- Naples pizza is the cheapest and best you will ever eat. It comes on a huge plate and is as thin and soft as a crepe where the toppings are. Since it's fired in a super-heated oven, the crust becomes crispy, while the middle is soft. With a knife and fork, you are away burning-your-mouth but falling in love with every bite of delicious-ness.
- Roman pizza is sold on every street corner, by weight. You ask for, say 200 grams, and then pay for it based on the price per 100g. The crust is thick and cracker-like, with a huge variety of toppings. Even the cheapest end of the street pizza is fantastic
- If in Rome, I would recommend going to potato pizza at least once. It has crispy thick crust, then creamy tiny cubes or thin layered slices of potato. These are then bound together with crispy golden cheese across the top - a bit like this but with more cheese.
- A margherita pizza is the best way to quickly tell if a pizzeria or restaurant is any good. Look for homemade sauce, mozzarella de bufala (made from waterbuffalo milk), and a few leaves of fresh basil sprinkled on top. If it's a good pizzeria, it will taste phenomenal and you will never desire pizza toppings ever again. If it isn't well...you will probably know
OK, so what if you want to make your own pizza at home? After lots of eating, these are the tips I would recommend:
- Don't use tomato paste as a base, or tinned pizza sauce. The sauce shouldn't be thick, stick or stodgy. What you want is a homemade tomato sauce that is a bit runny but tastes just of tomato and not salt, or any other herb. I have just been getting tinned tomatos from the supermarket and spooning it directly from there, with a bit of salt added.
- Super-heat the oven. I don't have a pizza stone which a lot of people recommend, but a very hot oven does help make the crust crispy and the base soft - plus your pizza is finished in about ten minutes. What I've found works is about 30 minutes before your pizza needs to be cooked, fire your oven up to the maximum temperature possible. In pizzerias they use special kilns which heat the pizzas to ridiculous temperatures, so most likely your oven doesn't get hot enough. You will also lose a huge amount of the oven's heat when you open the oven to put the pizza in. At this temperature, your pizza should only take about 10-15 minutes to cook all the way through. Plus the high levels of heat mean that the vegetables on top char a little as well.
- Don't overload the toppings. All the pizzas we had in Italy were incredibly simple. There was sauce, cheese (only a little dotted around the pizza), plus a few vegetables or bits of ham or salami scatter across the top. The mozzarella is one of the hardest things to replicate at home- I tried using cheddar last week and it ended up very oily compared to the mozzarella. I'm thinking that a fresh, soft cheese is what's needed. I think the minimal toppings were a result of the sauce, cheese, and crust combination was so lovely by itself, that it didn't need to be overkilled by some ridiculous 5-kinds-of-meat-BBQ-sauce-and-pineapple combination. It's easy to get carried away, but pizza should be simplicity at it's best.
- Make a thin crust. This is something I had forgotten about when I was making pizzas this winter. R. bought me a new pizza pan that also seems to make a big difference- I was using a cast iron roasting pan for a while with iffy results. The new pizza pan is extremely thin so it heats up the base of the pizza right away. When spreading the dough on the pan, I always try to make it as thin as possible so it cooks quickly.
Here's the quick and easy recipe I use for pizza dough. Just mix up the dough right when you get home from work, and 2 hours later you are sitting with homemade pizza on the table.
Basic Pizza Dough Recipe
Makes 2 large thin-crust pizzas. Serves 3.
1 3/4 teaspoon of yeast
1 1/3 cups of water - very warm but not burning hot to the touch
1/4 cup olive oil
3 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Proof the yeast by adding the yeast to the warm water, along with the pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then leave the yeast for about 5 minutes. When you come back the yeast should have started to foam or form little floating islands of yeast.
Add the olive oil and salt. Slowly add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon. You may need slightly more or slightly less depend on the weather, humidity etc. Once the dough gets too hard to stir, knead it for 5 minutes or so until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let rise in a warm place in bowl covered in a tea towel. It should take about 1 hour for the dough to double in size. If it looks flat, let it rise longer- up to 30 minutes more.
Preheat the oven to the maximum temperature.
Divide the dough into two balls, and use olive oil to press the dough into the pizza tray. It should be elastic and easy to get to a very thin thickness.
-add toppings and make into a pizza.
- if you don't use all the dough, it can be wrapped up and kept raw in the fridge for a day or so.
This is part of my series on the 9 days R. and I spent in travelling on the cheap in Italy across Naples and Rome- you can read the whole series here: