It might surprise you, as it did me, to learn that most Italians don’t make pizza at home. In Italy, pizza is left to the Pizzaiolo, those men who are artisans of the perfect pie. I discovered this from my Husband’s reaction to my proud statement, “tonight I’m making pizza for dinner.” He looked surprised, delighted, and just a wee bit skeptical. Now it was my turn to look surprised, Pizza is a treat he loves, why wouldn’t I make it.
Still, I swore I caught a little doubt in his eyes. Nearly offend I thought “he eats my food all the time, he knows I can cook” with blind confidence, I dug in months ago at my first attempt. I soon realized he had a right to be a tad skeptical.
Turns out, getting the crust right was harder in an at home oven than I had thought. It should have been obvious, the best pizza come from ovens made specifically… to make pizza. Blazing hot inferno 900 degrees, no problem.
On my first try, I realized while picking up everything I needed at Eataly, even with the best ingredients ($3.20 on fresh dough, $3.80 on fresh mozzarella and $4.29 on a can of San Marzano tomatoes) I could make one of my Husbands favorite meals for around $10 at home. Enthusiastically, I brought everything home and got started.
The sauce, easy. Use the best tomatoes you can get (which oddly enough do come from a can most times of the year) I stick to San Marzano. In a pan with good olive oil, warm garlic till fragrant then remove. Add tomatoes and fresh oregano, parsley and basil, salt and pepper. Simmer a bit and you’ll have a pretty easy sauce, tasty enough to eat by the spoonful.
From here how hard can it be right? Just shape the dough (trickier than I thought), pile on the toppings (also tricky to get the right amounts) and bake (the trickiest part!) Thankfully, my Husband is good-natured and patiently tried my attempts at homemade pizza over and over again. Each attempt slightly better than the last, each attempt falling shy of the pizzaiolos back home.
I would try again, soggy crust, crust that stuck to the baking sheet, burnt crust, hard crust. I’d research and try again, the pizza always getting a little better through iterative attempts till finally, I nailed it. Last night, with renewed confidence and one slight adjustment to my process, I just knew it, I could feel it, the perfect homemade pizza WAS coming out of my oven.
We sat down to this visual and with the first bite, I put the slice down, threw up my arms and said YES! My Husband agreed, the pizza was finally really, really good. The crust was crispy, cheese perfectly melty, sauce balanced and basil fresh from my garden. Here are the tips I picked up along the way in my trail and errors for the perfect pizza.
Crispy Crust Tips
- Move the bottom rack on your oven as low as it will go.
- Preheat your oven to 500.
- Unless you’re going to go pro-pizziaolo, have no shame in using a rolling-pin to get the dough thin. It’s better than ripping holes or overworking the dough with multiple attempts at tossing the dough into the air like you see in all those movies.
- If you’re stuck using a cookie sheet or metal baking pan, use olive oil to lightly grease the entire thing, every bit the dough will touch so it doesn’t stick.
- Next toss a very thin layer of (good organic) cornmeal onto the olive oil
- This one seems counter intuitive but I found after slicing the fresh mozzarella thin, if I blotted some of the moisture off, the pizza doesn’t get soggy.
- Spread a thin layer of sauce the mozzarella slices, freshly grated parmesan cheese, oregano plus any other toppings you like (prosciutto by the way rocks) and end with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
- Bake for 10 minutes on the bottom rack, then remove the pizza from the tray and slide directly onto your oven rack for another 2 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil.
It will never, ever be as good as the Pizzaiolo in Italy can do and I’m ok with that, but these tips make for some damn fine pizza. You’ll never order in again once you taste the difference between fresh ingredients and the cardboard with cheap cheese. Plus the added perk, it’s actually cheaper than delivery.
I’ve written about Brandyland in this blog before. That magical Utopian place that exists only in my imagination, where dreams guaranteed to make me smile live. In Brandyland my Husband and I have a second tiny apartment in Italy, one close to his parents and around the corner from a pizzeria where once a week we can join them for family dinner over a Pizza Margherita and a Menabrea Bionda.