There’s a myth that if you are a ‘foodie’ (a word I hate) you are therefore an excellent cook. I can cook yes, but prefer someone else to do it hence my love of restaurants. They are clearly better than me and there’s no washing up afterwards.
As part of my recent trip to Italy we were given the chance to go to a pizza making workshop in a real restaurant, taught by an actual chef. Yikes…
Battling an ongoing virus that manifested itself in menopausal like temperature bursts hotter than the sun, standing in a kitchen next to a 300 degree pizza oven was…not the top thing on my list to do. But I’m a professional and was going to do this illness or not.
La Taverna dei Corsari is situated in the Lazio countryside (about an hours drive from Rome) surrounded by ridiculously breathtaking views. Pizza Hut certainly need to up their game.
We were greeted by the friendly and rather handsome Christian whose English was excellent we were relieved to discover. My GCSE Italian and knowledge of a few swear words wasn’t going to be of any help I feared. We discover Christian had recently worked in Bristol (my mum’s birthplace and the University city of my friend) so we felt reassured somehow and more at ease.
The restaurant had been opened especially for us so no audience to put us off our game. The Foo Fighters new album provided the soundtrack to our grafting and off we went.
- 1kg Flour (00)
- 750ml Water (not cold)
- 10g Live yeast
- 25g Sea salt
- 25g Oil
So this is the recipe given to me which I’ve yet to try since returning home. I’ve attempted to remember the order of proceedings and hope I haven’t missed anything crucial.
Now for the science bit. Yeast and salt are enemies. So mix the water and yeast together first, and then add to the flour and salt. Work with your hands in a bowl and when combined drop the ball onto a floured worktop.
Knead for a few minutes until dough feels elasticky. Make a well and add the oil and knead again for a few minutes. The dough should begin to feel silky at this point.
Next you need to divide your dough. Each ball needs to be about 250g less if you want a thinner pizza. You’ll then need to shape said balls, so they’re round and smooth on top and pinch and tuck the bits underneath on the flat side. Like an upside dumpling (sort of). Set the dough balls aside on a tray – not too close together and cover with a damp tea towel (not wet) and leave for a few hours until they have doubled in size.
Ok when the dough has risen you need to give it a good dousing in semolina which will give it a nice texture. Back onto the floured work surface you need to flatten your dough ball leaving a rim around the edge. You flatten the inside in a circular motion – pressing and turning at the same time. We were told to imagine working a steering wheel. Try not to rip a hole in it. Obviously we didn’t do this…..
On to toppings. We were making a classic Margarita so used one ladle of tomato sauce per pizza, which was clearly homemade. Then add a generous sprinkling of fresh grated mozzarella and a few fresh basil leaves and you’re done.
Now came probably the hardest bit – getting the thing off the bloody work surface and into the oven. This step probably wouldn’t apply to most of us as we don’t have a pizza oven in our kitchens. After several attempts of sliding the pizza paddle under my creation (and some damaged dough and use of Italian swear words) I managed to get it into the oven and even give it a little turn mid way though. If you’re making this at home I would whack oven up as high as it goes and make sure fully hot. You can also get a pizza stone which is worth looking at.
After five or so minutes here it was. My friend and I felt a massive sense of achievement and Christian was encouraging and kind even when we were struggling somewhat.
The highlight after this was sitting outside overlooking the mountains with a glass of vino with pizzas made for us instead. Pear, walnut and Gorgonzola (I don’t like this cheese but loved the pizza) and another of pig’s cheek, smoked mozzarella and chicoria which is a leafy spinach like vegetable that grew nearby.
Finally we were presented with a sweet pizza. Dark chocolate, creme patisserie in the crust and fresh fruit and cream. The pizzas had to be taken back home in boxes due to the sheer amount we were given, but they were so delicious and obviously far superior to our attempts.
We had a brilliant afternoon and I can’t wait to give the dough a try at home. If you’re ever in this part of the world and fancy giving pizza making a shot, you can get in touch with my Italian based friend Libby Greenfield for the details. Ciao!