Natalina writes a bi-weekly column for Guelph Today called “Off the Eaten Path”, this is an excerpt from that column along with a relevant recipe!
Growing up in Guelph in the seventies I have many fond memories of my father, a downtown business owner, bringing a pizza home from the local, independent pizzeria to watch “Hockey Night in Canada” in our living room on Saturday nights.
Fast forward to today and Guelph, like any city in Canada, has too many pizzerias to count! The independently owned, pizza restaurants were mostly replaced by franchises and the beloved pizza became just another fast food. They still have a place in the market, but authentic woodfired pizza, like those you find in Italy, are another option entirely.
To really delve into this topic, we must first look at the types of pizza available in Italy today. Rome, among other places, is known for its “pizza al trancio” with an assortment of toppings and baked in a pan. It’s thick, bread like crust is light and airy. Makes a perfect snack or light lunch. This is what I call a “thick crust, pan pizza”. (Recipe below)
The famous, wood fired pizza is sold in pizzerias and typically just for “cena” or the evening meal. They are thin, round, individual sized pizzas, baked right on the pizza stone with the signature char marks on the crust. Now this is what I am talking about!
They are popping up on menus more than ever and they will boast things like “00” flour, San Marzano DOP tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala. So, what exactly are these ingredients and does a good, thin crust, woodfired pizza need to have them to be good?
To answer this question, we need to break down the pizza into the three elements: crust, sauce, and toppings, plus the cooking method.
A thin crust, woodfired pizza must have a thin crust. The best way to get a thin crust is using a majority of imported “00’ Italian flour or “00” style, flour milled in North America. (This is an extra finely milled flour with a specific protein range for pizza)
And just as important as the flour is the dough. There are many recipes to make this type of dough, but the best has a long fermentation or ‘rise time” that gives it the right gluten development, stretch to achieve the thin crust, and flavor development. (See here for my Direct Pizza Dough with a long ferment recipe. I also have a complete Pizza Course on my YouTube Channel)
The thick crust, pan pizza mentioned above would use a different flour and dough recipe entirely.
A woodfired pizza should have a simple tomato sauce. For this reason, the best quality tomatoes, such as San Marzano Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes, are usually used. I like to drain away some of the extra liquid. Then simply, hand crushed, with a little salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is all you need. The sauce will cook with the pizza in the oven.
Mozzarella cheese and toppings
Typically, these pizzas are all about the perfect ratio of crust, sauce, cheese, and not more than about three toppings total. Again, due to its simplicity, the best fresh mozzarella is used, either a mozzarella di bufala or a fior di latte. Either preforms well at elevated temperatures and although they have a high moisture content the dry heat takes care of that.
To create a woodfired pizza, you need a woodfired oven with a stone floor. Most are imported from Italy. A woodfired oven can reach temperatures higher than nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit and this dry heat creates the perfect environment for the thin, airy crust. The pizza stone ensures the heat is equally distributed and the crust does not burn.
Although you can attempt a thin crust pizza in a regular oven, with all the right ingredients, but the results will never be the same.
The specialized ingredients and a woodfired oven are most definitely required to create the optimal woodfired pizza. There is even an association of real pizza Napoletana, AVPN, founded in Naples in 1984 which outlines all the strict requirements to create the true Napoletana woodfired pizza. This is the specialty woodfired pizza found in Naples with the distinctive “cornicione” or raised rim crust, with the characteristic char marks.
Since about 2011 woodfired pizza has been available in Guelph and at last count there are five establishments in town that have a woodfired oven. They all serve up the classic woodfired pizzas, and one has the AVPN distinction which means they are creating the true Napoletana woodfired pizza.
I recently spoke to Bernie Dyer, Owner/Operator of Buon Gusto Restaurant, downtown Guelph, which was one of the first restaurants in Guelph to have a woodfired oven.
Buon Gusto Restaurant, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, opened in December 2012 with a lot of anticipation in the city. Dyer describes their woodfired oven, imported from Reggello, Tuscany, as “il cuore of the restaurant, or the heart”.
Dyer told me; “with such a large Italian community in Guelph and how close it is to Toronto; most guests already knew what to expect and many were thankful they no longer had to go out of town for these speciality pizzas”. They have eleven varieties from the most popular, the classic Margherita, to the Fig and Prosciutto which combines mascarpone cheese, mission figs, prosciutto, thyme leaves, balsamic, grana padano.
True to Italian woodfired pizza their pizzaiolos make their dough fresh, daily with “00’ flour and they use imported San Marzano DOP tomatoes along with fior di latte mozzarella cheese. The dough is hand stretched and the pizzas are baked at nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit for just ninety seconds.
So, it seems although we are not traveling much these days you can still get a taste of Italy here, in our own backyard. Now will you enjoy wine with that pizza or beer?
Contact Natalina if you are interested in a Fontana Forni woodfired oven imported from Italy!
My cookbook, Natalina’s Kitchen: Bringing homemade back! features 50+ Classic Italian Recipes. You can find it on Amazon.com for a limited time at a special price of $15 USD, regularly, $24.99. Ships to Canada and the USA. This recipe is one of 50 featured.
Simple Pizza Dough, thick crust, pan pizza
- 1 traditional dry yeast Or 2 ¼ tsp. loose
- 1 cup luke warm water
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour OR 1 ½ cups of all-purpose plus 1 cup semola flour
- Dissolve yeast in warm water in a warm bowl. Add salt, olive oil and flour(s). Mix in stand mixer 1 minute on low speed.
- Increase speed slightly and mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes.
- Place in greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover, let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, approx. 1 hour.
- Grease a cookie sheet or 14-inch pizza pan with veg. shortening or veg. oil. Using oiled hands stretch out the dough to cover the pan ensuring it is equal thickness. Top with desired toppings and bake at 450 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden and bottom of the crust is golden.