Thursday 21 November 2019

The other women and beer bread pizza

The greatest trick that book clubs have ever played is to convince the world that they aren't fun, according to Sophie White, who has needs no one club can satisfy

Sophie White
Sophie White
deposit photos

Sophie White

Before I became a mother, I had zero interest in book clubs, apart from listening to my mother's anecdotes about her long-running club. This gang recently enacted a conscious uncoupling after 15 years of cheese and pontificating.

The club sounded pleasant enough, except for the in-fighting and occasional grumping about the book choices. They called it a day before any serious falling out could occur, and they all remain friends. Herself is making a concerted effort to move on with her life and is even seeing a new book club now, though they are taking it slowly.

I joined my book club when I was expecting my son, and going out with my usual posse was far too taxing and booze-fuelled for someone in my condition. The book club was the ideal activity for a lethargic teetotaller.

Once parenthood hit, the book club became even more essential to my happiness. Here was a way of escaping Himself and Yer Man under the guise of respectability. You see, those who do not go to a book club think of them as a kind of edifying activity, similar to doing homework or going to the theatre.

I even ham it up for Himself sometimes, saying, "Ugh, I have to go to my book club tonight". I trudge out the door slowly, to prevent the bottles of Gavi from clinking in my bag, and I pretend to look wistfully at the couch. I keep it up until I get to the corner of my street, where one of my cohorts will have the engine running. I jump in, and we gun it to the house of that night's host.

My book club has been going for nearly two years now, and has evolved beyond the original book-club format somewhat. Side projects have been introduced, such as 'article club', clothes swaps and Harbo-watch - the cataloguing of Niall Harbison's Monthly Misadventures in Twitterland. There have been field trips and now, at each meeting, we elect someone to take the minutes, so that everything from where Roisin purchased the gold top, to my recipe for beer bread pizza, can be retained after the Gavi and cheese-binging is over.

I was happily ensconced in my book club when I got a tempting offer. Like many adulterers, I didn't set out to have an affair. It just happened. The other book club isn't better, it's just different, and anyway, the book club is not the problem, I am. I just needed an additional outlet for my literary libido.

The first meeting of the other women took place in a cafe in Drumcondra - this was a rookie error. I thought we would be safe, but, this being Dublin, I was rumbled, naturally.

My first attempt at two-timing and Roisin walked in on us. The look on her face said it all: she wished that she was in two book clubs.

I'm having the other women to my house this time; I can, at least, be discreet, and in the interest of fairness, I'll give them the beer bread pizza too.

Beer bread pizza

Serves 6.

For the base, you will need:

400g (14oz) flour, plus additional for kneading

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

300ml (½pt) beer

For the toppings, you will need:

2 tablespoons harissa

2 tablespoon tomato puree

4 tablespoons passata

2 x 150g (5oz) balls of buffalo mozzarella

2 tablespoons olive oil

150g (5oz) salami, sliced

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 230°C, 450°F, Gas 8. Put a rectangular baking tray at least 2cm (about 1in) deep in the oven to heat up.

Put the flour, the baking powder and the salt in a large bowl and mix together. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the beer, a little at a time, mixing everything together with your hand to form a soft dough. If the mixture is a little sticky, add a sprinkling of flour.

Dust the counter top with some flour and knead the dough for about three minutes.

In a bowl, combine the harissa, the tomato puree and the passata together. Tear the balls of buffalo mozzarella into pieces. Take the hot baking tray out of the oven and brush it with the olive oil. Roughly flatten out the dough using your hand or a flour-dusted rolling pin, and then put the dough in the hot tray and push it out to the edges, so that you have a large rectangular base.

Spread the harissa, tomato puree and passata mixture evenly over the top of the dough, scatter the sliced salami over it and cover with the mozzarella pieces. Sprinkle the dried thyme on top along with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Return the tray to the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the mozarella has melted and the base has risen slightly, and is golden around the edges.

When the pizza is cooked, allow it to cool slightly in the tray, then slide it out on to a large board to slice it.

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