A lesson on making pizzas

We didn’t just spend our time in Italy eating food… we also had Italian lessons, in which we learnt about… food and drinks! ?

One of the days was particularly intensive as we first studied the “theory” of making pizzas, and right after that we put the knowledge into action as we were taught how to make pizzas by Michele, a pizzaiolo i.e. a pizza maker (or maybe a master of pizza? ?).

Two tables were set up: one with all the ingredients and another one for us to work on.

To prepare the dough, we built a sort of volcano crater on the table with the flour,  added water to it, and slowly mixed them together.  Then we added a dash of olive oil, and kept kneading until it became quite elastic. We also added yeast and salt but I don’t remember when; probably at ‘crater inception time’, before adding the water.

The pizza dough needs to rest overnight to let the yeast do its work, but we weren’t going to wait until the next day for the next stage in our pizza lesson, so after we created our little balls of dough, we covered them with plastic, set them aside, and forgot about them.

Then Michele handed us some prepared dough balls to roll and stretch them into pizza bases, and so we totally forgot about the dough balls we had just set aside. But when we looked at them again, they had become authentic monsters, in the heat of August:

Monstrous dough balls
Monstrous dough balls – HELP!

Stretching the dough into a pizza base turned out to be waaaay harder than I expected. We were not using rolling pins; instead we were meant to flatten and stretch the dough from the center outwards using our hands, turning the dough each time and repeating the process until it was all flat, evenly thin and nicely circular. That way you avoid stretching it too much from the outside and having holes in the pizza base.

But… what happened was that I applied too much pressure in the center, and it would make that bit too thin and very hole-prone. We don’t want pizzas with holes on them!

Trying to fix it by ‘re-fusing’ the dough again, as if it were plasticine,  turned out to be quite difficult, perhaps due to a combination of heat and humidity (or lack thereof); the bits just would not mix again, and the holes stayed as holes, and the pizza just would not stretch in a nice circular manner. For some reason, it wanted to stay… rectangular!

After many futile attempts to recover from the mess, Michele handed me another dough ball and I started again from the beginning. And guess what…? I messed up again! But I failed in a better way. So I reckon that I could get good at it if I practiced it ?

My two pizzas
My two pizzas

Then it was time to add the toppings. We added tomato sauce with a circular motion, using a ladle, starting from the center, then mozzarella and basil. You could add olives optionally, but that’s it!

Since I had two bases I decided to top both of them, and so the two pizzas on the bottom of the picture are the result of my efforts. First on the right, second on the left (you can see it started to be a bit more rounded and less rectangular). It was fun to build two pizzas “in parallel”!

Then it was time to bake our creations.

Michele scraped each pizza off the table, and put it on the dish, then quickly rushed to the oven with the assistance of a gentle soul holding an umbrella, because it was absolutely pouring with rain! It was such an spectacle!

Michele in action
Michele in action

It was also quite unnerving; we had spent too much time fighting the dough and many of the pizzas had got stuck to the table, so it often looked as if the pizzas would break or fold in this process. Aaaagh!

The fire oven, ready for our pizzas
The fire oven, with a pizza being baked

It was now time for two things:

  1. wash our hands thoroughly (they were so full of dough)
  2. have lunch!

All this kneading and stretching had obviously opened our appetites, so we sat and started snacking on the salad, and soon after the pizza stream began.

We didn’t know whose pizza it was anymore, all we know is there were many and when you thought it was all done, Michele would emerge from the end of the kitchen with yet another pizza.

We took to the first pizzas with savage hunger. We were a bit more cautious with the subsequent waves, muttering something along the lines of “so many carbs”, “possibly not good”, “perhaps we should politely decline”, etc, but the staff kept putting these faces of “it’s been made with love, isn’t it?” and we kept eating pizza after pizza, admiring their rusticity for a few seconds before tearing them in pieces and splitting them amongst us.

Interestingly, we did not feel as if we were going to die of a pizza overdose. We attribute this mysterious paradox to the bases being very thin and the ingredients of high quality.


More posts from this trip.

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