Pizza is loved the world over, due to its versatility and accessibility. Originating in Naples, Italy, it has evolved over centuries, and can now be enjoyed in a plethora of different styles.
If you love a classic Italian-style pizza and want to know how to make it at home, it’s easy – you just need the right ingredients and techniques. Follow our tips and get cooking like an Italian today!
The history of pizza in Italy
Before you delve into the world of pizza, you should know where it came from. Of course, pizza is synonymous with Italy, but history tells that throughout ancient times people all over the world were adding flavours and toppings to bread to make it more flavoursome. In fact, in the 16th century “pizza” was “fast food” for poor people in Naples – dough with a tomato sauce with either basil or oregano added on-top.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that pizza took the form in which it’s become known. In 1989, when Queen Margherita visited Naples, a Neapolitan pizza maker presented her with his own creation – “Pizza Margherita”. This was bread topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to represent the red, white and green of the national Italian flag. According to the famous story, the Queen was charmed by the pizza, and its popularity quickly grew nationwide (and then worldwide).
How to make authentic Italian-style pizza
Pizza is a versatile dish, and cultures all over the world have recreated it and interpreted it differently. In Chicago, USA, they like their pizza with a deep crust and a lot of cheese; traditional Lebanese pizzas are topped with Za’atar and minced lamb; in Greece they pan-bake pizza and top it with feta, tomatoes, onions and other classic Greek ingredients.
Authentic Italian pizza, on the other hand, is a lot simpler in comparison – it has a thin crust, fresh ingredients and minimal toppings. Here’s how to make pizza that transports you to the bustling streets of Naples.
The base – get the dough right
The pizza base is the key building block – get the dough right and you’re onto a winner.
Authentic Neapolitan pizza has a light, crispy and thin base, and this can be difficult to replicate. Italian pizza chefs have perfected dough-kneading and twirling over years of practise, but with the right ingredients and technique you’ll be on the right track.
Here’s what you’ll need to make the perfect Italian-style dough (store-bought pizza dough just won’t do):
Ingredients (makes 4 12-inch pizza bases)
- 1kg of stone-ground unbleached flour, type “00” (“00” flour is the most refined and finest-ground flour)
- 25g of fresh yeast / 8 grams of dried yeast
- 600ml of warm water
- 6 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 1.5 tsp of salt
- 2 tsp of sugar
How to make the perfect dough:
- Sprinkle the yeast (fresh or dried) into a bowl and mix in the warm water.
- Flour your large work surface.
- Pile up the flour onto your surface, and pour the water-yeast mixture over the top.
- Knead the dough together for at least 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. (You should always massage the dough for longer than you think so that the gluten is worked through.)
- Grease the inside of a large bowl with olive oil, place the dough inside and cover. Leave it to prove for 5 hours.
- Pull the dough from the bowl and place onto a floured surface. Using your hand punch out any bubbles.
- Split the dough evenly (in this case, into four), and roll each section discs. (This is where you can choose how thick you want your pizza bases to be – either super thin, Napoli-style, or thicker like they do in Roma.)
The oven – the Italian’s use wood-fired ovens
The most authentic-tasting Italian-style pizzas are wood-fired. Wood-fired ovens can reach approximately 430 degrees Celsius (800 degrees Fahrenheit) and can cook a pizza to perfection in as little as 90 seconds. However, if you don’t have a wood-fired oven, you can use your gas or electric oven, just make sure you get it as hot as possible.
You should preheat your oven as soon as your pizza dough has finished proving. A standard electric oven can reach 210 degrees Celsius (410 degrees Fahrenheit), so make sure it climbs to this temperature by prehearing it for at least 30 minutes before you put the pizza in.
You may choose to use a pizza stone to help with the cooking results. A pizza stone absorbs all of the heat from the oven and distributes heat evenly across the whole pizza. This means that your pizza will be cooked right through to the middle, and won’t fall victim to the crispy-outer-edge-but-soggy-bottom effect. Preheat your pizza stone before you place the pizza on-top.
The toppings – keep it classic
The toppings of a pizza is where you can be creative. Cultures worldwide have experimented with innovative flavours and toppings – there is really no limits to what you can put on a classic doughy base.
Classic Italian toppings are very regional – each region has their own distinct flavours and seasonal produce that is favoured. However, the quintessential Italian pizza is very understated. It includes the freshest ingredients but doesn’t go overboard. This is, in part, due to the fact that Neapolitan pizzas have a thin crust, meaning that too many toppings will cause the base to sink and become soggy.
If you want to create a classic pizza that tastes just like Italy, you can’t go wrong with a Margherita. All you need is three toppings to reflect the tricolour Italian flag – fresh tomato sauce, Mozzarella and basil (red, white and green).
Tomato sauce is typically made from San Marzano peeled tomatoes that are blanched with salt, fresh basil and olive oil. Mozzarella should be fresh (Buffalo Mozzarella is delicious) and added on top of the sauce to give texture and flavour. To finish sprinkle basil and drizzle a splash of olive oil on-top.
If you want to add more flavour to your pizza, you can experiment with a whole host of ingredients. In terms of cheese, you can use Parmesan, Cheddar, Edam, Emmental, Provolone and more. You can add any kind of vegetable you wish; popular choices include mushroom, capsicum, rocket, onion, olives, etc. You can also add different types of meat – ham, lamb, sausage, prosciutto, etc. It’s completely up to you!
To cook, place your pizza in your oven (preferably on a pizza stone) and cook for 8-10 minutes until edges are golden brown. And, voila – you’re ready to serve and enjoy!