Pizza originated in Naples and if you've eaten one there then you'll understand why everyone from Naples makes a point of that - they're exquisite. Whether it's in an upmarket waterside restaurant gazing over the bay or a back street alley surrounded by the patrons hanging laundry.
The pizza that we make, an hour away up here in the mountains is a little different but equally fantastico.
It's simple food, cibo povero, but the love and time that has gone into each ingredient is what makes the dish something special. In a pizza those ingredients are the dough, tomatoes, olive oil, basil, mozzarella and the transformative powers of time and nature.
Let's start with the tomato sauce. In the summer most families in the south of Italy will preserve their tomato crop in various forms of sauce. Passata, salsa condita, salsa con pomodorini, See our page for how we make the sauce. For pizza we mix a couple of bottles of salsa con pomodorini and pacchetelle, add plenty of Uncle Antonios extra virgin olive oil, basil, oregano & garlic from the garden, and some salt. We leave that to marinate together for a few hours while we prepare the dough.
Now, in Italy you're feeding a big family so we are making plenty of pizza! We start with a couple of kilos of lively starter (levito di madre). Either keep your own or buy some from the local Baker. Pour this into 10kg of '0' flour, add 10 tablespoons of salt and mix, adding warm water bit by bit (in total around 7 litres or so). Once the the ingredients are combined, get kneading. Punch the dough. It's hard work. Really hard work. After a couple of minutes my arms ache and my knuckles are sore. Add some water. Punch down. Now we turn the dough over and repeat the punching down, adding more water as we go. And turn again. This continues for around half an hour!! Carmela tells us that when she was a young girl, as the eldest of seven siblings, her and her parents would make bread every 10 days or so. In a large wooden vessel, with 50kgs of flour and around 35 litres of water taken from the village well and heated over a fire. They would knead and punch the dough for an hour before baking in their wood oven, working at night to avoid the daylights oppressive heat.
The dough is now ready, and Carmela looks pretty exhausted. It must rest for at least an hour but first Carmela blesses it. "Crisci pane alla massa come criscivo Gesu' Cristo dint'a la fassa" which roughly translates as "May this bread grow as the baby Jesus grew in his baby grow".
Grease several trays with lard.
Now divide the dough between the trays, 1200g for the larger and 700g for the smaller in this case. We also make 4 loaves of bread and and with what's left over we'll make biscotta, a dried crunchy bread that's great for bruschetta.
Leave these for another couple of hours to prove.
Now it's time to prepare the oven. The oven is in a small lean-to at the side of the house. There's a huge amount of bundled olive twigs gathered from a friends place in the countryside. The oven is lit and over the next hour and a half the twigs are feed into the oven creating a heat is searing. A summer storm rolls in bringing a welcome freshness. Thunder booms through the valley, rain slams into the metal roof, the olive wood glows white in the heat. Sat with Carmela and Gaetano here in Campania, I feel connected to the past in a way that I never have before. For them, this was a way of life as they grew up. No gas, electricity or running water. No kettles or electric ovens. They lived in a way that humans have been living for thousands of years. We sit and discuss their childhoods, the hardships and joys, the symbioticity with nature, cooking food in the exact same way that their families have been doing for centuries. The rain continues to pour down outside and the fire warms us.
I'm feeling hungry now. The dough has risen a second time and is ready to be patted down into the tray. Maria, as with everything she does is meticulous. Once all of the trays are done the tomato sauce is spread liberally. The smells and aromas are extraordinary even before the baking. The oven is cleaned out with a long kind of rake and broom, all that remains is the scorching heat. The trays and breads are brought in from the cantina and Carmela blesses the dough one last time: "Crisci pane dintu lu furnu come criscivo Gesu' Cristo pe tutto lu munnu"- "Raise this bread in the oven as Jesus raised bread for all of the world." In the trays go, along with breads. After 5 minutes or so they come out and crumbled mozzarella is added. In for another 5 minutes or so and out it comes. With so many trays and breads this whole process goes on for an hour or so. The lean-to is full now with cousins, nephews and cats taking shelter from the rain and hoping for a morsel of something. Woodsmoke swirls around with the aromas of dough and tomatoes cooking in the oven, dialect that I can't understand spoken excitedly.
The table is set, more cousins, uncles, aunties and friends have arrived with homemade wine and more cheese and we eat. The Italians capacity to eat huge amounts is quite remarkable. I manage about 6 pieces, more than a normal pizza, and I must answer several times that I'm ok, that there is nothing wrong, that I like the pizza, so confused are they as they move onto their 10th, 12th even 15th pieces!
To make Margherita pizza for 6
For the dough
200g bubbling stater
1kg Tipo '0' or strong bread flour
700ml or so of warm water
For the topping
1 bottle of good quality tomato sauce (passata, salsa con pomodorini...)
Extra virgin olive oil