DonQui is pleased that he has just about mastered the art of making a good pizza base but what about the toppings? DonQui’s current favourites are tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil, olives, capers and anchovies.
While he will vary these from time to time, the key is the tomato sauce.
This is how he makes it:
Ingredients for 2 individual pizzas
1 400 g tin of San Marzano tomatoes
a pinch of salt
1 crushed garlic clove (optional)
a bunch of herbs — basil or oregano (optional)
San Marzano tomatoes are a unique southern Italian variety grown on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius near Naples. They are meatier than most other varieties with less seeds and less acidity. They, therefore, make perfect pasta and pizza sauces. Even though tinned, the taste is so sweet and fresh that DonQui prefers not to pre-cook it before putting it on his pizza.
DonQui orders his from Amazon and although more expensive than normal plum tomatoes they are not a hugely extravagant purchase.
The variety is protected in the EU by the denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). This protection does not extend to some non-EU countries. In the USA many of the canned tomatoes sold as ‘San Marzano’ (often at very high prices) are nothing like the real thing.
If using garlic (he does not always add it), DonQui likes to gently fry it in olive oil until it becomes fragrant but before it colours. This takes down the pungent rawness that can be a bit overpowering in a sauce.
Drain the tomatoes and put them in a food processor/blender along with the salt and any herbs. If using basil you can use stalks as well as leaves. Add the garlic along with the oil it was cooked in.
Whizz it all up until it is blended. It does not have to be completely smooth.
If you do not have, or do not want to use, a food processor you can crush the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.
Tip the mixture into a strainer to drain a little more. If the sauce is too watery then it may make a thin dough crust a bit soggy. You could thicken it up with a bit of concentrated tomato purée (tomato paste) but this will alter the taste as the highly processed concentrate can take away from the fresh taste of the San Marzano tomatoes.
Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza base with the back of a wooden spoon.
Add your favourite toppings and put in the pre-heated oven at maximum temperature (250º+), ideally on a pizza stone (which radiates the heat). Then bake for 6 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and bubbling but before it burns.
Can there be any food be any food more completely perfect than pizza? DonQui Oaty thinks not. Therefore he has decided to learn how to make it himself from scratch.
DonQui’s first step is a pizza-making course at the Two Magpies bakery in Southwold, Suffolk. Well known for miles around for its incomparable breads and pastries the Two Magpies has extended its sourdough know-how into pizza making. DonQui is keen to learn more.
The evening course begins with a discussion about flour, sourdough and pizza. DonQui learns the importance of ‘hard flour’ with a high gluten content. This is essential to achieve the elasticity needed for a good pizza base. Using sourdough rather than yeast is a slower and better leavening process that alleviates the problems some people have with gluten. Then it is into the bakery to learn how to make and work the dough.
He works the dough feeling how, with kneading, it turns from a sticky ‘shaggy dough’ into a smooth, elastic mass. After leaving it for 20 minutes the elasticity increases and he kneads it some more. He learns that resting is important because immediately after kneading some of the elasticity is lost. Like muscles strained after a run, it needs rest to strengthen.
When the dough can be gently pulled apart without breaking it is ready to be formed. DonQui learns that the way to do this is too gradually stretch it out — not by rolling it with a rolling pin.
The first step is to take a 250g ball of dough, gently flatten it out on a board (lightly floured to prevent sticking) and press around the edges to create the cornicione or edge.
Then slowly stretch the base out as thinly as possible, careful not to break it. Holding it up over two fists to let the edges fall down while gently turning is a good way of doing this, if feeling confident one could toss it up into the air and spin it around like a professional pizzaiolo. DonQui has yet to master this skill.
With the benefit of adult supervision and a blistering hot professional baker’s oven (350º+), DonQui’s first pizza is a great success.
His first attempts to try this at home are OK but not brilliant. The base ends up a bit ‘doughy’ rather than light and crisp.
Even with the addition of a pizza stone, his home oven with maximum temperature of 250º does not quite do the job.
With further experimentation he finds ways to overcome this. Blind baking the base for 3 minutes before putting on the toppings is his first break-through. This gives a crispy crust at the lower temperature of his home oven. Adding a small amount of dried yeast as well as sourdough levain aids rising and makes the base lighter.
Perfection, however, is only achieved when he tries using strong Italian 00 (super-fine) semolina flour. This flour — made especially for pasta and pizza — utterly transforms the dough. It is almost immediately elastic and the resultant base is as good as he has ever tasted anywhere.
Here, below, is DonQui’s recipe based on the Two Magpie’s original instructions with his own modifications.
It makes two small individual pizzas or a single large one.
250g strong white bread flour
½ teaspoon dried yeast
95g sourdough levain (starter)
5g salt (a good teaspoonful)
10g olive oil
Combine the flour, yeast, water and levain by hand into a shaggy dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth non-sticky dough has formed.
