After having such a good time at last week’s cooking lesson on vegetables, I was very happy to be invited back for this week’s lesson on making pizza.
Learning how to make pizza in Italy? Yes, please.
I was also lucky enough to be accompanied by two fellow language tutors, Aviole and Zafiro. They are also teaching in the Montecosaro/Civitanova area and we’ve become friends quickly. We American girls are quickly taking over the Marche region – and it doesn’t seem like anyone minds! In fact, we have been affectionately named “The Spice Girls” by Andrea and the rest of crew at Sandwich Time (Andrea’s restaurant, beware the flash intro and auto-start music) and Auxo Store (the lovely venue for our cooking lessons).
Andrea was thorough in his lessons on making pizza. We covered everything from the best types of yeast to use, how to properly bloom the yeast, what kind of flour is best for making pizza like that enjoyed in the Marche region (zero farina, apparently – though I’m still not entirely sure what that means), the amounts of each ingredient to use, and the proper order of mixing them into the dough.
After showing us all of that, Andrea instructed the class on how to properly knead the bread. Some of us were more successful than others, but everyone managed to get their dough fairly smooth and elastic before too long.
Andrea had prepared some dough earlier in the day, of course, and included some with rosemary (rosmarino) inside the dough. In the last year or so I’ve developed an aversion to rosemary for some reason, so I chose the plain dough.
During the lesson we were also lucky enough to learn from the master pizzaiolo at Sandwich Time. Unfortunately my Italian is still pretty bad, so I didn’t understand the vast majority of what he was saying directly – but through Zafiro’s translation and my knowledge of cooking, I was able to understand and explain most of what he was saying about gluten content, elasticity of the dough, and the influence of water and other ingredients on the pizza dough.
The concept of making dough can be tricky, especially because the best teacher is experience, so explaining it can be hard. There are so many different schools of thought on proper kneading, dough hydration, etc - and everyone's idea of what's best is different. For this dough we kneaded it only until it lost it's craggy edges and formed a smooth surface - not the half hour of kneading I've seen some recipes call for. In the end it created a pleasantly crisp, thin crust with just the slightest hint of chew.
Andrea took a little piece of the pizza dough with rosemary and rolled it out quite thin. We then cut it into thin strips and twisted it into the cutest little breadsticks. We topped them with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and sale grosso (a very large, chunky salt like that for pretzels). Quite tasty, extremely easy, and definitely on my list of things to make for future dinner parties.
Whereas last week we paired wine with our vegetables, this week we paired beer with our pizza. Marco, Andrea’s partner at Sandwich Time, brought four different kinds of beer to try including Birra Moretti Grand Cru and 4 Punto 7. We also had a triple IPA and an additional IPA that was in what looked like a champagne bottle. I am not usually a fan of IPA’s because of their bitter aftertaste, but these were truly pleasant to drink. The triple IPA had a brilliant, floral aroma that was quite pleasant. My favorite, however, was the Moretti Grand Cru. It had these spicy notes that really warmed it up – very pleasant. I plan on enjoying as much of that as possible while here in Italia.
Andrea provided a great variety of toppings to put on our pizzas – everything from mushrooms and bresaolo to hot dogs and corn. He also showed us how to make some traditional Italian pizzas like Margherita, Caprese, Cappricciosa (mozzarella, mushrooms, artichokes, and prosciutto cotto), Quatro Stagione (meaning “four seasons,” which involves segmenting the pizza into quarters with each having its own topping), and others.
I saw some very interesting combinations. One traditional pizza bianco (white pizza) had grated potatoes, onion, rosemary, and olive oil. I saw one that was black olive, corn, and hot dogs. It really ran the whole gamut of tastes.
My favorite pizza is cheese and onion, but I added some artichokes to round it out a little more. It was rather delicious and I was quite pleased with my creation.
Some of our classmates were surprised at how many toppings my fellow Americans put on their pizzas, and insisted that in Italy – less is more. But, after the pizzas started coming out of the ovens they tried the loaded pies and finally admitted that they were pretty good. Perhaps we Americanas can teach the Italians a little something about cooking while we are here too?
Andrea invited me back again next week (he’s a lovely man) for their lesson on dolce (desserts). He asked me what a typical American dessert was and I of course responded with apple pie. Perhaps it will be making a surprise appearance next week?
All in all, it was another wonderful experience. It’s amazing how even though I don’t speak Italian barely at all and understand only a little more, I speak the language of food – and I’m understanding that, very well.