Saturday, 2 November 2013

Elephant No. 61: Homemade Pizza

When I was growing up, my mother often made her own pizza dough, allowing my siblings and I to add our own toppings. I literally haven't made pizza since then, so today I thought I'd try it for the first time in years.

I thought about buying ready-made dough, or even a ready-made crust, then decided to make pizza dough from scratch. I'm not a huge fan of kneading dough by hand, but there's nothing like homemade bread, so I bit the bullet.

This is the recipe I used, should you feel inclined to make your own pizza dough.

• 1-1/2 cups warm water
• 1 package (2-1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
• 3-1/2 to 4 cups white flour
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar

Mix yeast into water, and let dissolve for five minutes or so. Stir in olive oil, salt and sugar. Add 3-1/2 cups of flour, mixing until well combined.

Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (about 6–10 minutes), adding flour if the doughs sticks too much to your board or your hands.

Form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil on all sides. Cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.


When the dough was ready to be shaped, I divided it into two balls. I gave one to my husband Terrence to make his own pizza, while I made an elephant pizza of some sort.

I sprinkled cornmeal on two baking sheets, then we stretched and pressed our dough into roughly oval shapes. To keep the dough from absorbing too much liquid from the toppings, I brushed each pizza crust with olive oil.

These are the toppings I decided to use:

• Basil pesto
• "Traditional" pizza sauce—from a jar
• Sliced Italian salami
• Fresh tomatoes
• Sliced red onion
• Sliced black olives
• Sliced mushrooms
• Sundried tomatoes
• Freshly shredded mozarella
• A blend of grated parmesan, asiago and romano cheese

I had no idea what I was doing, so I decided I'd try to make a picture with the available ingredients. I started with the basil pesto, making some green grass.

Next I added pizza sauce to the top, sketching out a bit of an elephant with the spoon.

I added onions, which I tried to use to delineate the elephant—rather unsuccessfully, as you can see.

To reinforce the elephant shape, I added sliced tomatoes.

Finally, some sliced salami, cheese, mushrooms and a single slice of black olive for an eye. I don't like black olives very much.

Terrence mocked as I made this, saying it was going to be weird to eat, and that I couldn't have any of his more traditional pizza.

I suddenly had a flashback to one of my tweenage birthday parties, when my parents set out ingredients for party guests to make their own ice cream sundaes. As a joke, there were a couple of bizarre ingredients on the table, including sliced onions. I remember my father saying to one guest that, if she did indeed put a handful of onions on her sundae, she was going to have to eat it—and, in fact, we were all going to have to eat our creations. I decided to quietly remove the onions from my own sundae.

I was torn, as I made my pizza, between wanting it to taste good and wanting it to look at least somewhat like an elephant. Because I had decided that I couldn't slice and carve the ingredients into more convenient shapes, I ended up with a lot of rounded things that didn't really work. The trunk was basically an impossibility, and I ended up with a pizza loaded with ingredients on only one half. Or perhaps I just lacked imagination today.

When we were ready to cook the pizzas, I put them in the oven at 450˚F (232˚C) for about 12 minutes, then took them out and let them sit. I loathe scorched cheese, so this was done enough for me.

It looked even less like an elephant when baked, but I hoped it would taste okay. If I hadn't known I'd have to eat the final result, I probably would have outlined an entire elephant in olives, and filled the middle with cheese. However, I'm the kind of person who carefully picks off excess cheese and olives, so the very idea of a pizza loaded with olives and cheese was not for me.

I did eat half of my pizza—including the part with only mushrooms and pesto—and it was pretty good. But probably not as good as Terrence's. You can see what he called his "elephant pizza" below.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In addition to tusks, a prehistoric elephant called a platybelodon had a strange flat pair of teeth on the front of its mouth that scientists believe were used to chop at tough vegetation.

Artist's rendering of platybelodons.
Image: ©American Museum of Natural History/Biodiversity Heritage Library

Platybelodons were thought to have lived in and around water, using their lower front incisors to shovel and dig up food from swamps and rivers. Although their trunks were shorter and wider than those of today's elephants, scientists think they grasped vegetation with their trunk, then sliced it with the lower jaw.

Fossilized platybelodon jawbones.
Image: ©American Museum of Natural History/Biodiversity Heritage Library

Platybelodons lived in Asia, Africa, Europe and North American between 8 million and 20 million years ago, dying out in the Miocene Epoch. To read more, click here.

Three-dimensional modelling of platybelodon.
Image: © Alamy

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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