Does pineapple have any place on a pizza? What’s your take on the quattro stagioni (four seasons)? What about an egg-topped fiorentina, a cheese-free marinara or a classic margherita?
Most people have a favourite pizza, and debate about toppings, bases and sauces can be both passionate and lengthy! Maybe that’s because pizza is the ultimate Italian comfort food – hot, easy to eat with your hands, simple to make and always tasty. Can there be anyone who doesn’t love the mouth-watering combination of dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella and personalised toppings?
A classic Italian dish, pizza is thought to have originated as far back as the ancient times, when people ate unleavened flat bread baked in mud ovens. But the forerunner of the pizza as we know it today was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known as panis focacius, which was then adorned with toppings.
The word pizza itself was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta, central Italy, and the world’s first pizzeria is said to have opened in Naples in 1830. Called Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, it is still there today.
But it was the most famous pizza-maker in Naples, Raffaele Esposito, who created the margherita that many of us know and love, back in 1889 in honour of the Italian Queen. Queen Margherita loved his recipe of tomato sauce, mozzarella and a sprig of basil – reflecting the colours of the Italian flag – when he made it for her, and so the margherita pizza was born.
2018 has been called the year of the pizza oven, with summer sales hotting up as the garden takes centre stage in family gatherings and al fresco parties.
So whether you choose to make yours in your new outdoor pizza oven or indoors in your kitchen, here are some top tips for pizza perfection.
The heat is on
According to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association), to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza, it must be baked at 485 degrees Celsius, on the floor of a wood-fired, domed, oven. The base must be hand-kneaded (not rolled with a rolling pin or pre-prepared) and must not be more than one-third of a centimetre thick at the centre.
The best flour is a very strong, but finely-milled ‘00’. The 00 refers to the flour’s texture, how finely ground it is and how much of the bran has been removed. In Italy, flour is classified as either a 1, 0 or 00, with 00 being the most highly-refined. The result will be a pizza base that’s both chewy and crunchy on the underside and at the edges.
Start with a great sauce
Making your own sauce is part of the fun of creating a home-made pizza and we recommend that you buy a tin of high-quality Italian tomatoes. A great choice is a tin of strong, sweet, San Marzano tomatoes, which originated in the volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Then blend the tomatoes together with a large pinch of salt and half a handful of fresh basil, making sure that the sauce retains some texture (don’t let it get too watery).
Topping things off
The famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, only serves two types of pizza, the marinara and the margherita. The marinara came before the margherita and is topped with tomato sauce, garlic and oregano – no cheese. As we know from tradition, the margherita boasts a ‘tricolour’ of ingredients reflecting the colours of the Italian flag – green basil, white mozzarella and red tomato.
Our own quick and easy twist to a classic margherita is to add Prosciutto di San Daniele just after you’ve taken the pizza out of the oven and before serving, so that the prosciutto doesn’t get too dry or overcooked, but gently melts into the pizza. Each year during the Aria di Festa in San Daniele, local pizzerias offer a special festival menu and the Pizza San Daniele – pomodoro e mozzarella, Prosciutto di San Daniele – is always one of the most popular.
But one of the most controversial of all pizza toppings of all time surely has to be the pineapple. You’ll not find a ‘Hawaiian’ in an authentic Italian pizzeria – topped with ham and pineapple, it was invented in Ontario, Canada in 1962!