A Pizza My Heart
Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar star in Extra Virgin, Wednesday nights at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT.
I started making pizzas when I was 10. My mom celebrates her birthday in June, and every year we throw a great garden party with anywhere between 80 and 100 guests. Needless to say, lots of food is prepared and many jugs of wine are consumed. One of the staples during this amazing celebration is pizza, which we bake in a 14th-century bread oven, built under the porch of our farmhouse.
Back when I was younger, my parents would call in our local pizzaiolo, Carlo. He owned the most famous pizzeria in Fiesole, and was always the evening’s attraction—flipping dough through the air, his face stained by charcoal and his hands white with flour. He fascinated me, and always let me help out during the evening. An average of about 200 pizzas came out of the oven over the course of an evening; it was like working in a factory. By the time a new pizza hit the cutting board, it was gone.
I always thought of my parents' friends as locusts! They were so damn hungry, and pushy: "Make me one with mushrooms!" "Let’s have one with only cheese and herbs!" And when they asked "Where is the prosciutto?" I reminded them, "My father is Jewish—there is no prosciutto pizza tonight. Sorry!"
But I am proud to say I had a great teacher when it comes to making pizza, and I'm happy to share what I’ve learned.
Baking pizza in a wood fire oven in your garden is the way to achieve perfect results. In Italy, it’s a tradition for celebrating the warm season on sunny Sunday afternoons with friends. But there are many ways to make and enjoy a delicious pie in your kitchen.
One way to make pizza at home is al taglio. It’s a traditional style pizza, baked in a rectangular sheet pan and cut into square pieces. In Italy, you would buy a piece at a local bakery while strolling through the city. During the winter months, my mom and I used to make pizzas like this. They are very easy to prepare—no sauce spilling, and no need for special tools. Grease the pan with olive oil or lard, roll out your dough and lay it in the pan. In the event that you put a hole in the dough while rolling it, you can easily patch it up, like the tire of a car.
You can also bake pizza on a stone. Pizza stones are are made from slices of real stones like terra cotta, or from extremely heat-resistant composite materials. The difference between the baking sheet and the stones is the way that heat is propagated to the dough, and the fact that stones really help you obtain a crispy crust. When using one, keep in mind the following:
- Put the stone inside the oven before preheating it. Never place a cold pizza stone in a hot oven or it will crack.
- Make sure the stone is completely dry before using. If it is even slightly wet or damp, it will crack as it begins to heat.
- The stone will be very, very hot once it reaches a high enough temperature to bake a crispy pizza. Be careful not to burn yourself when moving the pizza onto it—use a pizza paddle.
- When the pizza is done and out of the oven, turn the oven off and let the stone cool inside. Don’t let water come into contact with the stone when it’s hot, or it will crack.
- Once the stone is completely cool, rinse it with water only. Do not use soap of any kind—the stone is porous and will absorb traces of the soap.
I have also always wanted to try the Pizza Kettle, as it seems to be a fantastic and on a budget-friendly.
Traditional pizza is usually very thin, but you can roll the dough for a thickness to your liking. Find your favorite recipe— here is mine—or buy a pre-made dough and, with time and exercise, you'll find your favorite thickness. A general rule is to not over-work the dough, as it will progressively harden and loose elasticity, becoming more difficult to shape. Rolling pizza dough is a skill that will become easier with time. Keep practicing!
Be careful not to punch holes in your dough when rolling. Once that happens, there is not much to do but wet your hands with warm water and roll it again from scratch. If you are using a pizza peel to move the pie from your working surface to the oven and your dough has a hole in it, the sauce will leak underneath and the peel will get wet, making it impossible for the dough to slide on and off the peel. When it happens to me, instead of re-rolling the dough I just bake it without sauce. Season it with some fresh rosemary and sage, some salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Make sure not to pour oil through the hole!
Forget abundance! A good pizza does not need to be loaded with sauce and cheese. Experiment with just a couple of your favorite ingredients at a time—tomatoes, olives, prosciutto, mozzarella—anything you like, but keep it to a minimum. A pizza with too much sauce and toppings will make the dough wet and hard to handle with a pizza peel, and too heavy to unload properly into the oven—at that point there is nothing else to do but throw it into the fire, clean the cooking surface and start from scratch.
Some pizza dressings do not need to be cooked for the entire time, but should be added only at the very end. There is no point in preparing a fantastic pizza with fresh arugula if you melt the herbs down to nothing at 600 plus degrees. They will have no flavor and not look very attractive. I add fresh herbs only at the very end, and cook them no more than a minute. The same goes for delicate ingredients like prosciutto—add it at the very end, and it will look and taste much better. Here are my recipes for White Pizza and Margherita Pizza.
One more tip: You should try a Nutella pizza at least once in your life!
Watch Gabriele and Debi Mazar cook meals from their home Wednesdays at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.