First thing we did, we baked a pizza. In our super connected world, you don’t really miss Italy that much. Two things though you do miss: the sun and pizza. Now I come from quite a misty and cold corner so I don’t even miss the sun that much. But pizza…
When you are in Italy, you live with the comforting thought that at walking distance there is always a pizzeria that can save the evening, if not the day. Maybe not the best on Earth, but still, acceptable. Abroad, that is not true. Pizza is in the best case very sad, in the worst case it will make you sick. In the UK the situation was number two, here in Germany, being many more ‘old style’ Italian immigrants, the situation leans towards number one.
A quick side note: in the UK my local fish shop was run by people from Naples. I’d ask to their Padre Pio on the wall, why don’t they stop selling extinction threatened fish and life threatening chips, and turn to more sustainable options.
Here, in every pizzeria I can order in Italian, or better in one of the many dialects my man speaks, which is quite handy. However, the more Italian they speak, the more Germanized is the pizza. The best pizza place so far is run by some turkish-italian connection.
Anyway. Of course you try and recreate pizza at home. While I still lived in Italy, I did not even try to do that. I did what I called pizza: thick bread dough base, with various things on top, baked for 20 minutes, maybe longer.The leftovers are very nice as well, even when cold. It is a nice dish, but it is more like ‘pizza al taglio’ than what you expect to eat in a pizzeria. Nobody will ever want to try and do that at home, because everybody knows the obvious.
You cannot do pizza at home unless you have an extremely hot wood oven with heat reflecting bricks that can accomodate more than one pizza.
Having said that, when the need arose, we tried. I cannot say we succeeded, but we did learn a couple of tricks. At any rate, our pizza is the best in town – which is not much, but still. By the way, the fact that you can only cook one pizza at a time, a process requiring something around 15 minutesfrom shaping the base to serving the pizza, has produced a very funny and informal evening when we invite friends over. We are going to share each pizza, a slice each, and this thing can go on for hours. You chat and wait while the pizzaiolo is working (a kitchen where you can have dinner helps a lot in this process), you eat with your hands, you ask your guests what they want on top of the next one… And your guests have a feeling of a very, very long feast.
– the longer the raising period, the better the dough will taste. This is true for bread and pizza alike. I raise my dough overnight in the fridge and use only minimal amounts of yeast
– the dough should be as watery as you can, if you want the ‘cornicione’ (the pizza border) to raise. How much water your pizza will hold depends on the gluten content of the flour and can vary a lot. However the dough will keep moister if you add a little fat (olive oil). Cutting the high gluten content flour with a lower gluten content one, will result in a slightly crunchier pizza, which I personally like.
– shaping the pizza is a nightmare. I think you have to be born in Naples to be able to do that. I can’t, and let my man handle it. Due to the watery dough, you can’t use rolling pins or the likes. You need to be quick and have large hands. Good luck.
– the oven needs to be as hot as possible. A good help comes from a pizza stone that will help you cook the pizza also underneath.
– start putting the pizza in the oven without cheese, only tomato. Add cheese and other toppings only when the border has raised.
– if you can, have some water and air from Naples sent over to you (and now that you are in, add some sun for good measure). If this is not possible, a San Gennaro in the kitchen will probably help :)