Add salt and continue kneading until all granular traces have gone. Slowly add the oil and work it in until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and strong.
Leave the dough to rise for 2 hours in a lightly oiled, covered container at warm room temperature (22-27ºC).
Cut the dough in half (makes approximately two 250g portions). Shape each into a tight ball and either use immediately or wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a maximum of 48 hours. The dough balls can also be frozen.
To use, bring the dough back up to room temperature (if refrigerated), work it a few times to check elasticity by gently stretching and folding. It should be possible to do so without the dough immediately breaking apart.
Let rest for 20 minutes then stretch into shape on a lightly floured surface. The final stretch is best done on parchment paper so that the base does not end up sticking to the board.
Blind bake at maximum temperature in a pre-heated oven (250º C at least) for 2-3 minutes on the parchment paper. Using a pizza stone will give a crispy base but be sure to put the stone in a cold oven or it will crack.
Remove from the parchment paper. Put on toppings when cooled.
Bake at maximum temperature for 6 minutes directly on the pizza stone. This will give a crispier finish than if it was left on the paper.
Pizza dough is best made with Italian Tipo ‘00’ durum wheat flour. It is finer ground than normal and has a high gluten content. It will give the dough an incredibly smooth, firm, texture.
If using white bread flour, make sure it is a strong one that’s high in gluten. It is the high gluten which gives the essential firm elasticity. Look for Canadian flour which has a higher gluten content than most European ones. Normal all-purpose flour will simply not do the job.
Some millers in the UK are now producing pizza flour which combines Italian style fine grind with local high gluten wheat.
Pizza is a serious matter in Naples — the city in which it was invented and perfected. In DonQui’s humble opinion, pizza in Naples if far better that pizza more or less anywhere else on the planet.
Standards are maintained by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neopolitan Pizza Association), or Vera Pizza for short. It aims to promote and protect ‘true Neapolitan pizza’ in Italy and around the world.
DonQui has a few tricks to ensure that his pizza lives up to expectations. Firstly he looks for a place that uses a traditional wood fired oven. Secondly he only ever orders pizza in Italy at night. Good pizzerias will fire up their ovens in the evening and it will take until close to 9pm before the ovens are properly hot enough to cook the prefect pizza. Thirdly he goes for simple classic ingredients, no bits of pineapple, pulled pork, curried chicken or other Anglo-Saxon atrocities for DonQui.
The classic Neapolitan pizza is the Margarita which is said to have been invented in Naples in 1889 for Queen Margarita in the early years of Italian unification. In a clever move of political sycophancy, its creator managed to replicate the colours of the new Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil).
Anchovies, capers and black olives are other traditional ingredients which DonQui quite likes. Here the local anchovies are not as salty or overpowering as tinned anchovies can be outside Southern Italy.
Finally DonQui looks for a place that is not too fancy-looking while still pulling in a substantial local crowd. The many places lining the Via Partenope close to his hotel look inviting but DonQui worries that they might be overpriced tourist traps. A quick skim through TripAdvisor seems to confirm his fears with comments about dodgy surcharges and surly waiters abounding.
At the very end of Via Partenope, at the corner of Piazza Vittoria, sits an establishment with promise. It is just before 9pm and Sorbillo Lievito Madre al Mare is filling up with locals. Offering pizzas with top organic ingredients cooked in a wood fired oven it is little wonder that it is a popular place. There are even gluten free options, not that DonQui cares about such things.
DonQui manages to get one of the last available tables as a queue forms behind him. Those arriving later put their names down on the waiting list and look on enviously as DonQui tucks in.
By 21:30 a fairly large crowd has built up, all waiting patiently for their turn for a table.
The choices are interesting. Although the menu is in Italian only, DonQui is able to decipher enough to understand the basics. He had thought he might order a simple classic margarita but the Cetara catches his eye.
With fresh tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, smoked Provola cheese, capers, olives, oregano and Alici di Cetara, it sounds most intriguing. Alici di Cetara is an oil infused with anchovies. Reminiscent of garum, the infamous fish sauce which the Ancient Romans added to just about everything, DonQui decides he wants to try it.
To say that it is delicious would be an understatement. The thin, springy crust, slightly charred from the super hot wood-fired oven is an absolute delight. The combination of cheese, tomatoes, basil, olives, capers and anchovies are a perfect taste of Naples. The pizza is large enough for him to share with Duchess and the bill is most reasonable — far less than any of his other previous Neapolitan meals.
DonQui is unaware that Gino Sorbillo is one of the most famous pizza chefs in the world. His coastal establishment is the second of his Naples outlets and he is soon to open one in New York’s Times Square. DonQui feels quite pleased with himself that he managed to discover Sorbillo’s seafront establishment before knowing any of this.