My 8 year old has just done her school speech on pizza – therefore I now know that they come from Naples and that the first recorded pizza was Napoletana, followed 30 years later by the Margherita – originally made for the Italian Queen of the same name and the green of the basil, red from the tomato and white of the mozzarella all represent the colours of the Italian flag.
My early memories of pizza are not flash – in fact they are probably terrible. We had pizza at boarding school for Saturday lunch and essentially it was scone dough with leftovers from the previous few days piled on top and a bit of cheese to meld the ingredients together…… essentially a lot of gloop that no self respecting Italian would ever use.
A self respecting Italian would also baulk at ham combined with pineapple (according to my 8 year old) and goodness knows what they would say about teriyaki chicken or even worse a satay pizza!
Neapolitans take their pizza so seriously that an organisation has formed – the Assoiciazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, that defends and promotes the culture of the True Neapolitan Pizza in the world. Their website is easily converted to English and is an insight into just has seriously Italians view their food!
Most would agree that pizza base must be thin – soft and pliable in the centre but getting crisper towards to the outer. Ideally pizza dough should be made with Tipo 00 flour – this is a very fine flour that is high in gluten. It needs to be handled with some degree of gentleness in order to get a soft pliable pizza base, if overworked it can become tough. As Tipo 00 flour is priced at around $10 for a 1 kg bag it is probably best kept for special pizzas and instead use high grade flour when the kids and their friends are starving!
It may be worth experimenting with a mixture of Tipo 00 and high grade flour.
The pizza dough recipe that I make has the addition of olive oil for added softness (milk does the same), interestingly the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana permits only flour, water, salt and yeast in the dough.
Pizza needs to be cooked at an extremely high heat – my dream is an outdoor woodfired pizza oven, but while I wait for that I will settle for setting the oven as high as it possibly can go and using a terracotta tile or a pizza stone. These are heated in the oven first. Sometimes when in a hurry I resort to the pizza pan with holes all over the base but the terracotta and pizza stone definitely cook a better base.
The toppings on a pizza should not be mountainous and in fact if you visit a good pizzeria you will find that the toppings are moderate in quantity but hopefully high in quality.
The complexity of the tomato layer can change from a smear of tomato paste to something more sunstantial. I generally place a can or two of tomatoes in the food processor with an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a slurp of olive oil, a small chunk of frozen pesto, salt and sugar. This is pulsed until it is mush and then poured into a saucepan, brought to the boil and then simmered until thick.
This needs to be cooled completely before spreading a thin layer over the dough . I make the same for pasta but reduce it more for pizza.
While my kids are still very simple ham and cheese eaters, I prefer prosciutto, olives, artichokes and slices of quality mozzarella. Once cooked I then cover the pizza with rocket and basil leaves and drizzle with good olive oil – although Ed thinks it odd that I am including the salad on the pizza?
What are some of your favourite flavour combinations?
My pizza restaurant recommendation in Auckland is That’s Amore in Auckland city, Alessandro is highly passionate about his craft.
Who else is making great pizza around NZ?