My first encounter with pizza was in post-communist Poland. In the nineties, a country that no longer suffered from the economic austerity tried to find its way through new flavors and an abundance of ingredients that suddenly appeared in the market. As a teenager, I used to order a thick-crust pizza topped with tomato sauce, processed yellow Gouda cheese, sliced mushroom, cured juicy ham, corn and…pineapple. A “so called Hawaii pizza” was my favorite comfort food. I thought that nothing would ever change it.
I was over twenty when I made friends with some Italians. I thought something was wrong the first time, Arturo, my Sicilian friend served me pizza. It was topped with pesto and pre-cooked sliced potatoes. ‘’Poland is a big potato consumer but to put it on your pizza?’’ I thought. Everything about this pizza was controversial. The pizza crust was unusually, in my opinion, thin. As if someone was stingy with the dough.
My world completely collapsed after I traveled to Torino in Italy. The pizza there was insane but nothing like back home. Thin crust, few ingredients and this smoky flavor! With every bite, I promised myself that one day I will try to master the art of pizza. In July, while in Rome, I signed up for a cooking class with Chef Giuseppe de Rosa. This is what I learnt, during my ‘’hands-on pizza experience’’.
Weak vs. Strong
Italian pizza dough contains even proportions of “weak” and “strong” flours. The strength refers to the amount of gluten in flour. As a rule, flour between 90-160 W is called “weak”, flours between 160-250 W are medium force and flours above 300 W are “strong: You can find this information on the package. “00” type flour, sometimes advertised as pizza flour, is widely available in the supermarkets. However, the label Tipo “00” has nothing to do with protein content. Rather, it means that the flour is well grinded.
After choosing the right flour, your pizza needs about 3% of yeast and 60% of water.
A pizza dough needs time to mature. Don’t rush. 24 hours is how much the bacteria need to finish their life cycle. You can refrigerate the dough but the final stage (2 hours) of maturing should take place outside of the fridge. If you want a quick pizza use only weak flour and let it rise for about 12 hours.
Don’t add salt in the beginning as by doing it you prevent the bacteria from fermenting. Add salt after you knead the dough.
Pizza is like a woman. If you hurt her, she will forgive but never forget. Pizza dough has a memory that remembers every punch, press and stretch. Be very careful while kneading not to overwork it. If you’re using a mixer to make pizza dough, keep it on only for 6 minutes. After making the dough, form a hand-size ball, wrap the dough around it and grab it underneath by slightly punching the ends. It will resemble an upside down dim sum dumpling. Afterwards, you transfer the dough to a plastic container, cover and store for a day. The next day, place it on a table, flatten with your hands, then press gently and flip. Repeat it a couple of times. Then, place both of your palms on the opposite edges of the dough and stretch gently rotating at the same time. I recommend you to watch our instructional video in which Chef Giuseppe presents how to do it.
Types of Pizza
Worldwide, there are as many types of pizza as there are chefs. However, chef Giuseppe lists five main pizza types:
- Roman: very thin crust with flat edges,
- Neapolitan: a bit thicker crust with thicker edges,
- Genovese that is made of very runny dough too complicated to even describe it;
- Calzone – a pizza dough dumpling stuffed with various ingredients;
Respect the ingredients
In Italy, pizza is about minimalism and simplicity. Don’t use too many ingredients. Cherish what you have. Tomato sauce is a must. Use cherry tomatoes to get a fresh and sweet pizza sauce. Steam them first, then mash with your hands and remove any peels.
Choose a maximum of three toppings. One ingredient can dominate. The remaining should be more settled to maintain the balance.
The Right Oven
Unfortunately, the pizza prepared at home will never taste like the pizza baked in a real pizza oven. Wood used to heat up the oven gives it a unique, smoky flavor and tasty burns. You can build your own pizza oven from mud and old wine bottles. Chef Giuseppe teaches how to do it on his website.
In a real pizza oven, you have to bake the pizza for 30 seconds at 420 C.
If you don’t have pizza oven, you can still bake the dough at home. It’s going to be different but still very tasty. We will soon publish more recipes for quick pizza doughs that can be easily prepared at home.