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We cook the books

by Sarah Alcock

Serves: 4

I love pizza. I wanted to eat the pizza on the cover right there in the office. I'd also heard good things about the Franco Manca restaurants dotted around London. Like the restaurants, the book is all about going back to traditional techniques to 'restore the reputation of the wonderful product that is pizza' (wood-burning ovens are not essential, though).

As I thumbed through the book, I realised this was definitely going to be a weekend job. I decided to start with one of the simpler toppings (I couldn't spare the time to cure my own salami) – spicy lamb, mozzarella and tomato.

I didn't have an 26cm iron pan to toast then grill the pizza as the recipe stated, so I needed to use a different dough for a tray-baked pizza. First I had to make a 'poolish' (I hadn't heard of it either) the night before. Sounds fancy but it's just a mix of lukewarm water, flour and yeast, to which I stirred in more flour and yeast, plus sugar, salt and oil, the following day. I wished I had the recommended mixer with a dough hook to beat the dough, but I followed the clear step-by-step photos to beat it by hand.

In between stretching and resting the dough on baking trays, I started on the toppings. The spicy lamb was a simple mix of lamb, garlic and scotch bonnet chilli. The recommended method was to mince it all together, but I took the easier option of using lamb mince. The tomato sauce was really simple – I chose the basic salsa recipe, which involved squishing a tin of whole peeled tomatoes by hand and reducing it down with some basil leaves.

My dough...


When the dough had enjoyed its final stretch, I spread over my tomato sauce, then sprinkled over pieces of lamb, torn mozzarella and basil leaves, and the grated Pecorino. I felt pretty pleased with myself as I slid the trays into the oven.

The recipe was a bit vague about the base thickness and, as it started to rise in the oven, I realised I should have stretched it thinner. While doughier than expected (more like focaccia), the pizza itself tasted amazing. The combination of the slightly crispy, spicy lamb, gooey cheese and basilly tomato was lovely. The lamb had a pleasant heat to it and my 22-month-old daughter tucked in happily, picking off the lamb to eat before starting on the pizza itself.

The finished pizza...


There was a fair bit of flipping back and forth between the three recipes (dough, topping and tomato sauce) and I should have paid more attention to the equipment page. But I'm off to Franco Manca to see how the experts serve it, then I'll invest in the right kit before my next attempt. It's got to be the pancetta, caramelised onion and blue cheese...

Spicy lamb, mozzarella and tomato tray-baked pizza

Taken from Franco Manca: Artisan Pizza To Make Perfectly At Home by Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo (Kyle Books, £12.99)


  • 400ml lukewarm water (22°C)
  • 400g flour
  • 6g dry yeast
  • 160g flour
  • 24g yeast
  • 12g sugar
  • 16g salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 240g whole, peeled tomatoes
  • fresh basil, torn
  • fine sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves - 3 roasted and 1 finely chopped
  • two thirds of scotch bonnet chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • a pinch of paprika
  • 300g lamb (or lamb mince)
  • 260g mozzarella, torn into chunks
  • 16 basil leaves, torn
  • 16 tsp grated Pecorino
  • a baking tray (40 x 27 x 2cm) or two trays (18 x 32cm)


  1. Make the poolish the day before you want to make the pizza by combining all the ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 16 hours and no longer than 48 hours.
  2. For the spicy lamb, heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan and fry the chopped garlic and chilli slowly over a low heat until the garlic browns. Remove from the heat and add the paprika.
  3. Remove the skin for the roasted garlic, then everything in a large bowl with the mince and combine thoroughly. Leave to marinate before using.
  4. Mix the flour, yeast and sugar into the poolish and combine. The best way is to use a blender with a dough hook, otherwise be prepared to use elbow grease.
  5. As it comes together, use the strength of your arm and stiff fingers to beat it for about 6 minutes. With a mixer, it will take about 4 minutes. You are aiming for a smooth, elastic dough that starts to 'shine'.
  6. Add the salt and oil, and mix again until absorbed into the dough. Turn the mixture out into a lightly oiled bowl and rest for 20 minutes.
  7. Transfer the dough on to an oiled tray and fold into shape, following the dimensions of the tray you are using. Then turn it over, so the 'good' side is up.
  8. Turn your oven on to its highest setting and place a rack on the middle shelf.
  9. Stretch the dough towards to the edges of the tray in two stages, resting for 10 minutes between each stretch. When stretching the dough, try not to touch it on top, but use your fingers tips from underneath the dough mass.
  10. After the second stretch, add your toppings. Spread the tomato salsa right to the edges of the dough (you might have some left over), and sprinkle over pieces of the spicy lamb, torn mozzarella and basil leaves, and most of the Pecorino, reserving some.
  11. If the dough is deep (or the tray small), you can dimple the dough with your fingertips, making a focaccia-style deep pizza and adding more sauce or oil. If you have stretched the dough very thin, simply add the rest of your ingredients and seasonings.
  12. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 12-14 minutes. If you have created a very thin pizza base, check after 10 minutes. Sprinkle over the remaining Pecorino to serve.

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