Frying pan Pizza
The best pizza this side of Naples
Pizza should be and can be a real treat rather than just a takeaway easy option, if you follow a few simple rules.
First rule: thin crust. The New Yorkers might frown at me, and possibly rightly so, since I’ve never had a New York pizza – in New York. I’ve had pizza in Naples though, and it was THIN. Seriously thin. You could see the daylight through it if you chose to lift it up and watch the world through a pizza base.
Second rule: less is more, like with so many things. My near and dear pizza aficionado once constructed a base topped with so much it exploded in the oven. Greedy, greedy – no more, now he’s seen the light and shouts at me ‘hold that cheese!’ when I'm building my perfect pizza.
Third rule: go slow with the dough. Let it prove over a long period of time, so it’s almost a sourdough pizza considering how little yeast you put into it.
Fourth rule: the recipe won’t make much difference. I’ve tried Peter Reinhart’s, Heston Blumenthal’s, others – at the end of the day it’s flour (00 helps, but not obligatory), water, salt and yeast to make it up to firm but pliable dough. Just add more salt than you’d think fitting and let it prove long. Loooong.
Fifth rule, most importantly: no good unless you have a wood fired oven – now here’s the trick. It comes from Pizza Pilgrims, brothers James and Thom Elliot, I read about it a few years ago and it was a revelation. Indeed, nothing will reproduce a wood oven - bar a smoking hot pan and a roasting hot grill. No oven involved. Absolutely ace method. The best pizza this side of Naples.
- Makes 3 large pizzas. For vegetarian option, just omit the ham.
- 400G Italian ‘00’ grade flour, or strong white bread flour
- 3g fresh or ¼ tsp fast action yeast
- 10g salt
- 240g/ml water, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp olive oil plus a little more for kneading
- a little semolina
- For the topping:
- tomato sauce made from 1lb fresh tomatoes or one tin, recipe here*
- 3-4 tbsp grated parmesan
- smoked salt (optional)
- a small bunch of basil leaves
- 150g good quality cooking mozzarella**
- 3-5 slices of prosciutto, or cooked ham if preferred
- a few cherry tomatoes
- a few olives (optional)
- olive oil
*just skip the basil – it will come onto the pizza on its own
**mozzarella di bufala is gorgeous and I’m not too stingy to use it but it’s really wet in the middle and it makes the pizza a bit soggy. So unless you insist on the buffalo stuff and want to drain and squeeze it really well, use good quality cow’s milk cheese meant for cooking with.
Start the dough the night before you want to make the pizza. Mix the flour with the yeast and salt, add the water and oil and knead for about 10-15 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic, doesn’t stick to your hands or bounces off the mixer bowl walls. Place it in a large bowl covered with cling film and keep in ambient temperature for 18-24 hours.
Prepare the sauce and bring all the topping ingredients to room temperature. Halve the cherry tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds, sprinkle the cut surface with salt and place them cut side down on a paper towel, to drain the moisture. Slice the mozzarella or tear it roughly. Thinly slice the olives, if using. Tear prosciutto slices into smaller pieces.
Divide the dough in three pieces (about 200g each), shape into balls and leave on a floured surface for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat a frying pan large enough for a pizza to fit in (30cm diameter) on the hob, until smoking. Preheat the grill to the highest setting – I find that putting an upturned roasting tin in the grill compartment helps, otherwise the pizza won’t be sitting close enough to the heat source.
Stretch the dough balls out or roll them out with (although the latter is considered a cardinal sin) to discs about 25cm in diameter, making sure the rim is formed at the edge to catch the sauce. Sprinkling some semolina under the dough disc might help transport it into the pan, if you want to use a peel.
When the pan is smoking hot transfer the dough disc into it, using a peel, just your hands or half-wrapping it around a rolling pin. Lay it flat in the pan, spread the tomato sauce over it, sprinkle with parmesan and smoked salt, if using, add a few basil leaves, a third of the mozzarella pieces and the prosciutto chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and place a few cherry tomato halves and olive slices on it.
When the base starts to get charred (use a spatula to look underneath), take the pan off the hob and place it under the grill. This won’t take any time at all – as soon as the cheese starts to bubble, it’s ready.
Slide it off the pan onto a wooden board – this is a tricky bit as the large pan will be heavy and hot – cut with a pizza wheel and serve. Bring the pan back on the hob to smoking hot for the next pizza.