Take a little pizza my heart, baby
We all know that if you want real blow-yoursocks-off pizza, you have to get yourself over to the home of the wood oven in Naples. But did you know that you can make an impressive version in your own domestic oven? The key is making sure that the oven is as hot as it can possibly get, and that you have either a pizza or bread stone or a hefty baking tray hot and awaiting the arrival of your pizza.
Of course the ingredients play a major part, too. My basic pizza dough recipe is easy to make, and (under the right conditions) creates a lovely, chewy dough that puffs up in some places and crisps up in others.
The temptation with pizzas is to pile them up with everything you have in your fridge that might taste nice on a pizza. But the dough needs contact with the heat in order to perform, so less is more when it comes to pizza toppings. If you are making a tomato-based pizza, the layer of tomato, in particular, needs to be modest, or the dough underneath won’t cook.
If you find yourself with loads of different ingredients you want to use, my advice would be to divide them up into companionable groups and just make multiple pizzas. I’d also like to dispel the myth that pizza has to be a large, cheesy, tomato-laden thing. In Italy, pizza is many things to many people. It is eaten throughout the day, sometimes in a small slice as a snack, and at other times covering the entirety of a restaurant table.
You can try almost anything as long as you respect the rules. For example, the recent appearance of chicken tikka masala pizza on some takeaway menus takes fusion cuisine too far, if you ask me.
Calzone is the rebel of the pizza family. It is nothing more than a regular pizza folded in half, but the fact that its appearance is not really important and it can hide many sins means that it is perfect for those who like a multitude of toppings and flavours going on.
My calzone recipe is for a very simple meat ragù with lots of mozzarella, but you can be adventurous. It’s important that it has a wet sauce and some melting cheese, but you can try a few different combinations in there – slices of salami, discs of courgette. Children love the element of surprise about calzone too.
White pizza — pizza bianca — is a thing of brilliance. Leaving out the tomato sauce means that all the other ingredients get a chance to express themselves, so it’s a great moment to use any lovely cheeses or cured meat you might have. Scrubby, aromatic herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage also respond really well to a bit of direct heat, so make sure you find a way to include them.
The key to success with this style of pizza is making sure that there is enough cheese and oil and that you always have at least one standout ingredient, like anchovies.
Finally, my Nutella pizza is contentious, but it’s a fixture on Neapolitan pizzeria menus, and Nutella is originally an Italian product, so there.
I don’t know where I first heard about this brilliant dish, but I’m glad I did. I’ve tried it a few ways (in the name of research), but have found that I prefer it spread inside the pizza so that it can quietly melt, as opposed to spread on top.
Cutting the pizza in half is tricky and can result in burnt fingers, so don’t feel ashamed if you opt for the easiest style. As you can imagine, you can’t really get it wrong with this one.
Makes one large or six small pizzas 150ml/5 fl oz lukewarm water ½ tbsp dried yeast A pinch of sugar 1 tbsp olive oil 250g/9oz strong white flour, plus extra for dusting 1 tsp salt
In a bowl, mix the warm water with the yeast, sugar and oil. Leave for 8-10 minutes or so to froth up. Meanwhile, place the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the wet ingredients and mix with your hands or a spoon until you have a sticky dough. Keep adding handfuls of flour or drops of water until you have a workable consistency.
Turn the dough out on to a wellfloured surface and knead for five minutes until stretchy and glossy. Return to the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise somewhere warm for one hour.
Turn out again and knead for a few more minutes before rolling out on a floured surface, then transfer to a pizza stone or a hot tray to cook. 3 Italian pork sausages, removed from their skins and crumbled 100ml/3½fl oz white wine 1 x 400g/14oz tin plum tomatoes, drained, rinsed and chopped 150g/5oz frozen peas 250g/9oz mozzarella, ripped into small bits 2 handfuls of basil
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat and cook the garlic until it begins to feel sticky, then add the beef and sausage meat.
Season with a little salt and pepper and turn the heat up a little. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes until the meat is browned.
Pour in the wine, wait three minutes, then add the tomatoes, peas and a splash of water. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to its highest setting and put two large flat trays inside to heat up.
Divide the dough into two or four pieces and roll into large rounds. Place each one on a flour-dusted surface or plate. Spread the ragù evenly over the dough bases, leaving a 2cm edge. Scatter over the mozzarella and basil, then pick up one half and fold it over the other. Crimp the edges by pinching them, making sure the sauce doesn’t leak out.
Carefully transfer to the hot trays and place in the very hot oven for 15-20 minutes until the surface is golden and puffed up. Eat immediately.
Slice work if you can get it: from left, beef ragù and pea calzone; pizzette bianche; Nutella pizza. Inset: the logo of the AVPN, Naples’s pizza police