Making great pizza
If I was asked what my favourite food is, I'd probably have to say pizza. But then there's pizza and there's real pizza. Making pizza is a bit of an art and this really interests me. We have a wood-fired oven in the garden with a stone base so we enjoy being outside in the warm months making pizza.
As with all Italian dishes, there are many conflicting opinions on what the ingredients should be used and how they should be prepared. Now, of course, the nice thing about pizza is you can put on it whatever you want. We don't eat meat in our family but still, we can come up with some good concoctions. The most important thing to get right is the dough, your base, and for this two ingredients are really important - the flour and the water. I was talking to a Pizzaiolo (pizza maker) this week and he said the type of water isn't important but some would argue with that. I think that maybe it does make a difference and it's not expensive, so why not use good water? With pizzerias it might just be an expense too far but if you're making it at home, why not go with something good? So, what do you need?
Another Pizzaiolo told me that type "0" or type "1" are the best flour to use. I've only recently tried type 1 (typo "1") and it was excellent. You can use a wholemeal flour too, we love this. Also, we find Kamut flour (Khorasan) is excellent as you don't feel at all blotted after gorging yourself. So, experiment! Just don't use anything too refined.
I mostly use a water called Fiuggi. Just pay around a Euro a bottle and it should be good. In Naples, they say only their local water is good as it's volcanic, so full of minerals. I use San Pelligrino too, even though it's fizzy, it does work well. Try to buy something in a glass bottle, like Fiuggi, as supermarkets have the horrible habit of putting water next to laundry detergents. Why do they do that?!! The chemicals get through their sealed plastic bottles and penetrate plastic water bottles and of course, that isn't good.
Now, here's the real secret to success - prepare the dough 24 hours before you need it. This way the gluten really gets to bind so it's very stretchy and doesn't break or tear when you come to shape it. Prepare your big blob of dough and then leave it covered for 12 hours. Knead it by hand, don't use a machine. The dough overheats in the food mixer and then it won't bind so well. 10-15 minutes kneading is fine.
After 12 hours separate it into balls the size you want your pizzas to be. Hand shape the balls so there are no cracks or canyons, this is really important - they should be smooth all around like big eggs. Leave them in a tray separated from each other, wrap them in film and leave them for another 12 hours. After 12 hours separate them very carefully and then with a generous dash of flour on your workbench shape the dough ball into a pizza shape, pushing the edges out to make the raised edges. Do not use a rolling pin!! That's it! Just add your toppings and stick it in the oven.
Of course, the quality of your toppings is crucial as well. Good cheeses, great tomato sauce, etc. We even use good tinned variety if tomatoes are out of season, they tend to be much tastier than the artificial looking ones you get in the supermarkets. If you're blessed enough to live in Italy only get your tomatoes from a local market in the summer months. They're always very tasty. Blend them with a good olive oil, a bit of garlic, rosemary and a little salt - perfect! No need to cook it. Your pizza oven will do that.
Your oven has to be hot - 280C. Put some flour on your pizza shovel, slide your pizza on to it and get it into the oven. Rotate it after a few minutes so it cooks evenly. Your edges should just start to burn before you take it out.
Here's the simple receipt I always use - enough for around 6 large pizzas:
1.7 kg of flour
10 grams of fresh yeast
20 grams of olive oil
1 litre of water
55 grams of salt.
Pour all the water into a bowl and then work in the yeast with your fingers. Put in the oil and the salt. Now add about two thirds of the flour and knead into a sticky goo. Now sprinkle flour on your work surface and put the dough onto it working in the remaining flour. Work it for about 15 minutes.
Cover the dough and leave for 12 hours. After 12 hours make the dough into balls about 350g each and put into a tray. Wrap the tray in cling film and leave for 12 hours.
Remove the balls very carefully. I use a large scrapping tool (no idea of its proper name - see photo). You don't want the dough balls to split or crack. Now put it on your surface with plenty of flour and work it with you hands into a circle ensuring the edges are higher than the rest. And that's it!
But what if you don't want the hassle, don't have a pizza oven and want to find a good local pizzeria? The Gambero Rosso (Italian food guide) has just named the 54 best pizzerias in the country, and two of them are in Piedmont. But we have some favourites too. Here's a list, because you know, most pizza in Italy is only mediocre and sometimes even poor. Make sure they have a wood-fired oven (forno di legno). You can't make a great pizza with gas or electric ovens.
Rossopomodoro - Located in Cinzano outside of Alba. Yes, it's where the drink Cinzano comes from! Great pizzeria. - website
- Fuori Tempo - On the edge of the town of Canale, 15 minutes from Alba. Really great pizza! - website
- Pizzeria Scugnizzo - We love this place. It's not in nicest area but is safe and the food is excellent - website
- Pizzeria Bacco - located in the Langhe but one we've never tried! It made it onto The Gambero Rosso list - website
- Libery - Again, in Torino but made it onto The Gambero Rosso list. I want to try it! - website
Personally, I can't think of much better things than being with a group of friends in the garden with great pizza and great beer. And I love it when Italian friends say 'hey, you're English but you make good pizza!'