Kids are often a challenge to the gastronomical parent. Personally I don’t believe that simply feeding your children a variety of fine foods from a young age will educate their young and immature palate. I admit I am guilty of it. I almost obsessively fed my first-born a wide variety of dishes, flavours, tastes and the majority of the time she enjoyed it all, but once she reached the stage of having a mind of her own, somehow her tastes reverted and she lost the ability to love anything except bland food. Now as a teenager, she hates vegetables (except those that are generally not seasonal in Britain…avaocados, peppers for instance) hates meat and fish (except chicken). She likes pasta, risotto and fajita’s. My youngest, in contrast loves nothing better than his meat and two veg, but won’t touch risotto or anyhting with sauce. Despite the challenges of juggling varying tastes I have never really pandered to the idea that you have to cook several different meals, and in my house its a case of eating the food on the table or starving.
The one ubiquitous dish that all kids (including my own) seem to love and crave is pizza, large circles of crispy base liberally spread with a sweet and herby tomato sauce and topped with stringy melted cheese. Many high street pizza places in the UK offer the Americanised (and for me totally adulterated) version of the original Italian dish. Those thick doughy stuffed crust pizzas don’t really match up to the light, crispy based Neapolitan ideal. Even though my kids would jump at any offer of a meal out, I have heard them complain on the rare visit to places like Pizza Hut that the pizzas not as good as the ones we make at home.
Pizza has been around since greek and roman times, with flat breads being seasoned with herbs, garlic, oil or honey, but pizza as we know it, with tomatoes and cheese, was not developed in Naples until the 1800’s. Ostensibly a poor man’s dish, but it became popular throughout Italy once local aristocracy developed a taste for it. Initially sold by street vendors, they soon gave way to shops or Pizzeria’s.
Pizza’s are also a simple, fun, interactive dish that kids can be involved in preparing. What better way to interest kids in cooking than to get them to roll their own dough, top it with sauce and cheese and then add their own unique toppings.
I use two recipes for pizza base; one a traditional Italian yeast base (the kids favourite) and one a very non-traditional potato base, which is much quicker, but probably a bit less predictable.
For the bread base I use:
250g plain flour (or Italian OO), 1 sachet of quick yeast (or a dessertspoonful), half a teaspoon of salt, 150ml warm water, two tablespoons of olive oil.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl then add water and olive oil to make a dough. Knead for 5 minutes or so until smooth and springy. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave top rise in a warm place for about an hour or until its doubled in size. Set oven to gas 7 / 240 degrees C.
After an hour knock back and knead again briefly before rolling out as thinly as possible to fit a pizza plate (or baking tray).
For the potato base I use:
225g boiled potatoes in their skins, 50g butter, 150g self-raising flour pinch of salt and pepper.
mash the potatoes with butter and season well. Sift in flour and gently with your hands mix to form a soft dough. Knead very lightly until smooth then roll out to fit your pizza tray. It should make a 10 inch pizza.
Set oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C
For the pizza sauce I simply place a small pan on the heat with a tablespoon of olive oil, when hot add a crushed garlic clove and a teaspoon or sprinkle of oregano, basil, marjoram (either a little bit of all three or a choice of any) sweat for a minute then tip in a tin of chopped tomatoes. Allow to cook fairly briskly until reduced to a thick, jam like consistency. It needs to spread easily, but not run off the pizza base (for maybe 20 minutes or so). Check seasoning. You may have to add a pinch of sugar to the tomato sauce if it tastes to acidically sharp.
Spread sauce over the base and then sprinkle over enough good buffalo mozzarella to cover (alternatively use any decent mozzarella, or mozzarella for pizzas).
Now comes your own personal touch. Time to add your own distinctive toppings and this is generally where my desire to make beautiful Italian pizzas goes awry. The kids will inevitably add the decidedly un-Italian ingredient Pineapple, mixed with either Pepperoni, ham, olives or red and green peppers. My own favourite? Seafood, anchovies, olives, mushrooms or goats cheese and rocket.
For the bread based pizza bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes or until the crust sounds hollow when knocked (keep an eye on it though so it doesn’t burn) and for the potato base cook for 40 minutes. You may have to cover the top lightly with foil after about 20 minutes to prevent it burning.
The former is best eaten around the table with fingers and napkins…just dig in! The latter will probably need a fork and a plate as the crust isn’t so robust…either way they are both a big hit!