Rainy day (mini) pizza

It’s been raining like mad here for days. Now I like rain. I used to love it in fact – there is nothing better than curling up inside your home on a cold rainy day with a good book and a hot cup of tea. But that was before I had children.

Children – well, my 3 and 1 year olds at least – just can’t seem to sit back on a sofa, relax, sip their babychinos and browse picture books for hours. Why not, is beyond my comprehension. The destruction that goes on inside my house when the kids are cooped up on a rainy day? It’s too painful for me to describe.

So I need to think of activities. Activities that would pin the kids to the table so that they don’t go destroy my sewing machines or spill milk on my precious fabrics. It’s not easy, but I found a good one yesterday just when I was on the verge of losing sanity.

 

Mini pizzas! Which you can make with your children!

It’s an extension of the bread-making idea really, but it is more elaborate than just play dough, and thus keeps the kids busy for a longer period of time. First there is the usual play dough (this time with rolling pins!), then there is “helping mommy” shred cheese in a food processor, then decorating the dough with tomato sauce, the toppings, and then cheese. You can really stretch the activity time if you are a little creative. And even after the pizza-making is over and the children are reverting back to their natural destructive / whiney state, you can effectively distract them with: “Oh hey, do you want to come see how those pizzas are doing in the oven?” etc.

Then, when the horror hours of the evening descends on you, and your sanity is really being tested, you can pull out your final card: “let’s sit down and eat the pizza you made for dinner!” I guarantee, your bewitched children will turn into angels of compliance. My children adore eating what they made. Even Miss M, who is normally finicky with food and doesn’t eat much at all, devoured the pizza, vegetables and all.

You might think pizza isn’t healthy. But I disagree completely. Here’s a basic recipe that is very healthy, wholesome, and unbelievably tasty as well. And if you have never made a pizza dough from scratch, it’s really the easiest thing.

Wholemeal Pizza (from scratch)

Pizza dough
Adapted from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking

  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • about 1 cup water (you may need a bit more or less)

Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer, add olive oil and most but not all of the water. Start mixing on low speed with a dough hook. If you see dry stuff left at the bottom of the bowl, gradually add a little more water, until all the dry stuff is absorbed. Again you are looking for the consistency of play dough. Knead at low speed for 7-8 minutes. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can mix and knead on a table top. When done, cover the dough with a little olive oil, cover the bowl with a plastic wrap, and let it sit somewhere warm for a couple of hours (or more) till it roughly doubles in size.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce (for the pizza base).

Easy tomato sauce

  • 1 large onion, or 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 3-5 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cans of diced tomato
  • a handful of (preferably) fresh mixed herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves are great), finely chopped (leave bay leaves whole, and remove after cooking)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a little olive oil in a pot on medium heat. When hot, toss the onion and garlic, and stir for a few minutes until they are transparent but not burned. Add the tomato and the herbs. Add some salt. Cover, bring to the boil, and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens up nicely. Leave it to cool.

The key to this recipe is fresh herbs. Please use a lot of them, like a good handful. It makes such a big difference. But if you don’t have fresh herbs, dried ones are okay, too.

Note this recipe makes a lot of tomato sauce. You only need half of it for making pizza, but the leftover is delicious, and you can use it the next day to make lasagne or other pasta dish.

Toppings

The beautiful thing about pizza is that you can pretty much use any topping you can think of, or whatever you have left in the pantry and fridge. The only essential thing is cheese. Yesterday for example, I only used vegetarian sausages, chopped mushrooms and red capsicum.

Assembly

When the pizza dough has risen, bring the children in and have them sit at a table. Sprinkle a bit of flour in front of them, give them a handful of the dough, and show them how to roll them thin with a rolling pin. My children completely ignored my instructions and did their own thing (which, for Mr. A, involved a lot of eating and licking the dough – I know, yucky, but do you know the most useful thing I learned at cooking school? That bacteria dies at about 80 degrees Celsius.). The main thing is they had fun. In the end I made sure all the dough pieces were more or less flat and round, and placed them on a baking tray.

At this point, turn the oven on to preheat at 220 degrees Celsius (to kill off that bacteria!).

Now into the second activity phase – topping the pizza. Let your children spoon the sauce on the dough, put toppings on, and sprinkle the cheese over each pizza. Again the mantra is, “if it’s messy, it doesn’t matter.”

When it’s done, you can put it in the oven straight away. Unlike proper bread, pizza dough doesn’t need a second proofing. Bake until the dough is golden around the edges and the cheese is bubbling.

Another great thing about homemade pizza is that, you can turn leftover veggies, a block of cheese, and basic pantry staples into a most delicious, home-cooked meal. Perfect for rainy days when you really don’t want to go out there grocery shopping.

Good luck surviving the rainy spell, everyone.

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