So you’ve finally bought (or rented) your dream Tuscan house and it includes a traditional wood fired pizza oven. Lucky you!
Few things beat the taste of a wood fired pizza and, once you’ve mastered a few tricks of the trade, you will be impressing friends and family with delicious pizzas time after time.
So, what do you need to know?
The dough is the starting point for all great pizzas, so time spent preparing is never time wasted. Although there’s nothing wrong with buying good quality pre-made dough, particularly when you are a beginner or are short of time it’s so much more fun to create your own. The whole family can get involved and you can add your own creative flourish as you get more experienced. There are several dough varieties, but all use common ingredients of water, yeast, fine ‘00’ flour, olive oil and a pinch of salt. The key difference is how much water you use in creating the dough – a drier dough is better for a thinner crust, a wetter dough for pan-style pizzas.
For a simple recipe (making 4 pizzas) you’ll need:
650g Tipo ‘00’ (very fine milled) flour
7g dried easy blend yeast
2 teaspoons of salt
25 ml olive oil
325ml warm water
Mix the flour, yeast and salt together and stir in the olive oil and milk. Gradually add the water to form a soft dough.
Spread some flour on a flat surface and knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Then put it in a clean bowl and cover with a damp towel for about an hour and a half, or longer if you’re a real afficionado.
Once your dough has risen and is about twice the size, stretch it out into 30-35 cms circles. Use your hands and a rolling pin. Kids love to help with this part. If you are feeling brave you could even spin it above your head like a real pizzaiolo…! (If you make too much divide the dough into balls, wrap in cling film/Saran wrap, and freeze).
The Sauce and Toppings
To make your pizza sauce drain the contents of a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes are the best, they are sweet and flavoursome) through a sieve over a jug. Press lightly with the back of a spoon until about half the juice has been removed. Then tip the tomatoes into a bowl and stir in 2 tbsp of tomato puree, a glug of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp of dried oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Optional extras are a dash of balsamic vinegar or even a chilli, but basic is good when it comes to traditional sauce. Some sauce recipes suggest you cook the sauce but this is unnecessary, especially if you are enjoying a fun evening, and it would leave you with less wine-drinking time.
Spread the sauce on your pizza dough. Then add whatever you like as a topping such as pepperoni, prosciutto, or mushrooms. But don’t even think of adding pineapple. Then add mozzarella on top (buffalo mozzarella is best), a sprinkling of herbs and you’re good to go.
Pizza Oven at the Ready
While all the pizza prep is going on, get your oven fired up. Use small pieces of kindling to get the fire going before using medium sized logs to build the heat. High heat is required to get the concrete base ready for cooking on-around 400 degrees Celsius (750 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal. It will take a little time to get to this heat but is often much quicker than in a conventional oven. Once really hot, push the wood to one side so you have room for your pizzas.
Now start cooking
You will need a pizza peel (pala in Italian). It is a long handled flat wide tool to put the pizza into your oven.
To make sure your pizza doesn’t stick to the peel, cover it in flour. Slowly move the peel into your oven and slide the pizza off in quick forward and back movements. Using a peel does need a little practice but will soon be mastered.
Keep an eye on your pizza once it’s in the oven. Make sure it is cooking evenly. This might mean using the peel to turn it from time to time. Cooking time depends on the heat in your oven and can vary from around 10 minutes to 90 seconds if your oven is really hot.
Once your pizza is golden brown and crisp remove it by sliding your peel underneath it and carefully taking it out of the oven.
There’s still an opportunity to add some flavour to your pizza. Chopped basil and rocket for example all add to the flavour.
Then just slice, enjoy the great taste and the compliments of your guests. Yes chef!