Tuscany: a beautiful sundrenched land steeped in history with magical medieval hilltop towns nestled amongst olive tree groves and vines heavy with luscious grapes. It far exceeded expectations on every level. The stunning cypress-lined country roads and endless undulating hills were every bit as beautiful as the postcard-perfect photographs I’d seen.
But the food – oh my! From the fragrant juicy sun-ripened peaches, melt-in-the-mouth cured meats, earthy truffles and porcinis to rich and hearty wild boar stew, flavour-intense gelatos and delectable pastas – all washed down with lots of delicious Chianti. Our picnic lunches were extravagant feasts of huge artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, roast peppers, olives, hams, cheeses and bread – the stuff of culinary dreams.
So you’re probably wondering why this post is about pizza, which doesn’t sound terribly exciting but we ate some wonderful crunchy thin-crust pizza that reaffirmed just how enjoyable a simple pizza can be. I guess once you’ve tasted pizza made in Italy then there’s no going back and eating perfect pizza will probably spoil me for evermore. Nevertheless it has inspired me to raise the bar on my pizza making, which up until now has been mediocre by comparison to the ones I tasted on our holiday. I’ve always struggled to get the base right and no matter how much love and effort I’ve put into getting the dough thickness right, when I put it in the oven it keeps inflating and the result is much thicker and breadier than I’d like. You can top a pizza with amazing ingredients but if the base is too thick, chewy or soggy then you might as well have put pre-packed cheese slices and Spam on top.
Another good reason for making pizza, despite my head brimming with other Tuscan inspired ideas, was that I was visiting a friend who has a wood-fired oven in their back garden. How could I not make pizza?
In order to achieve the ultimate crust you’ve got to start with good dough. The type of flour used is important; use ‘00’ Tipo flour, which is the most finely ground flour available and gives you the elasticity required to stretch the dough thinly and gives you a crispy texture. Failing that, opt for the best quality bread flour you can afford. The time to prove the dough is also important; allow the dough to slowly ferment in the fridge overnight or even up to 72 hours to develop flavour. This is not a quick-fix pizza recipe but you will be rewarded with your patience.
In an ideal world you would cook the pizza in a wood fired oven but obviously that’s not realistic for the majority of people so baking in a very hot conventional oven works absolutely fine, just make sure it’s preheated at least half an hour before you plan to put your pizza in. It also helps to have a baking stone, which helps to draw the moisture out of the dough and will give you a beautiful crust. If you don’t have one then you can upturn a baking sheet. Never put too much tomato sauce or toppings on: less is definitely more when it comes to pizzas and overloading will just contribute to soggy bottoms! Lastly, try and shape the dough by hand. I’ve previously been using a rolling pin but it’s impossible to get a proper lip and thin base. There are lots of videos on YouTube showing you how to do this, it just needs a little practice to perfect.
I’m really pleased with my pizza and it tastes delicious, even with the slightly black charred edges due to fierce heat in the wood oven. It all adds to the authenticity! My friend just loaded the oven up with wood so it was probably a bit hotter than recommended. A second pizza didn’t even make it out alive as a burning hunk of wood planted itself directly in the middle – it was just a little too charred for human consumption, although I did try. The pizza I enjoyed so much in Italy is still up on a pedestal but I feel I’ve come a lot closer to recreating a decent one at home.
Makes 3 medium size pizzas
500g Italian 00 flour (or strong white flour)
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp of easy-blend yeast
325ml cold water
30ml olive oil
Mixture of tomatoes
- Stir the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Using a large metal spoon stir in the water until it has fully absorbed into the flour, then stir in the oil. Knead vigorously for about 8-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- If using a mixer, you can start off by mixing the ingredients on a low speed with a paddle attachment then switch to a dough hook for kneading; mix on a medium speed for about 5-7 minutes until the dough is smooth. The dough will clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom. If it is a bit too wet and doesn’t come off the sides then sprinkle in a little flour.
- Divide the dough into 3 balls, brush or spray with a little oil and then place in a sealable freezer bag. Leave for at least 24 hours.
- On the day you plan to at your pizza, get the dough of the fridge an hour before to come up to room temperature; the dough will be easier to work with and it won’t blister as much in the oven. Sprinkle a bit of flour on the worktop and some more on top of the dough.
- Preheat your oven as hot as you can go and put your baking stone or upturned sheet in the middle. I’ve found it cooks the toppings too quickly at the top.
- Shape the dough with your hands and transfer to a piece of baking parchment dusted with flour. Then add tomato sauce with your chosen toppings – remember, less is more.
- Slide onto your pre-heated stone or baking sheet in the oven for about 8 minutes so the cheese is bubbling. Remove and wait a couple of minutes before slicing, as the cheese will be too oozing to cut.