The city of pizza
Quite a long time ago already, the train from Rome to Naples slowly entered its end station on a warm and sunny summer day. We were on an Interrail trip through Italy and had just left the pretty cities in the north behind us to visit the south, a part of Italy that I personally really like. Although many people have told me that Naples is just dirty and dangerous, I do not agree with that opinion. It is a city with a long history, some beautiful architecture, and a lot of life. And for me it also stands for its most famous dish: the pizza. On this Interrail trip our diet generally consisted of varied antipasti, followed by a pizza and accompanied by a carafe of red wine. This was partly because we were students on a budget, and partly because we just loved the Italian pizzas. After already sampling plenty of good ones in the north, you would say the city of pizza would be in for quite a challenge. Fortunately, it delivered.
The restaurant that was probably my favourite had outdoors seating next to an old city gate. The evening we ate there, there were only Italians around us. While sampling our antipasti, we looked at and listened to the groups of Italian friends and families around us enjoying their pizzas and beers while loudly talking, having fun and in some cases, as it seemed to us at least, quarreling a bit with the waiters. After we had finished our antipasti for quite some time already and were still waiting for the pizzas, we decided to ask the waiters before we would run out of wine. Of course they had not forgotten about us! Or so they were saying at least. In any case, a few minutes later our pizzas were standing in front of us, piping hot and looking delicious. It’s a good thing pizzas only need cooking for a couple of minutes in those wood-fired ovens. I don´t know whether it was the red wine, the wait, the relaxing holidays, the happy hustle and bustle around us, or really just the food; but that pizza was the best I ever had.
Fast forward a few years, and here I am, living in Berlin. It has been way too long since I have actually been to Italy, let alone to Naples. But that does not stop me from loving pizzas. And I am quite sure I will still be able to find that particular restaurant back whenever I will be in Naples again.
Recently I taught a friend of mine how to make pizza dough from scratch in my German kitchen. And that made me think: why not put a recipe on here? Of course, I´m not Italian and I would never claim to make a perfect pizza. The one from Naples will always be the best, period. But in the end, we are not in Italy and making your own pizza is often so much better (and cheaper) than going to a restaurant, even when you don’t have a wood-fired oven at home. A lot of people I talked to about pizzas use store-bought pizza bases when making pizza. And that is a shame, because I think making the dough is quite easy, fun to do, does not take that long, and feels like a real accomplishment! So here you go.
For toppings, you can of course choose whatever you like. From the real Italian classics like pizza margarita or marinara, or the “Canadian classic” pizza Hawaii. Personally, I usually make a very simple tomato sauce of (canned) tomatoes cooked down with some herbs and salt, or use a good tomato passata. My favourite toppings, besides the simple margarita, are anchovies and black olives, or pancetta or prosciutto with some rosemary and chilli flakes.
Ingredients (for 3 medium pizzas)
- 400 grams of flour + a bit more for dusting
- 1 sachet of dried instant yeast – 7 grams, or around 21 grams fresh yeast
- 180-200 ml of lukewarm water
- Olive oil – around two table spoons
Place the flour on your working surface, and add a good pinch of salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour. Sprinkle the yeast in the well and add a small pinch of sugar. The sugar is not for flavour, but will help activating the yeast. Add a bit of the lukewarm water, and stir through the yeast and sugar. Do not use water that is too hot, as this will kill the yeast. Then just wait for a few minutes to let the yeast activate. You will see the little puddle of water and yeast start to bubble, meaning the yeast is activated. How long this takes exactly also depends on the temperature in your house.
Once the yeast has been activated, add a dash of olive oil in the middle of the well. Then start adding the rest of the water and mixing this in with the flour. Add the water bit by bit and knead until you have a dough that is elastic and does not stick to your hands anymore. Once you achieved this consistency, knead for another few minutes. Grease a large bowl with some olive oil and place the ball of dough in this. Cover with a clean cloth and leave on a warm place to proof.
How fast the dough proofs does depend a lot on the temperature in your house. In summer, it clearly goes quicker than in winter. But it is definitely good to leave it for at least an hour to double in size. If you have some more time, you can take the dough out, knead it again in the middle of the proofing time and then place it back in the bowl.
Once you are ready to bake your pizza, switch your oven on to the hottest temperature it can reach. Mine reaches around 250°C. Now take the amount of dough you need for one pizza. I use a special round pizza tray that has holes in it to let the heat go through properly, and for that tray this amount of dough will be enough for three pizzas. But of course you can also bake your pizza on a normal baking tray. In that case, grease the tray with a little bit of olive oil before placing the pizza dough on top. Roll out the dough to a thin pizza base of the size you like. (Surely you can also start trying to stretch the dough by throwing it in the air like a professional pizzaiolo.)
Place the pizza base on your baking tray and add your other ingredients. Put the pizza in the oven and bake until it starts bubbling up a bit and the edges and bottom start to brown. The exact time it takes depends on your oven and the type of tray you use. But in my oven, it takes about 5 minutes to properly bake a pizza.