Ode to Joy (of Pizza)

For this post, I thought I would (at least try to) adopt a bit more serious tone than usual in this blog. On the other hand, a proper Italian pizza certainly is a serious matter!

Food really has an amazing impact on life. Obviously it has moved masses, borders and wars throughout the human history. But in addition to meeting our most primal and physical needs of survival, it can also nourish your soul in the same way as any other form of art or culture. There are always some “diet gurus” who will tell you to treat food as fuel. They are probably (either miserable and/ or) those individuals for whom taste simply is not a sense important enough for them to appreciate its sensations fully. In a similar way, there are people who aren’t moved by music or can’t help but stifle a yawn if they are dragged into an art museum. There is nothing wrong with any of that but just because one sense is not important for one person, doesn’t mean that it would be silly for someone else to feel differently. So it is actually kind of baffling how the diet gurus get away with publicly stating their fuel opinions whereas you never hear anyone slate people for loving music or Picasso!

I think there is also a difference (albeit admittedly sometimes maybe a very fine one) between eating evoking emotions and emotional eating. When I first tried this pizza recipe, I actually cried! Yes, it naturalmente was so good. But it was also about the challenging moment in my life in which opportunities were more limited in many ways. Yet even if I couldn’t travel to Italy at the time, I could still bring a perfect little piece of Italy to my small kitchen in Helsinki.

Making a proper Italian pizza, embodies many aspects of food culture at its best. It is always a special occasion (at least if you don’t work at a pizzeria in Rome…) as it does require planning, time and some effort. However, for the special occasion, this effort for the delight of others feels quite exhilarating. It is also a social event with important people in your life – the fun of cooking together (you don’t need to slave in the kitchen by yourself), of a bit of gossip and good conversations, and of savouring the fabulous union of a thin crust, delicious tomato sauce and mozzarella. In short, you can’t really make an Italian pizza for one. Finally, there is an element of challenge in the art of making a pizza as you can never be too good at it!

When I started this blog a year ago, I hence promised a continuous investigation for the perfect pizza base. I have by no means forgotten this mission although I have grown fairly attached to that afore-mentioned recipe. Next on my list is the aim to try a Neapolitan version (the current recipes are apparently Roman ones). I additionally stated that I would dedicate a separate posting for the tomato sauce of a pizza. However, having googled this more afterwards, it seems that most Italians simply use tinned tomatoes (of good quality) or tomato puree with some seasoning. Therefore, being a big tomato fan myself, this time I added my own little and very simple version of the sauce.

As I am feeling more serious today, let me end this post by quoting an aphorism that I recently heard on an Italian radio channel (apparently by a lady who sadly died too young): “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain.” I can guarantee that a proper Italian pizza will make you dance regardless of the weather!

Anna’s Tomato Sauce for Pizza

For ~4-6 pizzas

2 cans of peeled tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

½-1 red chilli

olive oil

herbs to your taste (basil, oregano, thyme…)

salt, pepper

Chop the garlic cloves and chilli. Gently fry them in a kettle/ pan in some olive oil for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Switch your stove to the minimum heat and cover the kettle with a lid. Let the sauce simmer for several hours (I usually do that for 2-4 hours) and lightly season to your taste.

The Great Pizza Hunt – Part 2

When looking for the perfect pizza recipe online, it is hard to find a more convincing sounding address than www.pizza.it. And the recipe I discovered there certainly lives up to the site’s name!

The site contains a section on how to make pizza of restaurant quality at home. It seems that the recipe that I originally used has been replaced by an even more professional looking one. Maybe I will give that one a try as well but in the meantime, I’m sharing my original discovery of the site.

As I mentioned in my previous post about pizza, there are several tips and tricks that take you closer to that pizza perfection. In my experience, the most important one is pazienza – both to knead the dough properly as well as to let it rest and rise for hours. In this recipe the kneading part is even more important (and a lot more time-consuming) than in my earlier pizza recipe. If you have an electric mixer at your disposal, I am sure you can speed up at the process. However, with my limited baking skills without the modern technology, it takes me almost an hour to knead this dough sufficiently. It also seems that the dough certainly improves when you store it in a fridge overnight.

Another critical component of your pizza success is cooking. This recipe contains a couple of tricks on how to imitate the impact of a proper pizza oven in case you do not have one at home (as is the case for the most of us I presume…). I have also noticed that sometimes the difference between a nice pizza and a fantastic one is about one minute in cooking time.

Thus, even if a pizza may be a simple enough thing to make, perfecting it is a very different matter! Let the great pizza hunt continue…

The Perfect Pizza – Candidate # 2

Serves 4

420 g (~6 dl) flour (preferably of type “00”, or alternatively of durum wheat)

2 dl warm water

4 g fresh yeast

10 g salt

Divide the flour into two equally sized portions. Mix the yeast in 1 dl of water. Combine the yeast water with one half of the flour. Knead thoroughly until you have obtained a smooth dough with some elasticity (at the beginning this may seem like an impossible task with the smallish amount of water but miraculously you will get there after some persistent kneading!). Mix the salt in 1 dl of water and combine it with the other half of the flour. Knead again thoroughly to obtain another dough of similar consistency to the one with yeast. Finally, combine these two doughs and knead even more (at this point, you may consider never making this pizza again, but trust me, you will change your mind after having the first bite of the end result!). The ready dough should be smooth, slightly moist, soft and elastic.

Store the dough in a fridge overnight (you may skip this step if you have lost your pazienza already at the kneading phase but this does improve the quality of your dough). On the following day, take the dough back to the room temperature (+23 C) and let it rise for 3 hours.

Place an oven tray into the oven and preheat the oven to its maximum temperature (I have used 250C). Roll out the dough into four large and thin rounds, using a rolling pin. Top the pizza bases with the tomato sauce. Place a pizza base on a parchment paper and move it to the hot oven tray. Bake it in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Take the pizza base briefly out of the oven and add the mozzarella di bufala and potential other toppings of your choice and drizzle it with some olive oil. Continue cooking the pizza for another 4-7 minutes.