Last year, I spent months racking my brain for a fitting present for my boyfriend. I knew that what he really wanted was an iPad. But with my bank balance, Santa simply wasn’t going to be leaving one of these in his Christmas stocking! So eventually, after much thought and online browsing, I decided upon a Jamie Oliver pizza stone from Yuppichef. Besides the obvious reason (my boyfriend loves pizza as most of us do!), I had something else in mind. I had asked my boyfriend many times to cook for me. But he had always deflected by saying he liked having me around and as such, would rather not give me food poisoning. So I figured, well, pizza is simple, right?
When left to his own devices, my boyfriend will end the night with a bowl of 2-minute noodles and grated cheese. This said, however, he does like to dine out and has a good understanding of what pairs well with what. Pizza, then, would surely be a perfect way to explore that side of himself, experimenting with different cheeses and toppings, in a relatively fool-proof way.
Of course, all these months later and I have seen the error in my ways. I now whatsapp potential topping options, get a response, and visit Checkers with the list of ingredients. To his credit, he will offer to help with tasks like the grating of cheese or the chopping of garlic cloves. (And to my credit, I always decline the offer when Liverpool is playing an important game.) So not quite the desired effect I had imagined. Nonetheless, the pizza stone has become an invaluable item in my kitchen and in our gastronomic lives.
But working with dough can be a messy thing when the whole point of making pizzas is so often to do something that is as effortless as its results are delicious. So I was delighted when a friend suggested I try the bases from YiaYia’s* in Richmond Hill which is only minutes away from where I live. They were affordable, thin-crusted, and took only minutes in the oven. And it helped that YiaYia’s is the kind of place you want to support.
YiaYia meaning ‘grandmother’, it is exactly the kind of warm and inviting place you would expect. Their new owners, Ravi and Hema, are forever ready to greet you with a smile and some friendly chitchat. And their manager, Andrew, has come to know me so well that he often meets me outside with the question, ‘So how many this time?’ Sometimes I like to surprise him and sit down to have some of their traditional baklava, a real treat for someone who ordinarily doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. So a big shout out to them is in order because I truly believe that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and they have made this task incredibly easy for me!
But before I digress any further, back to the recipe. I have some very dear friends to thank for this particular one. When I was doing my masters, a truly adept proofreader helped me along the way and because of our friendship, refused payment when all was said and done. So I thanked her in the only way I know how…I invited her for dinner.
Now when her and Graham, a mutual friend of ours, arrived, they showed up not only with a bottle of wine for their hostess but with an assortment of expensive cheeses from Woolworth’s. When I offered to put together a cheese platter for the table, they insisted it was a gift expressly for my enjoyment. Now I will not accept such things in my home. Food is meant to shared. But I swiftly solved this dilemma by inviting them again for dinner the following night, this time for pizzas that would put their cheeses to good use. Having learnt my lesson, I gave them strict instructions to bring cherry tomatoes and rocket. No more. Fortuitously, I also had some rocket & basil pesto, made for me by a very wonderful woman, Rose, that would go perfectly with what I had in mind.
passata (you need only enough to cover the pizza base, spread as thinly or as generously as you like)
2 cloves garlic
100g chevin goat’s cheese
pizza base (usually about 30cm in diameter)
sprinkling of dried Italian herbs
handful of rocket
handful of cherry tomatoes
2tspns lemon juice
drizzling of olive oil
drizzling of balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper and salt to season
pesto to serve
Start to preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Please remember to place the pizza stone in the oven while it is heating, as putting it in later can cause the stone to crack. Once the oven is ready, drizzle the cherry tomatoes in some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Let them roast in the oven while you get on with grating the mozzarella and chopping the garlic. In the meantime, you can also drizzle the rocket in the lemon juice and olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and salt, and leave aside for later.
Once you see the skin of the tomatoes start peeling away slightly, they are ready to be taken out. Now you can turn the oven heat up to 200 degrees, for the pizza.
Apply a basting of passata to your pizza base. Sprinkle with the Italian herbs and spread the garlic evenly onto the base. Then you can add your grated mozarella. Now place your chevin goat’s milk cheese (I usually just slice it into soft discs), around the pizza, doing the same with the cherry tomatoes once they are not too hot to handle.
Once the oven is ready, take your pizza stone out of the oven and place your pizza upon it. Pizza stones get incredibly hot so be careful here. I always make sure I leave part of the stone sticking out from the oven rack so I have a firm handle on it. Now you simply wait for the cheese to melt and the edges to show a golden brown crisp.
Remove your pizza from the oven, slice it on a board and add the lemony, peppery rocket on top. Serve with a side of pesto. Easy as pie and very few dishes to deal with if you have bought your bases from a reputable restaurant.
Featured artwork by Susan Pepler