LAST HURRAH | celebrate the end of summer with a backyard pizza party
From BYO toppings to creating a relaxed, communal vibe, here’s how to host an end-of-summer pizza party for loved ones large and small.
August and early September are caught in a neverland of between time – with the freedom of summer not quite faded, and the “back to school” frenzy yet to reach full swing. The ideal pocket of time, in other words, in which to salute the end of sunshine season with a backyard pizza party.
The beauty of this particular type of party is that it’s inclusive; who doesn’t love a good pizza? Everyone from next-door neighbours to cousins, grannies to little ones, can get involved with creating their own toppings, or fighting over that precious last slice.
It’s also an event which heralds in a pleasingly slow and informal rhythm. A pizza party is a cheap way to host a crowd (a little goes a long way), as your guests wile away late summer evenings amid the moreish scent of melted mozzarella, or crispy ribbons of slow-cooked cipolla.
You don’t even have to have a state-of-the-art Ooni to make the format work, either: a DIY clay oven can work equally well (we created one as a lockdown project!), or else your own kitchen oven will do the job nicely. Or, with stovetop pizzas on the rise, a simple skillet may also work wonders. Here are a few extra tips to keep those dolce vita vibes flowing all evening long:
Make your pizza dough in the morning and leave it to rise, before creating dough balls. Then you’re all ready to roll when your guests arrive. For pizza dough, we follow this recipe from Jamie Oliver.
It’s dead easy to make your own tomato sauce topping, too: add chopped tomatoes seasoned with salt and pepper to finely crushed garlic, and handfuls of fresh basil. Don’t worry if you make too much; it makes a delicious pasta sauce for the next day, too. Or you can freeze it ready for your next date with pizzas.
Encourage BYO toppings
By inviting your guests to bring their own toppings, you spread the cost and everyone gets to play a part, too (plus no-one’s left stranded alone with all the cooking). Mozzarella is a must, of course, but you can also experiment with other types of cheeses. Shaved parmesan is a lovely final flourish after the pizza has come out of the oven, especially when you add a smattering of rocket to go with.
It’s a nice idea to experiment with soft cheese toppings such as goat’s cheese, ricotta or mascarpone, as well. Other garnishes we love include sliced meats, jars of peppers, capers, olives and artichokes. Grilled vegetables like aubergine and courgettes work well, too.
Create a pizza prep station
Arrange all your toppings across a series of platters or little bowls; then guests of all ages can mix ‘n’ match to craft their perfect combo. You could even write a menu to give people confidence in their choices; but part of the fun is also that anything goes! Creative ideas for homemade pizzas that we love include:
● Summer pizza with salami, tomatoes, courgette and basil oil
● Gorgonzola, walnut and rocket (prosciutto optional)
● Sweet potato, onion, goat’s cheese and pine nut
● Mascarpone, wild mushroom and cherry tomato
● Tuna, tomato, spinach, olives and capers
● Egg, prosciutto, artichokes, olives, mozzarella and basil
Let your table do the talking
You can go as simple or elaborate as you like when it comes to table decorations for a pizza party. We like to keep things quite basic, for a communal and relaxed feel. This includes:
● A tablecloth, cutlery in a jug, a stack of napkins (or have lots of tea towels to hand).
● Plates if you like, but if there are lots of you, don't bother; just let people grab a slice with a napkin.
● A few vases of flowers picked from the garden, or greenery from your local park. Or, easier still, you could put some of your own plant pots on the table as a centrepiece. Even sprigs of rosemary look really lovely as decorative motifs, and they smell incredible, too.
● Pop a candle in a glass jar; you might even have an old pickle or jam jar hanging around for this purpose.
● And naturally, you'll need a big pizza board! Cut your pizzas into lots of slices, and pass around for everyone to enjoy.
Make things cosy and comfy
Bring cushions,sheepskins and rugs outside to spread across chairs and benches. You can also set up a little picnic area on the floor for kids. If you’re one of those people who forever runs out of chairs when you have people over, fret not. The great thing about hosting a pizza party is not everyone needs a seat. People will be up and down helping to stoke the fire anyway; and pizza is also one of the few foods that somehow tastes better when you're standing!
Stay hydrated – making pizza is thirsty work
● Put a big jug of water and lots of glasses on a table so people can help themselves. You can add slices of citrus, cucumber and sprigs of mint to water for a subtle hint of flavour (this has the added advantage of looking very pretty, as well).
● If you’re feeling organised, try making ice cubes (we love these giant cubes) with all the extras frozen in to save time. Bags of frozen berries are also great for adding a dash of cheer to water jugs.
● For grown ups, an aperol spritz is always a great pizza pairing. But our all-time favourite cocktail for summer evenings is a blood orange campari (or make it a spritz). Some supermarkets sell blood orange juice in the fresh section for an easy cheat.
● Fill a galvanised bucket or a cool box with lots of ice and water. That way, if your guests arrive with wine or beers, you can put them straight in here for people to help themselves (tie a bottle opener to the bucket so it doesn't go walkabout!)
● Don't worry about wine glasses, little tumblers are less likely to be knocked over and work for all types of drinks.
Above all, have fun!
Don't worry if a pizza comes out wonky, a drink is spilled, kids want to make weird ‘n’ wonderful toppings, or you don't have enough chairs for everyone. Pizza nights aren't about perfection; they’re far more to do with spending time with friends and family in a laid-back, affordable way. As the Italians might say, “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto” (eat well, laugh often, love much). Saluti!
Images: with thanks to Corinne at @theregencyrenovation