How to make Authentic Italian Pizza

A real pizzaiolo in Napoli placing a pizza into a woodfired oven
A real pizzaiolo in Napoli placing a pizza into a woodfired oven

When it comes to pizza simplicity is the key

From the alps in the far north to the boot heel in the deep south, Italy is ripe with great pizzerias where you will marvel at the simple but delicious pizza. The crust is thin, the sauce is just pure tomatoes, and the cheese is gooey and used sparingly. Grilled vegetables, mushrooms, and prosciuto are common toppings but for purists the Pizza Margherita is king. Tomatoes (Pomodori), Mozarella di bufala or regular "fior di latte" mozzarella, and some fresh basil and you have the most basic and delicious pizza. The simplicity allows you to really taste the fundamental ingredients with nothing to interfere with the true flavors of pizza.

What I love about pizza in Italy is that it is thin and light enough for one person to eat the whole thing.

Things you will need:

Ingredients

1. 3 cups of all purpose flour (APF). You could use bread flower if you want but APF is just fine. In Italy they use a flour calle "tipo 00" If you can find it use it . I recommend a quality unbleached unbromated flour like King Arthur or similar all natural brand.

2. Dry active yeast dissolved in 1 cup of warm water. Fresh yeast can be used if available.

3. 2 tablespoons of sea salt or kosher salt.

4. 6-8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. part of this you will condition the dough with and the rest you will drizzle on top of your pizza before you throw it in the oven.

5. Mozzarella di bufala if you can find it or regular mozarella fresca. Mozarella fresca is not the dry type but rather the mozzarella you find floating in water and is available in most markets these days. If you cannot find either, go ahead and use dry mozzarella (Don't say I didn't warn you).

6. Tomato puree either made yourself from fresh plum tomatoes or bought in a can. I often use organic diced tomatoes and pulse them a few times in the food processor.

OPTIONAL: FOR THOSE WHO WANT A LITTLE MORE ZEST YOU CAN ADD CRUSHED RED CHILI FLAKES AND/OR MINCED GARLIC SPRINKLED ON TOP BEFORE THE PIZZA GOES IN THE OVEN

Equipment

1. A glass or stainless steel mixing bowl.

2. A wooden spoon.

3. A coffee mug

4. Two baking sheets

5. A measuring cup

6. A work surface

7. A food processor

TO MAKE TWO LARGE PIZZAS

THE DOUGH is your most fundamental ingredient and will determine your end result more than anything else. Place 2 1/2 cups of flour in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl and toss in the two tablespoons of sea salt. Fill a coffee mug with fresh purified water and place it in the microwave for approximately 45 seconds until it is lukewarm. Dissolve half of the packet of dry yeast into the water and add one small spoon of flour, mix with a spoon and let sit for 10 minutes. This will activate the yeast.

Pour the yeasty water into the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Mix the dough until it is moist and starts to form a ball in the middle of your bowl. If the mixture appears too dry add a small amount of water and continue mixing.

Onto a floured surface dump your dough ball and start to knead your dough with spare flour handy for your hands and the work surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes or until the dough bounces back when you poke it with your finger. Incorporate small amounts of flour while you knead and the dough begins to stick to your surface. When you have your perfectly kneaded ball of pizza dough, let it rest a few minutes.

Prepare a mixing bowl by placing 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom. Take the dough ball and roll it around in the bottom of the bowl, covering it completely with oil. With plastic wrap seal the top of the bowl and place in a warm location to rise. I usually place the dough in my turned off oven to rise. You should let the dough rise for at least 2 hours but leave it all day if you wish.

1 hour before you plan to bake your pizza, place the risen dough onto a floured surface and cut it into two equal pieces. Work each individual piece into a ball. You do not have to completely knead each piece just gently form them into balls. Once the balls are formed leave them to rest on a floured surface and cover them with a moist kitchen towel.

THE SAUCE is very simple to make and it does not need to be cooked before hand. If you buy tomatoes already pureed you can simply place the contents of the can into a bowl add 1 tablespoon of salt and mix. If you like it zesty then add a teaspoon of crushed red chili.

If you have diced tomatoes then place them in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of salt and pulse until smooth, adding red crushed pepper if you wish.

If you are using fresh tomatoes you will have to peel them. The most effective way to peel tomatoes is to place them whole into boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and place them in cold water or even better, an ice bath. Once the tomatoes are cooled down the skin should come off easily with your fingers. Once all the tomatoes are peeled place them in the food processor with 2 tablspoons of salt and pulse until sauce comes smooth. I recommend using freshly grown tomatoes in the summertime if you can. Good varieties are San Marzano and Roma.

ASSEMBLING AND BAKING YOUR PIZZA

Now that you have made your sauce and your two balls of dough been sitting for at leat 45 minutes it is time to start assembling your pizzas. The mozzarella should be sliced for easy application. First turn your oven on as hot as possible. I bake my pizza at 500 degrees fahrenheit. Authentic pizza is supposed to be cooked in a wood-fired oven but that is not possible for most of us and wood ovens burn at around 900 degrees fahrenheit. A hot oven is essential for a bubbly and airy crust.

Lightly flour a baking sheet and take one of the dough balls and start to work it with your hands in a circular motion almost like a steering wheel. Stretch it out as you work it being careful not to allow any holes to form. Gently work it until it covers most of the baking sheet and becomes very thin, almost transparent. Try to make it as even as possible. DO NOT USE A ROLLING PIN it will ruin the quality of your crust. Once you have your dough stretched out across your baking sheet add some sauce with a spoon, spreading it around with the back of the spoon. You can add as much or as little as you like. Then distribute the slices of mozzarella evenly upon the pizza. Unless you really want a thick layer of cheese on your pizza, it is not necessary to completely cover the pizza with cheese. Italians prefer to keep their pizza on the lighter side using only 5 or 6 slices distributed evenly. To finish your pizza off, toss on a few leaves of fresh basil and drizzle a few capfuls of extra virgin olive oil. At this point you can also add some minced garlic and/or crushed red pepper if you want an extra zip.

When your oven is hot, slide your pizza in the oven with the rack positioned in the middle. In a conventional home oven it is possible to bake only one pizza at a time because the heat distribution. A normal sized oven will not allow for two pizzas on the same rack so in my house we do one at a time. I've tried baking two at a time and while the pizza on top came out fine, the pizza on the bottom had an undeveloped crust.

Within minutes your kitchen will fill with the wonderful aromas of a pizzeria. At 500 degrees your pizza should take 5-7 minutes. A hot oven is essential for a good crust! In Italy a wood fired oven burns at around 900 degrees so I try to duplicate that as much as possible even though my oven only reaches 500 degrees.

Open the oven door after 5 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling and browning slightly, while the crust should begin to show golden brown colors when you peek under it with a fork. When you pizza is ready pull it out of the oven and eat immediately with a cold beer!

Most experts agree that Beer is the best beverage to drink with pizza. I've tried different wines with pizza but have never found it to pair very good. If you insist on wine, try something light and fruity like Lambrusco or Pinot Noir. Lighter wines do not have to compete as much with the high acid content of the tomatoes.

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Comments 3 comments

danbr7777 profile image

danbr7777 7 years ago

Wonderful content here. I appreciate the detail shared. I will give this a try in the next day or so. Thank you!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Great info, didn't realize about the rolling pin, I've been making home made pizza first with my dad now on my own for many years.

Great advice, I'll look for that flour you recommended!

Ben


Italian Pizza 5 years ago

I really enjoy making, baking and eating true authentic pizza. I really like the photo of the wood burning oven at the top, that is simply classic Italian all in one photo. Thanks for the information!

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