I can’t ever imagine getting bored of eating or cooking pizzas. My philosophy is simple – know the basics, then less is more. Once you know how to make a good base (for me, crisp and thin is the way to go) the toppings and flavours can be changed to take cues from all over the world.
Pizza in its most humble form has been around for centuries and would have originally consisted of flour and water mixed together and cooked on a hot stone. However pizza really made its name in the form of the margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil), created at a pizzeria, not surprisingly, in Italy.
One of my favourite memories ever is my first taste of a thin crust margherita down a side street in Naples. Roughly chopped San Marzano tomatoes and garlic, chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil ... It was simple and classic but throw in a cold beer and you’ve got a little slice of heaven.
As Italians emigrated around the world they took pizza with them and over the years it developed differently in each new country. If you’ve been to the States you’ll know that pizza there is a whole different, but equally impressive, world. Americans have taken pizza and made it their own from region to region. In Chicago they push the dough bases into deep pans then fill them with tomato sauce, mozzarella, cheddar and Italian sausage and bake them to create the iconic pizza 'pies'. In New York, bases are wide, thin, and soft enough to fold over and topped with a thin layer of tomato sauce and mozzarella. If you've ever heard a New Yorker and someone from Chicago arguing about who makes better pizzas, you know how seriously they take it. And I love that pizza brings out such passion in people.
Australians are really lucky because our multicultural country means we’re able to borrow ideas and flavours from so many nationalities. If I had to describe the quintessential Aussie pizza, it would either be the classic bacon and egg, or my chilli mudcrab pizza. To me, both reflect the Australian lifestyle and ingredients - we can’t get enough.
Eggplant and smoked mozzarella with caponata pizza
I’m a huge fan of cheese—if at the end of the meal I have a choice between dessert and cheese, I will generally opt for the cheese. I love using many different cheeses to create wonderful flavour combinations for pizza toppings. If you can’t get smoked mozzarella (scamorza), then use buffalo mozzarella or ricotta or goat’s cheese in its place. This is a simple, elegant pizza that tastes sublime.
MAKES ONE 30 x 25 CM (12 x 10 INCH) RECTANGLE PIZZA / SERVES 1–2
1⁄4 eggplant (aubergine), thinly sliced
60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) olive oil
semolina or plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting 170 g (6 oz) pizza dough ball (see pages 222–224) 80 ml (21⁄2 fl oz/1⁄3 cup) pizza sauce (see page 231) 8 large basil leaves
1 ripe roma (plum) tomato, cut into 5 mm (1⁄4 inch)
45 g (13⁄4 oz/1⁄3 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
60 g (21⁄4 oz) smoked mozzarella (scamorza) cheese,
torn into pieces
dried chilli flakes, to serve
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1⁄4 eggplant (aubergine), diced
1⁄4 onion, diced
1 teaspoon chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley 1 anchovy, finely chopped (optional)
1⁄2 ripe roma (plum) tomato, seeds removed and finely diced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the grill to medium. Line a baking tray with foil. Place the eggplant slices on the baking tray, brush with the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with the sea salt. Grill one side of the eggplant until lightly golden and tender (keep a close eye on it as it will burn easily). Set aside.
To make the caponata, preheat a deep-fryer to 170°C (330°F) or a large, deep, heavy-based saucepan filled with oil to a depth of 5 cm (2 inches). Add the diced eggplant to the deep-fryer or saucepan and cook for 3 minutes or until it is golden. Drain on kitchen paper. In the same oil, deep-fry the onion for 2 minutes until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool. Once cooled, put the onion in a bowl along with the eggplant, parsley, anchovy (if using), tomato and vinegar. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 250°C (500°F/Gas 9) or to its highest temperature. Once it has reached the temperature, it will take about 15 minutes for the pizza stone to heat up.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with semolina or flour, then roll out the dough ball into a 30 x 25 cm (12 x 10 inch) rectangle that is about 3 mm (1⁄8 inch) thick. Transfer the pizza base onto a piece of baking paper; this is necessary for transferring the assembled pizza to the heated pizza stone. Prick the pizza base all over with a fork or docker.
Spread the pizza base with the pizza sauce, then top with the basil leaves, tomato slices, grilled eggplant, shredded mozzarella and smoked mozzarella pieces. Sprinkle with the chilli flakes and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Transfer the pizza onto the heated pizza stone. Cook the pizza in the oven for 5–10 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Using a pizza paddle or wide spatula, carefully transfer the pizza to a chopping board or plate. Sprinkle the caponata over the pizza and serve.
Pizza by Pete Evans is out now, published by Murdoch.