Today, I retraced the familiar paths I hadn’t seen since early summer. Returning to university is lovely; our campus is full of trees. All around me was the leaves rustled. Where they were still on the trees, their gold was dappled with red and orange berries. Autumn is beautiful but brings with it a chill. On top of this, work is starting again in earnest. The cold can really drain your energy and after a long day of work, all you really want is to tuck into something warming and delicious, preferably something you can eat with friends around a movie. Pizza sounding good to you?
I have a slight problem with pizza. It’s too homogeneous. The first few bites are heavenly but it can quickly start to feel as though you’re chewing through mouthful after mouthful of the same stodge. Delicious stodge, but stodge nonetheless. So I made it my mission to create something with a little more texture. Something a little lighter. Comforting, delicious and good for the soul.
I offer beetroot. I love beetroot. It is the richest of autumn colours: like blood or mahogany, it has an intensity your rarely see outside the heart of a flower.. It doesn’t have a strong taste but it gives an earthy, warming undertone.
I offer onion. Caramelised with a splash of balsamic vinegar. These are sweet, sticky and delicious.
I offer watercress. These crunchy, spicy leaves transform the whole dish. They are light and packed with nutrients and flavour in equal measure.
170g plain flour
a pinch salt
1 tbsp dried active yeast
1 tsp sugar
150ml warm water (50ml boiling + 100ml cold)
1 small beetroot, cooked
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
oil for frying
2 handfuls watercress leaves
Activate the yeast by dissolving the sugar in the water and sprinkling the yeast over the top. Mix it in well and leave in a warm place until it is frothy (about 15 minutes).
Add your flour and salt to a large bowl and pour in about half of the yeast-water mix. Stir with a spoon until it comes together. Keep mixing with your hands, adding any more water of necessary, until it all comes together into a slightly sticky dough. Tip this onto a work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic. Place dough back into bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature for about an hour.
For the pizza sauce, puree the beet and garlic in a blender until smooth.
About half an hour after you have left your dough, start the onions. Fry them in the oil over a low heat until they start to brown. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan regularly so nothing burns and you keep all the lovely caramelised stickyness on the onions. After about 20 minutes, add the vinegar and stir in well. Let it cook off until there is none at the bottom of the pan and the onions are lovely and sticky, then take off the heat.
Preheat your oven to its highest setting. Once your dough has risen, tip it out on to a work surface and knead it for a minute or so until smooth. Roll it out into a circle about 10 inches. Spoon over the beet then top with the onion. Cook on a high shelf for 10-12 minutes.
Once cooked, scatter the leaves on top and enjoy!