I recently discovered good pizza.
Well, actually, re-discovered.
In 2014, sometime in late July, we had our first taste of a wood-fired pizza in Denham (approx 800 km north of Perth, Australia). We just knew it was GOOD pizza, and we attributed it to the wood-fired oven.
Which is partially true.
A pizzaria oven should reach temperatures of about 1000 F. or about 500+ C.
The standard ovens in our homes is only about half that at maximum power.
So for a while I had this fantasy of building a clay oven.
Then I found out how a clay oven is used.
It is a fantastic way of cooking A LOT OF food.
First you fire up the wood oven to pre-heat it. When the oven is up to temperature, you start putting things in the oven to cook.
In the case of a pizzeria, the fire is kept going while pizzas are cooked/baked sequentially.
The clay in the oven function as heat storage devices, storing the heat and radiating it to cook whatever is in the oven.
Typically, once the oven is up to temperature, you cook those food needing high heat – pizza, bread, steaks, ribs, chops, etc. Then casseroles and stews as the temperature drops. The last dish (might be a stew) would be left in the cooling oven over hours. This is old school, traditional cooking without modern technology, and conveniences (like a thermometer), and it is village cooking. And it optimises resources (firewood for about an hour), for maximum benefits (cooking over many hours).
And, it sounds fun.
Except I don’t feed a village.
So a wood-fired clay oven would be impractical for me.
After I spend 30 minutes to an hour pre-heating the oven, I would cook 2 maybe 3 or 4 pizzas, and then the heat from the oven would slowly dissipate and be wasted.
Oh, I might still build a wood-fired clay oven, but it would be as an experiment. Firstly to see if I could do it. And secondly, to see how hot the tropical sun could heat up the clay oven – would this be another way to use solar energy?
So I looked at alternatives to the clay oven.
One option is to have a pizza baking stone in a conventional modern oven. The stone would pre-heat to 250 celsius, then you throw the pizza onto the hot stone, and bake for a few minutes – 4 – 6 minutes.
But that is still half the temperature of a pizza oven.
Then I found this:
I got it from Amazon, and it was very well packed such that all the parts were perfect on arrival, including the baking stones (there are two).
I got it even tho my gas control knobs are on the top (which is not recommended) as the stove-top oven gets VERY hot and could damage the knobs. The recommended gas hobs should have the control knobs on the front of the range, so there is no risk of damage. I protected my knobs with silicon pads. But the pads got quite hot (not too hot to hold, but good to have that protection.)
I’ve tried it once, and the temperature went up to 900 F. I followed the instructions (leave the pizza in for 3 minutes, then turn the pizza and leave for another 3 minutes) but it burned. The 3 minute guide is if your oven is at about 600 F. At 900, about 1 minute or less. So near instantaneous.
I didn’t burn the second one.
I will need to experiment again. And all good experiments need… oh, let’s call them, “test subjects”.
BUT… having the right equipment is one thing.
What is the best pizza dough?
I search and tested a few recipes. This is one of the most workable for me:
- 153 grams 00 flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
- 153 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons)
- 8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
- 2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
- 4 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 teaspoon)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. [“Knead to combine”. You’re not working the dough. Just making sure the ingredients are mixed well enough to interact as you intended. That the olive oil and salt are flavouring the dough, the yeast is in contact with all the flours to digest the sugars, and the “00” flour is “leavening” (wrong use of the word, but I hope it suggests what I hope it suggests) the plain flour.]
- Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)
- To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. Top and bake.
The video is here:
So I have been practicing (making and of course cooking and eating) pizza dough. And like I said, the above works well for me. (Here’s a link to another pizza dough instructional.)
But what about pizza sauce?
Well, for my pizza dough trials, I made a very simple pizza sauce – olive oil, dried oregano, and tomato paste. I get these tomato paste in single-use packs (containing about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, four packs to a box at Cold Storage – “Fountain” brand. I get the unsalted version, but there is a salted version. Which reminds me, salt the sauce to taste).
These are all mixed into a bowl, and when the olive oil is incorporated into the tomato paste, I spread it on a pizza dough and bake it.
But I’m looking forward to trying this pizza sauce:
I’ll probably go easy on the chilli flakes, and I can’t get fresh oregano, so it’s gonna be all dried. And I cannot get even canned San Marzano STYLED tomatoes, (let alone REAL San Marzano canned tomatoes)
Oh, and canned Tomatoes are better than “fresh” Tomatoes. Even for pizza. Or Especially for pizza.
So it will be just canned tomatoes from Italy.
And then the cheese.
It has to be mozzarella of course! You can add other cheeses, but it has to have mozzarella in the mix.
And is should be good mozzarella. I’ve used shredded mozzarella – pre-shredded. But the really good mozzarella are usually too soft to be shredded (I think I heard Chef John say that), and you can just tear it by hand. And you should see “fibres” like string cheese.
Then I found Bocconcini. I tried it for a pizza. It seemed to be as good as mozzarella. And no wonder. It is small mozzarella. (Sort of. Or mostly. Or usually. Or, disagree.)
I’m aiming for a traditional pizza with just mozzarella and tomato sauce.
I used to love the “meat-lover’s” pizza which is loaded with meat. But over time, I have come to appreciate the “simple is best” philosophy, and I like the margherita pizza. Except I have no basil.
But I have prosciutto. could get some of the usual toppings like salami or ham. Or go Asian and use Chinese sausages, and luncheon meat.
I doubt if the first tries will turn out Motorino-level of tasty pizza. But I think it’s a journey. And you can plan and study the journey, but to really make that journey, you have to take that first step.