Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Pizza Odyssey

I love pizza, I fell in love with it in the courtyard of a small pizzeria in Naples when I was 14. It was covered in vines hanging from the wooden beams above and had a wood burning pizza oven in the courtyard itself. I was on a school trip and we got to climb Mt Vesuvius, I still have a bit of rock I brought home from there even though you're not supposed to remove it. I guess I was a bad kid... Anyway! I've been trying to find places to recreate what I had in Naples my whole life, from takeaways, restaurants and even cooking myself.

Living in New York I'm surrounded by the stuff, however it's the NYC kind, it has a completely different style and taste to the Italian style, while I also chow down on it regularly it doesn't invoke memories like the Neapolitan does for me.

So with this in mind I set out to make myself a perfect Margherita. Now the Italians take their pizza very seriously. So much so they even have 'Vera Pizza Napoletana' to certify places that make it.

I decided to borrow as much as possible from that and try to make my own version at home.

I have a book called '
In search of perfection' by Heston Blumenthal.
In it he travels to Naples to sample San Marzano tomatoes and laments that he thinks that the rise in their use is probably more to do with the fact that the canning industry rose to prominence around the same time as the rise of pizza and san marzano's shape made them perfect for canning and shipping to pizzarias around the world. (Pizza had been brought back to the United States by GIs that had been stationed in Naples in WWII).

Napolitana will have you believe that they're perfect for pizza because of the acidity levels due to the volcanic ashes in the soil there. For me, this was about creating what I had when I was 14 so went with the wisdom of the Italians and got myself some certified San Marzano Tomatoes for the sauce.

For the base i used refined white flour 1kg, 750g for the initial dough (most people will say use 00 flour for this but I think that's more likely because places that used to make pizza also made pasta and 00 flour is used for this purpose)

Pizza Week Monday: Irish Fatty's Neapolitan Margherita fail.

The cheese was a no brainer, buffalo mozzarella. Other ingredients for my Margherita included:

  • pint water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • yeast
  • fresh basil
  • Parmesan
  • olive oil
  • garlic
Lets get this baby started.

I started out by making the dough. to do this mix a pint of warm water with a sachet 7g yeast, teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of olive oil. let it rest until the yeast starts fermenting, you should see foam at the top.

Dump 750g flour out and make a well.

well well well...

Slowly mix in the yeast water gick until a dough starts to come together, your hands will get messy but warm tap water should clean them off.

Sir Mixalot.

knead for about 15-20 mins, its important to do this to get plenty of air into the dough.
Let rise for about an hour in a warm place, it should double in size. You can also let it rise overnight in the fridge.

I like my dough to reference what I'm making.

Michelangelo's bulging eyes mean lots of air pockets.

Punch the dough down and you should hear air leaving the dough like a fart.
Let it rise again until it's increased it's size by half again.
Your dough is now ready to fridge or freeze. I was using mine exclusively for pizza bases so I cut in 5 and froze.

pizza dough!

Now I was ready to make the pizza sauce.
Take the tomatoes put them in a pot, add salt and pepper to taste, i added 2 cloves garlic and some chopped fresh basil. Simmer on a low heat for a few minutes and mash the shit out of them with potato masher. You can also blend them but I don't have a blender here.

Smashy smashy.

Ok genius, now time to roll the dough, remember I used 750g of the 1kg bag of flour?
The other 250g is just enough for dusting with you take a rolling pin to the dough (or wine bottle in my case).

half way there, I was aiming for about 11" diameter.

Now, assemble and voila! I added a lot of shaved Parmesan and slices of buffalo mozzarella because everything tastes better with cheese.

Little did I know this would be the last time I would see this beautiful sight.

Now let me tell you about the oven. The VPN says that pizza should be cooked in ovens at a temperature of 370C+ 700F+. Mine only goes to 500F so I had to figure out a way to apply more direct heat to the pizza from the top and bottom. After reading more of Heston's science and a few pages on line I decided I would use my 23cm blue steel crepe pan to cook the pizza on and cook the pizza as high in the oven as possible.

Firstly heat rises to the top. So that's where your oven is the hottest unless it's a fan oven. secondly the top of the oven is going to be metal which will retain heat well and lastly, the direct contact heat from the pan will act like a pizza stone and crisp the base.

So I let the oven heat up and then tried to move the pizza to the.... oh shit, wtf, how am I going to do this? I don't have a pizza peel/shovel and my spatula is tiny. The only thing for it was to try quickly move the pizza to the pan with spatula and hands combo...and bake for 15-20 mins.


Moving the dough had created a faultline down the dough and ruined my perfect pizza. I ate it anyway and figured out how I could attack it again following next day.
The new plan was assemble the pizza in the pan (slighly greased with olive oil). I also rubbed olive oil along perimeter of the dough base to get it to char a little more...

Pizza Week Tuesday: Irish Fatty's Neapolitan Margherita.

All your crispy base.

Now by success I mean I accomplished making what i consider to be a delicious pizza at home. It was however no match for the pizza I had 14 years ago in Naples.
This raised an interesting question. I still have 3 dough balls left... That's where things got a bit strange...

Pizza Week Wednesday: Irish Fatty's Mexican taco pizza!

I bought Dave's Ultimate Insanity Hot sauce a few weeks ago and I have been looking for an excuse to put it in something. I also had chilli in a can in the kitchen. Could I make pizza that would blow my head off using what I had learned the previous day?

Why, yes... Yes I could.
If I was going to melt my face off with the hot sauce why not add Tabasco, and some chilli flakes, and peppers, and cheddar cheese! For science!

If you can't stand the heat.

The result?

That doesn't look very Mexican...
That's better!

To say this thing was fantastic is an understatement, it was honestly one of the best pizza's I've ever had. Anyone who knows me knows I'm sucker for mexican and for pizza, but any I had tried always came up short, this however, Mind Blown.

Pizza Week Thursday: Irish Fatty's Irish Fryup.

Next up I decided to experiment with some traditional Irish foods.
Superquinn sausages smuggled into the US at Christmas, Irish bacon stolen from the good people in my local Irish pub, black and white pudding, and a fried egg.

Come to Fatty.
This doesn't look like pizza.
Oh dear god.

This one was actually pretty weak, not that I don't love all the components on it, it just doesn't work and the tomato sauce base kinda overtook the flavours of everything else. I still love my Fried breakfasts, just probably best to keep them off a pizza!

Pizza Week Friday: Irish Fatty's wtf special.

When I had the idea for this it was because I was sick of eating pizza.
I'll just let the pictures do that talking on this one.

What are you doing?
This is so wrong.
Is that ketchup?!
Wow. Just wow.
Fatty Pac-Man

One slice was enough, the rest went in the bin, and I went to the pub for a well earned pint.