Honeycomb and Toffee or Butterscotch shards… All in moderation of course!

Really organised people we know (with four boys under five, they have to be) scoop out small balls of ice cream in advance of their children's birthday parties and re-freeze them all separately on a plate so that come dessert pizza time, they're easy to pop on each slice.

Also, don't forget that using a piping bag, you can write on a pizza and that a thick-ish base (or lots of toppings) will let you stand up candles - who needs a birthday cake when you've got birthday pizza?!

Finally, you may find this hard to believe, but COLD dessert pizzas get even more delicious, so make sure you hide one at the back of the fridge for morning tea the next day.

Tracy's Best Dessert Pizza: The Rocky Road Pizza

Rocky Road Pizza #1

Hang onto your hats, I'm about to share with you the Best Pizza Ever - or at least the one that is the most fun to make and eat!

Buy packets of Snake Lollies and eat the blue, green, yellow and orange ones. Horde the red ones!

Heat a small quantity of cream (say ½ a cup) in a tiny saucepan and when it starts to boil, remove it from the heat and add a 200g block of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate that has been broken into squares. Stir until the chocolate melts and the sauce is smooth. You may have to wave the pan over the heat a couple of times to melt all the chocolate, but don't leave it on for long or it will burn. This quantity of sauce will do 6-10 pizzas. Keep the sauce warm or, if you made it advance, reheat it gently by placing the container over/in boiling water and stirring occasionally until needed.

Rocky Road Pizza #2 Rocky Road Pizza #3

Have some Nutella (chocolate and hazelnut spread) at room temperature. If it's a little old, it can be hard to smear about on the base, so if you want the kids to do it, beat it/mix it with a little cream to thin it slightly.

Use your thumb and fore-finger to crimp up the edge of your pizza base, so that it is like a pie crust. This will help to contain the ingredients and stop them spilling out onto your oven floor.

Spread the Nutella mix up to the edge of the crust.

Let 4 or 5 RED snakes (the red ones really do taste best!) slither over the pizza and then dot marshmallows in the gaps. If desired, scatter over some crushed nuts.

Cook the pizza until the sides are nice and brown and the marshmallows are toasty. Top with the warm chocolate cream sauce from above and scatter on some more crushed nuts.

Rocky Road Pizza #4

By this stage, everyone will be standing AGOG at the pizza oven and by the time they've all got their slice and have bitten into the nutty hot chocolate pizza splodge and the soft, toasty marshmallows and the stained-glass red strands of the snakes, everyone - young or old - will be mesmerised and hushed by dessert pizza power…

The Pizza Party

Pizza Toppings Pizza party #4 Pizza party #1 Pizza party #6 Pizza party #5 Pizza party #3

If you're having people over for pizza, the absolutely guaranteed way to make it a success is to let everyone top their own pizzas. The mess, the confusion, the lack of control is 110% worth it because people will still be talking about your party in 10 years time...

As well as getting you a 5-star party master rating, this self-service style party DEFIES THE LAWS OF HOSPITALITY AND NATURE. You won't believe me till you've seen it for yourself, but the more you are dreading the party and the more awkward the people coming are, THE BETTER THE PARTY WILL END UP BEING.

Honestly, you know the type of party I mean - since the invitations went out, your about-to-celebrate-his 16th birthday-formerly-perfect-son has turned into an EMO and is insisting on inviting his best mate (sex indeterminate) to the family gathering this weekend at which your very recently widowed father-in-law has just informed you he is planning to unleash his new ladyfriend who went to school (and maybe even further!) with your brother, who is coming with his wife and their 6 Brady bunch children, whom the birthday boy absolutely loathed even before he started to loathe everything…

Pizza party #2 Pizza party gets the thumbs up

Anyway, the more awkward the event, the more effective the technique, because no matter how unlikely the mix of people or how socially inept they are, you've just given them a READY MADE (and pretty safe) EXCUSE TO INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER.

Please don't think I'm advocating having a participatory-party ONLY when you are entertaining people you don't like - there's nothing nicer than relaxing like this with good friends (see photos) and I would hate all the people who I've entertained like this to think I thought they were socially inept (well, except for a few…!) - but honestly, you won't appreciate this style of entertaining's true value until you've seen you're husbands randy old boss and the uptight woman from playgroup discussing their favourite ingredients with the vegetarian lesbians from down the street - THE UNITED NATIONS SHOULD CATER THIS WAY!

So, plan carefully, do all your prep, be ready, line up all the toppings and just let 'em go for it. Before you know it, everyone will be up and moving around, making conversation, laughing, comparing toppings, tasting one another's creations and - apart from giving the ingredients table the occasional once over for mess - you can relax and enjoy your party too.

Pizza Party Check List

Pete the Happy Blacksmith

NOTE: I have made it my personal mission to try and list everything you MAY need for a pizza party. If you've got this far, you've probably noticed how anal retentive I am and understand that in my controlling (yet well meaning!) way, I'm just trying to be helpful…

In particular, when you get to the list of ingredients, please don't think that you need all, or even most, or even HALF of the items I've put down. Too many ingredients will confuse you and your guests. The trick to a good pizza party is to provide enough choice and quantity so that people can be creative, without providing so much choice and quantity that they get scared, intimidated or dared into bad combinations.

As long as you don't make them wait too long to eat, particularly if you've let them drink on empty stomachs, your guests - even the dull ones - can be surprisingly creative and on the whole (and straight from the oven!), their creativity tastes surprisingly good. I think you can safely say you've got the mix of ingredients right if you use most of everything you bought and yet a couple of the pizzas were 'unexpected delights' - we've never yet had a party where at least one of the really favourite pizzas wasn't completely unplanned - and how good is that!

