But a pizza class at 18 Reasons in my San Francisco neighborhood caught my eye: “Pizza Primer: Making Homemade Pizza and Mozzarella”. I’d been to Rainbow recently and bought some “00” flour. I knew it is the flour pizzaiolos use, but honestly, I didn’t know what it was. A class seemed the venue to find out.
Our teacher, Jill Santopietro, explained that my confusion about “00” flour was understandable. She prefers an Italian, imported “00” flour. In Italy, “00” denotes a very find grind of flour. She told us that the flour used for pizza is a bread flour similar in protein content to all-purpose or slightly higher but with a “00” grind. But, for example, King Arthur’s Italian-style, 00 flour, is just 8.5% protein, closer to pastry flour and she would not recommend it for pizza. I haven’t tried it. Yet. (it’s in the mail now. Next up: compare three “00” flours!)
Jill made dough with her favorite recipe from imported “00” flour and all-purpose flour. She also made Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough as well so we could taste the difference. The pizzas we baked with her “00” flour dough were crisp, crunchy, and bubbly. The all-purpose dough made pizzas with a slightly chewier, breadier texture. And the no-knead method created a crust that was the breadiest of all. Now, if you love crunchy bread (I hope you do!), then a bread shape that maximizes crunch and crust and is topped with intriguing toppings—anchovies, olives, herbs, olive oil, cheeses, figs, flowers, you name it—tastes just fine. Thank you, I’ll take two.
We all made dough from “00” flour and had enough to each take enough home to make two personal-size pizzas. (The dough needs to rest overnight to develop flavor and fully hydrate the flour.) Since mozzarella is such an important pizza topping, Jill also taught us to shape mozzarella balls from fresh curds. (Belfiore fresh mozzarella curds are available at the Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street near Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.) This reminded me of making fresh mozzarella with Laura Chenel and Michael Chiarello. Laura made the fresh curds with a blend of goat and cow milk and we called it “goatzarella.” I can still see Michael stretching the curds and shaping tiny balls, one after another, stuffing each with a cherry tomato. There was such ease and grace in his motion that it looked like a magic trick. But tasted way better.
Several other lessons stand out from the class:
1. Use care when stretching your dough into shape. You can use a rolling pin but try to avoid the edges which would pop all the bubbles the dough developed in its long rise. Or stretch and prod it into shape by hand and accept that perhaps it won’t be a perfect circle. You can see, I hope all the little bubbles in this hand-stretched dough, not just around the rim, but in the center, too.
2. Curate your pizza to achieve success! Use a light hand with toppings no matter how much you love them all. If you want more, make another pizza! Transfer your pizza crust to a peel dusted with flour or semolina. As you top your pizza on the peel, shake it occasionally to make sure it is not sticking. If it is, peel the crust back and toss some flour under until it moves again.
3. “Never use cooked tomato sauce on your pizza.” Really?! Oops. Jill made hers by straining the liquid from imported plum tomatoes and mashing them with a little salt and olive oil and some dried oregano plucked from the stem. The blast in the hot oven cooks the sauce and results in a fresh, bright taste.
4. Season your pizza with a little salt before baking especially if using fresh mozzarella, a sweet, moist, but bland cheese.
5. Clean the pizza stone between pizzas. Jill demonstrated with a long-handled wooden spatula wrapped with a tea towel secured with a rubber band. “You need one of these,” she said, “to clean off the excess flour from your pizza stone.” So that’s how it’s done! If left on the stone, the flour will burn. Use the peel to transfer your pizza to the oven.
6. You need lots of heat. “Baking between two stones gives you the intense top and bottom heat you need,” said Jill, to bake the pizza in about five minutes. Or you can blast the top of the pizza, once baked, in the broiler. She also suggested lining the sides of the oven as well with terra cotta tiles. “I check to make sure the pizza is brown on the bottom before I take it out,” said Jill. In class, we were so eager to eat our creations, that we did not bake them quite long enough.
The very next day, I put my new skills to use on the dough I’d brought home. I turned my oven heat as high as it would go and let the oven and the two pizza stones that live in there preheat for an hour. (My old Wedgewood stove has no convection.) Then collected toppings including my fresh mozzarella, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, Parmesan, caramelized onions, fig tapenade, minced fresh rosemary and oregano, chili flakes, fresh tomato, and shredded squash blossoms. It tasted so good I’m stopping now to make another batch of dough so we can have pizza again this weekend. Practice, practice.