Traditional Pizza (Article)

By Mark Dymiotis

Why bother making pizzas if I can buy them so readily?’ I hear you say. True, but so far I haven’t come across any commercial pizzas resembling the flavour of authentic traditional home pizzas made with real bread dough.

Armenians claim pizza as their own. The Greeks have known it for a long time. In Southern France it was called ‘pissaladiere’. Nevertheless, it is the Italians who kept the tradition alive and promoted it very well. Despite its extraordinary fame, pizza is a very late introduction to the international cuisine – after the 1960s.

It might be surprising but tomatoes were a fairly recent introduction to pizza. Their introduction to pizzas took place well after the discovery of the new world. Initially, in Europe, they were grown only as ornamentals as they were thought to be poisonous.

In the recipe section I give quantities but, as with all traditional cooking, avoid being ‘clinical’. There is a lot of flexibility. Ingredients are increased or decreased, and even changed, to reflect availability and changing preferences. For a modern pizza, experiment with any of your favourite ingredients but do not overdo it.

Wood-fired ovens, very fashionable these days, were used traditionally for pizzas. Even though I teach how to build these ovens I do not hesitate to say that with proper trays you can make superb pizzas in domestic ovens. But if you wish to emulate the traditional ovens consider placing unglazed ceramic tiles in the oven before it is turned on. Heat the oven for at least 30 minutes before placing the pizzas directly onto the tiles. Choose heavy tiles; they are less resistant to thermal shock but the extra density allows quicker absorption and release of heat – a must for good pizzas.

There is no need for special ingredients such as bread improvers in the preparation of the dough. The Italians managed without them exceptionally well for hundreds of years. Ordinary bread-making flour, yeast or the traditional sour dough leaven, salt and water are all you need.

Trays
Black tin trays, that allow quick heat transfer, are normally the best for pizzas.

The dough – makes 3-4 medium size pizza bases

  1. 4 cups unbleached bread flour
  2. 1 3/4 cups water (approximately)
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 1 tsp yeast (or 1 cup of leaven for sour dough)

Mix all ingredients in a suitable bowl and knead well, cover it and let it rise until double in size. Increase or decrease the water according to desired dough consistency. Soft dough will result in crustier pizzas. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces (about the size of a tennis ball). Shape the pieces into balls, place them on a floured board, cover them and let them rest for a few minutes.

Roll out the dough pieces on a floured board to a thickness of about 5 mm and place them onto greased pizza trays. Cover them and let them rest for a few minutes before adding the toppings. Or, add the toppings first and let them rest after. Longer rising time will not adversely affect the pizzas.

Tomato sauce

400 g peeled tin tomatoes or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 dried bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt

Place ingredients in a frying pan and cook to desired consistency mashing the tomatoes with a fork as they cook. Other flavouring ingredients to consider are onion and/or garlic, basil and ground pepper.

Garlic sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
3-4 mashed garlic cloves (a lot more if you are a garlic addict)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Mix ingredients. As the garlic tends to settle to the bottom stir the sauce while using it or use a teaspoon so that some garlic is used with each serve.

Toppings
The quantities of topping ingredients are only a guide. Increase or decrease them to taste. Aim for a tasty pizza with as few ingredients and flavours as possible – the traditional way. The oregano used is dried. Add salt to taste.

Basic tomato pizza
tomato sauce
mozzarella cheese – ‘as much as your heart desires,’ my Italian interviewee advises.
1 tsp oregano

Onion
tomato sauce
mozzarella cheese (lots)
1 large onion sliced into shreds
1 tsp oregano

Capsicum
tomato sauce
1 small capsicum sliced and cut into small pieces
2-3 mushrooms sliced and cut into small pieces (optional)
1 large onion diced
2-3 black olives stoned and cut into quarters
1 tsp oregano or more

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and spread them on the pizza base.

Anchovy

fresh tomato squeezed onto a very thin pizza base
6-8 anchovy fillets cut into quarters
3-4 black olives stoned and cut into quarters
1 tsp oregano
sprinkle with olive oil

Anchovies and onion
(a favourite)
brush base sparingly with garlic sauce
6-8 anchovy fillets cut into quarters
3-4 black olives stoned and cut into quarters
2 diced onions
1 tsp oregano

Halloumi
– (my creation based on Cypriot practices)
brush base sparingly with olive oil
small cubes of halloumi cheese
1 tsp dried mint

Halloumi cheese is available in most continental delicatessens.

Eggplant
brush base sparingly with garlic sauce
grilled eggplant slices cut into quarters
2-3 black olives stoned and cut into quarters
mozzarella cheese
1 tsp oregano

Baking
Bake pizzas in preheated oven at its highest setting (255°C). For a more effective baking consider half cooking the pizzas before adding the cheese. For a good pizza, the baking will take 15 minutes and often longer. For electric ovens the bottom shelf is more suitable while for gas ovens the top shelf is more appropriate. With modern fan forced ovens all shelves can be used.

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