Tomato, to-mah-to

Thursday, 13 August 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

I have returned from Italy. What a time I had. The sights and sounds and smells and flavours were just as breathtaking as they were the last time I was there, last year. And as promised, I did some important research for my goal of perfecting the homemade pizza...

I delved into authentic pizza making all over the Tuscany and Umbria regions…Siena, Florence, Chianti, Montalcino, Arezzo, San Gimignano, Orvieto, Perugia. Squisito!

While every ingredient is important, I’ve decided there are two main stumbling blocks:

The first: tomatoes

No matter how good your tomato sauce – and it should be deadly simple – North American tomatoes just aren’t as flavourful as the ones from the old country. Our summers aren’t sunny, hot, or long enough, and the soil just isn’t the same.

So unless you’re making pizza in Italy, use canned Italian tomatoes (not fresh, even if they’re in season, and not jarred sauce). Use San Marzano brand if you can find it, or I also like the Whole Foods 365 brand (they’re imported from Italy and in fact the Whole Foods 365 brand won our taste test hands down. And we even used Italians as our taste testers!)

My pizza tomato sauce recipe is as simple as canned tomatoes, a little onion, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. When I want to get fancy, I add crushed fennel seeds.

The second stumbling block: the crust

Or more specifically, how to cook it. Most people I know don’t have a pizza oven, which produces amazing results since they reach temperatures of over 800 degrees F. That cooks the pizza fast, allowing the dough to stay moist inside while it blisters on the outside.

While on my Italian travels, I asked a few pizza cooks for the best alternative to the pizza oven. They all agreed it’s the charcoal grill. I’d heard this before and had been considering buying one. That just confirmed it.

Upon my return from Italy, a pizza loving friend of mine gave me an early birthday present…a charcoal grill! How exciting! It’s going to take me awhile to learn how to manage the fire – this is a whole different ballgame from the gas bbq, which is foolproof.

I’ve got to learn how to stoke the fire and manage the temperature. Apparently the key to getting the crust right is to maintain a low to medium fire. Brush both sides of the shaped dough with olive oil and place it on the grill. When the bottom begins to brown, flip it, add toppings and cover the grill.

And here’s a tip I picked up reading the cookbook from A16 (a pizza restaurant in San Fran): when you make the dough, use only “00” flour and let the dough sit for a couple days to achieve that tangy flavour.

If anyone has more tips on making pizza on a charcoal grill, I’d love to hear them. Writing this blog is making me starving. Tonight, I will take my first run at it with the new grill. Wish me luck!



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