The ultimate recipe for children? Alice Zaslavsky’s pizza on a tray | Australian lifestyle

As a teacher in my past life, a food literacy advocate in my current life, and a parent now and forever, school holidays are the best and worst time to talk about getting kids into the kitchen .

The best, because what better opportunity for them to learn essential skills such as adaptability, resilience and curiosity? Not to mention the ability to feed yourself, while developing numeracy and literacy skills by measuring or calculating ingredients and following instructions (or creating their own).

School holidays are also the worst time, as it’s yet another thing to add to the to-do list, at a time when bandwidth is already strained. The last thing you feel is another do-gooder telling you something else your kids could or should be doing, while you’re just trying to put dinner on the table.

Alice Zaslavsky’s recipe uses a moist, focaccia-like dough that is very forgiving. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian
After the first rise, spread the dough on a baking sheet and stretch it into the corners.
After the first rise, spread the dough on a baking sheet and stretch it into the corners. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian

Rather than delaying starting something until it’s perfect or focusing on the details, my recommendation when it comes to cooking with kids is to simply start somewhere, with even the smallest assists. And school holidays are as good a time as any, rather than the best and only time ever.

When choosing a recipe to make with your kids, start from a familiar place. It’s a great and safe place to play.

A hand crushing a tomato in a yellow bowl.
Hands washed, tomatoes crushed: an easy kitchen task for little beginners. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian

This is why pizza is perfect. Every aspect of this recipe can be scaled up or down, depending on the skills of your spawns. Picking basil leaves, peeling garlic, crushing tomatoes between (washed!) fists in an extra large bowl to catch any splashes are all great tasks for beginners. Have them press buttons, pans of oil, drop dough, and push it in with (washed!) fingertips. Older children can be entrusted with cutting mozzarella balls and dividing the slices with scissors.

Pizza tricolor al taglio (tricolor pizza on tray) – recipe

The dough is always fun for kids to knead – sort of like edible playdough (or should I say, playdough that’s actually meant to be eaten). You can prepare for the mess by throwing newspaper on the floor, or avoid it altogether by using a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, or checking to see if your food processor has a plastic blade for kneading . If you don’t have a large, high-sided baking tray measuring 40cm x 20cm, divide the dough in two and make two smaller pizzas.

For this recipe, we use a moist, focaccia-like dough that is very forgiving, with enough instant yeast to ensure a luscious flakiness. I tested mine on the coffee machine, but any warm place will do. Some ovens have a trial setting, especially newer models. You can proof it more slowly in the fridge overnight if you prefer, and splitting the recipe into two parts might be helpful if your kids are preschool or elementary school age—their attention spans will only last so long.

Two hands lifting a kitchen towel from a baking sheet to reveal pizza dough underneath.
Be up to the task: the instant yeast present in the dough produces a succulent puff pastry. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian

(You could even use this as a teaching moment about bubbly yeast. “It eats the sugars in the mixture and pops them out as gas, which helps the dough rise,” you say, gasping and laughing .)

Unlike bread dough, you don’t need to spend time punching it, because dropping it into the tray and digging your fingers into it is as good a punch as it gets. And if he burps a bubble, that just adds extra texture to the end result.

The flour makes the difference. Tipo 00 is a high quality Italian flour with a protein content perfect for pizza or pasta. These days, you’ll find flour specifically labeled “pizza flour,” so if you’re a household that regularly prepares recipes like this, it’s worth investing in. However, if you prefer to use regular flour already in the pantry, you can still get a great result.

The red sauce is super simple, which means every ingredient counts, especially the canned tomatoes. It’s worth seeking out San Marzano tomatoes, which come from a region of Italy known for its rich, volcanic soil and temperate climate, which produces intensely sweet pomodoro. If you can’t find them or prefer to use ones already in your pantry, add a pinch of sugar to simulate the effect (a handy tip that comes in handy when cooking with tomatoes).

A pizza cooked on a tray with a tomato sauce topping straight from the oven.
Bene melted: A puffy crust and bubbly top are signs that your pizza is ready. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian
Basil oil is drizzled over a pizza platter topped with mozzarella balls.
Good things come in threes: Zaslavsky’s recipe has green basil oil, white mozzarella and red tomato sauce, but you can use any topping you like. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/The Guardian

Buffalo mozzarella doesn’t mean you have to look for buffalo milk cheese, it’s more about the spherical shape. These are soft, white balls fresh in brine, rather than creamy yellow vacuum-packed ducks. Otherwise, bocconcini is a worthy replacement.

There are no limits when it comes to toppings. I chose a traditional tricolor – the green of a garlic basil oil, the white of the buffalo mozzarella and the red of the sauce – but you can get creative too. Pineapple is always welcome.

Makes 1 to 2 thick Roman pizzas, tray style

For the dough
1 sachet of 7 g of dry yeast
1 heaped teaspoon of honey
1 cup of lukewarm water

400 g tipo 00 pizza flourplus extra for sprinkling and kneading
1 teaspoon good salt
1 tablespoon of olive oilplus extra to prove

For the red sauce
1 box of 400g San Marzano tomatoes
1 handful of torn basil leaves
plus basil stems
1 clove of garlic
60 ml extra virgin olive oil (¼ cup), plus extra for serving
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 x 125 g buffalo mozzarella ballsdrained

For the garlic basil oil
Remaining basil leaves bunch of basil used in the red sauce, with a few leaves reserved to finish
1 clove of garlic
extra virgin olive oil (½ cup)
Pinch of salt

To make the dough, in a small bowl, combine the yeast, honey and warm water (for ease, stir with the spoon used to measure the honey) and let sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until until it is foamy.

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center, then pour in the yeast mixture with the oil.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Using your hands, mix the dough until it comes together, then turn it onto the floured bench and knead for five to seven minutes until the dough forms a nice round ball with a smooth surface. (If using a stand mixer or food processor, mix on low with the dough hook or dough hook for five minutes until the dough is elastic and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, then form into a ball. )

If you are making two pizzas, now is the time to divide the dough into two balls.

Place the dough ball(s) in a clean, oiled bowl, then cover with a clean, damp cloth. Place in a warm place until doubled in size – 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight in the refrigerator if you want a slower fermentation. (Just be sure to remove from the refrigerator four hours before moving on to the next step.)

To make the red sauce, pour tomatoes in a bowl and crush them with clean hands. Add the torn basil leaves, basil stems and olive oil and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the basil oil, combine the basil leaves, garlic clove, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a food processor, blending until the basil leaves are no longer only stains. Put aside.

Preheat the oven to its hottest setting (around 240°C/220°C fan). Double a 40 x 20 cm (approximately) baking tray with baking paper (or line two baking trays if you are making two pizzas).

Pour the risen dough onto the prepared tray and stretch it into the corners. Cover with a damp cloth and let the tray of dough rise a second time in a warm place for 15 to 30 minutes.

Once the dough is puffy, use your fingertips to dig clumps all over the surface, creating a dimpled surface like the moon.

Remove the basil stems from the sauce. Spread the tomato sauce all over the pizza, evenly around the edges. Bake for 15 minutes until the pizza is puffed and golden brown, with a few charred bubbles. If the middle is still a little velvety, cook for a few more minutes. The pizza is ready if you lift one corner, and it is also set and browned underneath.

To serve, remove the pizza from the oven. Arrange or tear the mozzarella balls on the pizza, then drizzle generously with basil oil and sprinkle with a few basil leaves to finish.

Use scissors to cut the mozzarella into mouth-sized pieces and use the scissors again to cut the pizza into square slices. Serve with additional basil oil if desired, or dip your pizza crusts in basil oil.

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