Ingredients for the perfect pizza
The domestic countertop electric pizza ovens are brilliant as they can generate enough heat to make a commercial quality pizza at home. This is because they have heat elements at the top and bottom, as well as a ceramic pizza stone, which helps to create the perfect crispy crust. A conventional oven, with the aid of a pizza stone (a flat piece of unglazed stoneware) heated to its hottest setting will also give good results. All domestic ovens differ, but as a general rule, the higher you place the pizza stone in the oven, the better the result. If you have a hooded grill at home, then crank it up as hot as it goes and follow the steps that I have outlined for a conventional oven. And, of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a wood-fired oven at home, this will also do the trick.
Making pizza dough is so easy; take the time to give it a go. You can store proofed dough balls in the freezer, then defrost when ready to use. It’s fun for the kids and very cost effective. You need to use bread flour to make a proper pizza dough. In our restaurants, and in this book, we use dry yeast which we activate with lukewarm water before mixing into the dough. Next step is proofing. This is when the dough rests, giving it time to rise and for the yeast to ferment before baking. The ideal temperature is between 80°F (27°C) and 110°F (43°C). Any hotter and the yeast will be destroyed, resulting in a heavy and stodgy dough; any cooler and the yeast will not activate, resulting in an inferior dough. I roll out the pizza bases with semolina or flour as it gives the dough a beautiful crisp finish. I love a thin crust, so that I don’t bloat my guests’ bellies, but if you like a thicker dough, then by all means go for it. Finally, remember to dock the pizza (prick the base with a fork), to stop the dough from bubbling up when it’s cooked.
There are generally two types of pizza bases, red (rosso) and white (bianco). Red is obviously a tomato base. My tried and true recipe for a tomato pizza sauce is the simplest thing in the world I just take the best-quality canned, whole, peeled tomatoes I can find, then blend them with some sea salt, cracked black pepper and dried oregano that’s it! I don’t cook it, I don’t add garlic, I don’t add fresh herbs, I don’t use fresh tomatoes. This allows the toppings on this very basic, sweet, unadulterated sauce to shine. A white pizza consists of a simple olive oil and seasoning base, then topped with cheese so it doesn’t burn, followed by the toppings of your choice. Don’t drown the base in sauce or it will never crisp up.
In pizza making there are two types of mozzarella, the regular cow’s milk stringy one, which is used on the base and acts like a glue to stick the toppings on. Less is more when it comes to this type of cheese. The second type is buffalo milk mozzarella, the food lover’s choice. This is best added at the last minute, just before serving.
Splurge on the best quality toppings you can afford. Go to a gourmet deli and invest in some paper-thin slices of San Daniele prosciutto or Parma ham this will slightly melt as it is scattered across the top of a hot pizza. Also, pick up some sun-dried tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, and good-quality olives. And again, don’t smother your pizza with toppings. Remember that what you put on after the pizza comes out of the oven can also turn a good pizza into a great one, so think about using fresh cheeses, toasted nuts, fresh herbs and herb sauces, dressings, and edible leaves of any description.