A pizza can be as simple as making a dough, pressing it out, and baking it with your favourite toppings. Or it can be as precise as the one dictated by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The Associazione insists that a true Neapolitan pizza starts with handmade dough, that the base should be no more than 4mm thick at the centre, that it must be cooked in a woodfired oven with a temperature of 485C, and that the end result should be "easy to manipulate and fold". The association also specifies the use of canned peeled San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella from Campania.
With all that in mind, we've opted for a method here that's somewhere in between authentically Italian and Australian practical - allowing for both personal taste and the discrepancies of a domestic kitchen. If you have a good, hot wood-burning oven and San Marzano tomatoes handy then all the better.
The dough requires strong flour such as "0" or "00", plus yeast, salt and water. The addition of olive oil adds chewiness and richness. While fresh yeast is preferred by many experts, we use dried yeast for its consistency and convenience. Dried yeast works best if it's activated in lukewarm water first, then combined with the remaining ingredients and either slowly kneaded by hand or in an electric mixer on slow speed to produce a very soft and almost sticky dough.
Allow the dough to prove in a draught-free place, covered with a damp tea towel, until it doubles in size. Or, if you have the time, prove the dough in the refrigerator overnight - the longer, slower process produces more flavour.
Once the dough proves, knock it back, then divide it into portions and set it aside on a lightly floured surface until it has doubled in size again. Dusting with extra flour helps to keep the dough manageable and prevent sticking, but be careful not to add too much because it will make the dough too firm. Dust a tea towel with flour and cover the dough while it proves a second time.
You need to press the dough gently into shape by hand to avoid overworking it. To do this, place the dough on a heavily floured pizza tray or pizza paddle, then press with your fingers from the centre outwards so that the edges are slightly thicker than the centre. Now's the time to spread it with sauce, if you're using one, and transfer it to a pizza stone that has been heating in the oven. A pizza paddle definitely makes the job of sliding the pizza onto the stone easier, although here we've used pizza trays as a guide for size and shape. It takes a little practice, but with a heavy dusting of flour underneath, a large flexible metal fish slice and a quick hand, moving the prepared dough from tray to hot stone becomes manageable.
Once the base is on the stone, it's time to add the toppings, so ensure they're all ready to go. A quick survey of the GT office proved anchovy an all-round favourite, but topping ideas are endless and depend entirely on personal preference (keeping it to just a few ingredients is a tradition worth sticking with, though). A couple of classic combinations include broccoli, sausage and Gorgonzola, and Margherita, but they're only the beginning.
Cooking the pizza in a woodfired oven above 450C gives you the best chance of a perfect crust. The crust should be chewy and the base crisp, with good pockets of air formed by quick rising in a very hot oven. It's impossible to replicate this result in domestic ovens, which only reach around 270C. The next best thing is to cook the thin dough on a thoroughly heated pizza stone in the oven set at its highest temperature. Once the base is golden and crisp and the cheese is bubbling, your pizza should be served without delay. Add a cold birra or two and you've got yourself a great night in.
Whether it’s textbook-authentic or prepared only to please, a pizza well made is always a winner, writes Lisa Featherby.