38 – Uncertified Neapolitan Pizza

Last night, I had an absolutely amazing opportunity present itself to me. A fellow blogger I know had been planning to attend an “Eat! Vancouver” event at Bella Gelateria Yaletown, but was unable to go due to illness. Though unfortunate for her, it meant there was a free ticket up for grabs for this sold out event, which was a hands-on workshop focusing on “Pizza Napoletana”, as the Italians say. Obviously there was no way that I couldn’t take advantage of such awesome circumstances. So, I quickly popped by her place to retrieve the ticket, and in the process dropped off a bottle of Poplar Grove Pinot Gris (because in my books, free tickets always equals gifted alcohol). Then, I was on the road, saying a silent prayer that the traffic would be light, lest I not make it to Yaletown in time.

It ended up being a very fascinating experience, learning not only about this classic style of pizza, but also a bit about gelato (Bella Gelateria, as indicated by the name, is first and foremost about gelato, which owner Maestro Gelatiere James Coleridge has won worldwide recognition for). Anyways, this post isn’t meant to highlight that experience fully – I’m planning one at a later date for that. I was so busy learning and tasting (the only thing better than learning), that my picture game was lacking (even more than usual). To rectify that, the plan is for my wife and I to go back there on Saturday night for pizza, gelato, and much nicer photos.We’ll be checking out the big Eat! Vancouver showcase that day as well, so I plan on doing a little feature about the overall experience of both the workshop and the big show.

Thanks to last night’s experience, I was very excited to attempt my very own Neapolitan pizza. I did kind of make my own at the workshop, but with most of it already prepared for me, I simply worked the dough a bit and then haphazardly threw on some toppings. Tonight, I did it all myself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the absolute finest ingredients for my pizza on such short notice (Bella uses only the best), but I did what I could with my limited selection. The final product is a combination of a recipe for pizza dough out of our newly-purchased Italian cooking bible, The Silver Spoon; the knowledge imparted to me by Chef Coleridge; and, believe it or not, some of my own ingenuity.

It was actually extremely fast and easy to make this style of pizza, which was a pleasant departure from past experiences. For American style pizzas I’ve made previously, I’ve spent a lot of time simply working on the tomato sauce, first measuring the ingredients (including multiple spices), then cooking and blending the tomato sauce. With this tomato sauce, I simply blended some canned tomatoes, added sea salt to taste, and then strained out most of the liquid.

I honestly think the end result looks amazing, even though I am aware of it’s understandable shortcomings. I failed on my first attempts to stretch out the dough to the right size, shape and thickness. Collecting the dough back up into a ball to retry that step was obviously not the best case scenario, but something I’m not surprised I had to do considering it was my first time (last night’s didn’t really count). After a few more attempts – which I’m guessing was by no means good for the consistency of the dough – I had a reasonably circular shape and acceptable thickness. I also failed at the whole “owning a handmade, imported Italian wood-burning fireplace” thing. With that missing piece alone, I knew I could never have my pizza officially certified as “Pizza Napoletana” (something the Italians really do with this treasured national food, hence the “uncertified” in the title).

I don’t even have a pizza stone, though, which I’m pretty sure is an essential tool when making flatbreads and thin-crust pizzas. On a regular pizza sheet, with no stone or fancy oven, the crust didn’t bubble up like I’d hoped (but had realistically not expected). The flavour, though, was fantastic! Aside from the thin-crust dough being a bit dense (which I hope a pizza stone and better handling will rectify), the pizza was very successful. I’m amazed that such a simple tomato sauce, and a few key ingredients, could help this pizza hold its own against others I’ve tasted (and made). This pizza is so simple that I’m not even going to try to format it properly as a recipe (as I’ve done with the last few dishes I’ve made and posted here). Instead, very quickly and with absolute brevity, here’s what do:

  • Combine 1 1/4 cups type 00 flour with 3/4 tsp sea salt, then add to that 1 packet of dry yeast that’s been dissolved in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water.
  • Mix these together until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated and the dough starts to form together. Knead for 10 minutes by hand, or about 5 minutes with a mixer set to medium (with the dough hook attachment).
  • place dough in a heat-proof bowl, cover with a damp dish towel, and place in the oven (with light on) for one hour (this should provide the ideal temperature for rising)
  • After 1 – 1 1/2 hours, remove dough from oven, punch down, and place on a well-floured surface. Using the proper Neapolitan technique (which I can’t begin to explain, as this is where I failed miserably), press and stretch the dough into a thin, ~12 inch diameter circle
  • Top with a small amount of tomato sauce (I simply used 1 can of Italian style plum tomatoes and a pinch or two of seasalt, blended and strained of excess liquid), a few hand-torn basil leaves, and some slices of mozzarella.
  • Place on a pizza pan lightly brushed with olive oil, then place in a preheated over at 425 F for 18 minutes, or toss in a 900 F Italian imported wood-burning pizza oven for 90 seconds, if you happen to have one lying around.
  • For Pizza Margherita, you’re already finished. I suggest, however, adding thinly-sliced prosciutto on top after the cooking process is finished – honestly, it’s what makes the pizza.

So, that’s essentially it – the whole recipe. At the moment, I don’t know what the times and temperatures are for using a pizza stone. Seeing as I just borrowed one tonight from my brother-in-law while in the middle or writing this post, I plan on attempting to use it tomorrow when I take a second swing at the thin, bubbly crust. Afterwards, I’ll make sure to update this post – promise.

Okay, enough talking! Let’s get on to the pictures!

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DSC_1157DSC_1161DSC_1163DSC_1164Uncertified Neapolitan PizzaAnyways, until next time – buon appetito!

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