May it Please the Palate

The best pizza in the world 

Nick Roumel, Nacht Law

Among the toughest and most exacting food competitions in all the world is the Campionato Mondiale della Pizza, or Pizza World Championships, held annually in Parma, Italy. This year 600 contestants, from 30 countries, entered for the chance to be crowned Pizza King by Miss Italy. The Margherita Pizza category is the benchmark by which the best pizzaiolos are measured.

The specifications for this classic (tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil) require the dough to include only water, salt, yeast and flour, so no crazy crust allowed. The dough must also be stretched by hand, and the pizza must be cooked in a 400- to 450-degrees Celsius oven (750 - 850 F). This will bake the pie in less than 90 seconds.

This year’s winner was, of course, Australian, Johnny Di Francesco of Melbourne, who offered ABC News his tips for a “fair dinkum” pie for the home cook. I’ve converted Di Francesco’s personal recipe from that oh-so-sensible worldwide metric standard (that the United States is about to adopt any day now): 

 

Margherita Pizza

Ingredients:

1/3 liter of water (11 1/4 oz.)

1 gram of fresh yeast (1/3 tsp)

16.6 grams fine sea salt (2 3/4 tsp)

.56 kilos (1 1/4 lbs.) pizza flour

    (DiFrancesco uses “Le 5 Stagioni”)

San Marzano tomatoes, pureed 

    and seasoned lightly, perhaps with 

    a touch of salt

Mozzarella, “DOP approved:” either a

    fior di latte (fresh cow’s milk) or a 

   buffalo mozzarella (from domesticated

   buffalo)

Basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

 

Directions:

1. Dissolve the salt in the water. Then add 10 to 15 percent of the flour. 

2. Only then should you add the yeast. Dissolve it in the liquidy dough and then gradually add the rest of your flour until you’re ready to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. DiFrancesco explains, “If you put the yeast in with the salt [before adding some flour], the yeast dies or you lessen the life on the yeast.” 

3. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest for about two hours on the counter. Then, divide the rested dough into smaller balls and let it rest another six hours without refrigeration. Finally, stretch the dough out by hand only. No rolling pins! 

4. Add the tomatoes in a light paint, and arrange slices of mozzarella. 

5. If baking at home, an outdoor clay or wood oven is ideal. Otherwise heat your oven as hot as possible. I read about one guy who disabled his self-cleaning oven lock so he could cook at 550 F°. Use a pizza stone and preheat it as hot as possible. This will take about 4 - 8 minutes in a conventional oven depending on how crispy you want the crust.

6. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can finish it on the stovetop on a steel or aluminum tray. Di Francesco told ABC News, “You can stretch your pizza onto the tray, top it with all your ingredients and put it into a conventional oven. What you’ll normally find is the top will cook really well, but the bottom may not cook too well because you’re putting a cold tray in a hot oven. So to finish it off, I would take the pizza out of the oven and turn my cooktop on and put the tray directly on the cooktop to brown the bottom.”

7. Finish with basil leaves and extra-virgin olive oil. If you put those ingredients on before cooking the pizza, “It will brown up too quickly.”

Di Fransceso’s Melbourne restaurant, 400 Gradi, has seen a spike in popularity since winning the world championships in early April. Graciously, he states he has no plans to raise the price of a pie from just under $20 American. 

 I suspect our champion pizzaiolo might have a touch of Italian blood, and he does confess to studying the art of pizza making in Naples. But if you’re ever tired of shrimp on the barbie night after freaking night, you might want to try your own version of homemade pizza. Play around with ingredients, as is your wont. But the basic, 8 ingredient Margherita presented here does not hide flaws. 

If it doesn’t work out, you can always feed your mistakes to the dog — and fly to Australia for the real stuff.

—————

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He has a blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com which badly needs updating!

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