Oven Trowel Tool

The Pizza Party Check List:

Ask yourself:

  • Are there any gluten free, dairy free or strict vegetarians coming?
  • How am I going to do the bases and keep them ready?
  • How am I going to do the sauces and toppings and keep them ready?
  • What hygene matters do I need to consider - like keeping raw ingredients and dairy cold?
  • How are people going to get at the bases and toppings and move their pizzas about?
  • How am I going to keep the table clean and stocked up?
  • How are guests going to keep clean, wash their hands, dispose of their rubbish?
  • Who is going to be in charge of the fire and fire safety?
  • How many pizzas can we/should we make at one time?
  • How do we ensure everyone (who wants to) gets a turn?
  • Who is going to move the pizzas in and out from the oven and cut them up?
  • What are people going to eat their pizzas with/off of?
  • What are we drinking and how should that be set up?

GENERAL NEEDS: plenty of well seasoned, appropriately sized wood, tinder, paper, matches and oven tools; prep boards, trays or baking paper; refrigeration or eski's and ice; serving containers and utensils - including squeeze bottles, tongs, spoons, oven tools, cutters or a mezzaluna, cutting boards; plates or paper plates, napkins and eating implements - some people, particularly older people, are uncomfortable without a knife and fork; paper towel, cleaning cloths, access to water, bins, garbage bags.

Pizza Party - Toppings

SAUCES: tomato, sour cream, yoghurt, cream cheese, béchamel, anything you would like as a dip - tatziki, hommus, baba ganoush, pesto, etc, or anything you would like as a sauce - tahini, BBQ, satay, korma, etc.

MEATS: cured meats - ham and prosciutto, bacon and other smoked meats - including turkey, salamis and sausages cooked or cured, all sorts of cooked-off and seasoned mince - from Tandoori lamb mince to pork and sage meatballs, all sorts of BBQed, grilled or roasted meats - beef, lamb, pork or chicken.

SEAFOOD: anchovies - especially white anchovies, thin fillets or dice of fresh fish, smoked salmon slices or other smoked fish, prawns, scallops, squid rings, scoured cuttlefish, oysters, mussels, roe. Personally, whilst I love crab, it has such a mild taste and is such a labour of love to prepare; I wouldn't waste it on pizza (or guests!).

VEGETABLES: tomato slices - fresh or semi/sun dried, onions - red, white, brown, raw and fine diced, caramelised or deep fried Asian style, garlic - raw or roasted, thin sliced or minced, capsicums - raw and diced or skins blackened and removed, eggplant - thinly sliced or blackened on the bbq, artichokes - tinned or fresh cooked, olives - always pitted, but either whole or sliced and any sort - kalamata, mammoth black or green, mushrooms - from champignons to Swiss Brown slices to shitakes cooked or raw, chilli - fine diced, chipotle, jalapeño, paste, Tabasco sauce - anything with zing - even wasabi and horseradish are good if you like that kind of thing, potato - thin par-cooked slices, pumpkin or sweet potato - really thinly sliced and raw or diced and par-cooked, greens - spinach or zucchini, baby capers, preserved lemons and yes, pineapple (you know you want to!) tinned or fresh.

HERBS - parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, oregano - including wild/greek dried thyme, coriander, chives or shallots, mint and chervil.

SPICES: smoked Hungarian paprika, ground cumin or cardamon and any of the blends you like - dukkah, zaatar, Cajun, harissa, etc.

DAIRY: mozarella - particularly real, buffalo mozzarella (even if it does rot your brain, it's worth it!), parmesian, romano and other specialty cheeses - I'm a big fan of blue cheese on pizza, but I'll try anything, from haloumi to feta to brie and don't forget how nice the bland tastes can be, like cream cheese and ricotta.

AFTER TOPPINGS: whilst I quite like a lot of things added on after the pizza is cooked - particularly things like smoked salmon or BBQ meats; there are also quite specific after toppings. Things like rocket leaves, good quality salt flakes and freshly ground pepper, great, green, fragrant olive oil (I also really like chilli oil) and of course, lemon or lime wedges.

DESSERT: see dessert pizza ideas listed above.

Tabouleh Recipe

Tabouleh

This Tabouleh recipe has nothing really to do with cooking in a wood fired oven, though it's a natural accompaniment with any Middle Eastern flavoured roast meat or with homemade pita or Turkish bread.

Primarily though, this recipe is here in an instructional capacity. Because it features the cutting up of a large quantity of herbage, I have used it to teach Mezzaluna handling skills.

If you go to the How to use a Mezzaluna section, you will find this Tabouleh recipe expounded upon in great detail.

Whatever the reason, if you want to make it, you'll need:

Oven Trowel Tool

Tabouleh Ingredients:

  • 2 fairly big and lusciously ripe Roma tomatoes
  • ¼ cup cracked wheat (burghul)
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • 2 big bunches Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 smallish red onion
  • 1 - 2 lemons
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons really good olive oil
  • Pepper & Salt

Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the juice and seeds but leave any pulp attached.

Add the juice and seeds to the cracked wheat. Also add the water. Stir together and put aside for around ½ an hour or until the grains have absorbed the water and are plump.

Finely cut the parsley, mint, tomato and onion and place in a bowl.

Add the cracked wheat, the juice of one lemon, 2 tab of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Mix together and taste. Adjust seasoning to suit. The tabouleh should be quite lemony and sharp. Remember the flavours will mellow slightly over time, so if you're making it an hour or two in advance, boost the lemon and salt.


NOTE: I grew up on Mrs ............ style tabouleh - you know the ones with hardly any herbage, just a great glue-y mass of soggy cracked wheat? Well, this shouldn't look anything like that. It's really hard to convey quantities with herbs, but what you're after is lots and lots of green, fragrant herbage that has little red (tomato) and white (cracked wheat) flecks through it.