As anyone who spends any time ordering takeaways will tell you, not all pizza is created equal. Every restaurant, however shady or unassuming, has their own unique approach to prep and cooking, delivering a different pie to everyone else. More often than not, the results leave a lot to be desired. However, there are certain chefs who have taken the traditional blueprint of dough, tomato and cheese and transformed it into an art. Eating one of these pizzas is less a drunken midnight indulgence and more of a gourmet treat.
Since the first pizza was created in 18th century Naples, Italy has given rise to a wealth of regional specialties and expert artisans. In street stalls and restaurants up and down the country, maestros slave away in front of scorching ovens creating their own baked masterpieces. With all this talent, it takes something really special to become the best in the business.
Franco Pepe is perhaps the biggest name in pizza. His family have been making pies in his native Campania for three generations and his restaurant, Pepe in Grani, is now internationally lauded for making the best pizza in the world. This is a man who knows his dough.
For Pepe, there are several key things that separate good pizza from great. Taught to bake by his father, he is a big believer in locally sourced high quality ingredients. For Pepe, great pizza is impossible with bulk bought and mass produced supermarket staples. His restaurant is dedicated to the kilometro zero movement - an Italian campaign committed to inspiring restaurateurs to use only what is produced within their immediate vicinity. Therefore, every one of Pepe’s spectacular pizzas is made with local ingredients.
As long as the ingredients that you use are fresh and high quality, Pepe is a big believer in experimentation and creativity. Unlike some Neapolitan traditionalists, he is not confined by the holy trinity of mozzarella, basil and tomato. Some of his most famous creations include pork, mushrooms and sardines, and involve unconventional techniques such as deep frying. His personal favourite is a calzone stuffed with curly endive. The message is clear - toppings are entirely a matter of taste.
According to Pepe, the real secret to great pizza is in the base. Once you’ve mastered dough making, Pepe believes that it’s perfectly possible for every chef to make amazing pies in their own home. In his own restaurant, Pepe himself never follows a recipe, instead feeling the dough with practised hands and adding and subtracting key ingredients according to atmospheric conditions such as temperature and humidity. Clearly, for less experienced cooks, this is impossible. Fortunately, he has laid out a basic blueprint for great dough for amateurs to follow at home.
The ingredients list is surprisingly simple. Chefs will need 1900g of 00 pasta flour, 1 litre of water, 150g of leftover pizza dough, 50g of salt, 5g of fresh yeast. To begin, 760g of the floor should be placed in a bowl and slowly mixed with the water. The old dough should then be mixed until fully incorporated, followed by the salt and a constant, steady stream of the remaining flour. Once a batter-like consistency has been achieved, the yeast should be crumbled in.
The flour should be continually added until it has all been used up, before the entire mixture is kneaded for about 15 minutes to achieve and smooth and consistent dough. This should then be covered and left to prove for six hours at room temperature. After this time, the dough should be divided into individual 250g balls, keeping back 150g for the next time you make pizza. The individual portions should be left for a further three hours of proving, before being ready to shape into bases.
With so many options on the table for hungry pizza lovers, it’s easy to settle for something substandard. If you want to taste something truly exceptional, however, this recipe really is the only way to go. It might take some extra effort, but the rewards are well worth it.