Whether it's a Friday night quick-fix or a weekend tomato party, making your own pizza is never not fun. Laying out favourite toppings on the benchtop; inviting friends and family to design their own pie; the anticipation while your creation bubbles in the oven.
Like spaghetti bolognese and chicken soup, home-made pizza can take 12 hours or 20 minutes, depending on dedication and free time.
Good Food put essential pizza components – cheese, sauce, pre-made bases – to the test. The sauce and cheese were tasted both from the packaging and after being cooked on bases in a home oven and in the wood-fired behemoth at Matteo, Sydney.
THE TASTING PANEL
- Orazio D'Elia Executive chef and co-owner of Matteo Double Bay and Sydney CBD.
- Matteo Ernandes Head pizzaiolo at Matteo Double Bay.
- Callan Boys National food and drink writer for Good Food.
Letizza Authentic Oven Baked Pizza Bases (left) and Toscano Classic Pizza Bases. Photo: James Brickwood
Letizza Authentic Oven Baked Pizza Base, 2 x 200g, $6
Thin and slightly sweet with a sprinkling of parmesan in the dough. "This is more like flatbread than anything close to a pizza base," says D'Elia. "If you're going to use a base like this to save time, you might as well buy a frozen pizza already topped. At least there will be less mess."
Toscano Classic Pizza Base, 2 x 150g, $5.50
Made in Italy, this had the lightest and most springy texture, while still strong enough to hold its own under the weight of toppings. "This looks and tastes the most like a proper base," says Ernandes. At 1560 kilojoules per base, it's also a healthy-ish option for a single serve.
Stonebake Italian Style Stone Baked Pizza Bases (left) and Aldi Casa Barelli Pizza Bases. Photo: James Brickwood
Stonebake Italian Style Stone Baked Pizza Base, 2 x 280g, $4.20
This contained fewer ingredients such as acidity regulators, preservatives and thickening agents than other bases tried. "It's a bit thicker, too, and holds toppings well, but still tastes factory-made," says Ernandes. Find it in the supermarket chilled section.
Aldi Casa Barelli Pizza Base, 2 x 200g, $3
It's possible to slide a knife into this base and open it like a pita bread, which is good if you want to make a jumbo-sized pizza pocket. But the base isn't quite sturdy enough for the real thing. The aroma of herbs and crushed garlic is intense.
Sauces from left: Jamie Oliver; Mutti; Le Conserve Della Nonna; Riverina Grove. Photo: James Brickwood
Jamie Oliver Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce, 400g, $4.30
"Jamie, I like you, but this is no good," says D'Elia. The celebrity chef's Italian-made tomato sauce is best for pasta, as per the label, but the ingredients are similar to most pizza spreads. Aggressively seasoned and too acidic to recommend for anything though, really.
Mutti Pizza Sauce Classica, 400g, $4
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze
From the San Marzano-loving kings of the Italian kitchen comes this new release made just for pizza. It could do with a little less salt, but overall the sauce has a bright flavour and won't overpower fresh toppings and quality cheese.
Le Conserve Della Nonna Lampomodoro Tomato Sauce, 350g, $3.65
Good Food Taste Test Award: Silver
Not too heavy, not too light and made in Italy, this ready-to-use passata is more than fine for your Tuesday night pizza saucing needs. Simmer with basil and a lug of olive oil for extra richness and flavour if the mood takes you.
Riverina Grove All Natural Pizza and Pasta Sauce, 500g, $4
Australian-made, but lacking in lightness and zip. "The taste of garlic, olives and onion is way too strong for a pizza," says D'Elia. "You could use it in a pasta sauce, maybe, but there are much better options on the market."
From left: Fattorie Garofalo; Shaw River; La Casa Del Formaggio. Photo: James Brickwood
Fattorie Garofalo Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, 125g, $13
Based in southern Italy, Fattorie Garofalo is the largest buffalo milk-processing company in the world. Its signature curd is made to strict regulations (buffalos must be born in Campania) for a final result that's soft and milky, albeit reasonably bland.
Shaw River Australian Buffalo Mozzarella, 120g, $7
Good Food Taste Test Award: Silver
The Haldane family have been making buffalo mozz' in regional Victoria since 1996, and their flagship brine-packed cheese is creamy with a slight sour note. "Apologies to Italy, but fresh Australian mozzarella is often better than the imported stuff," says D'Elia.
La Casa Del Formaggio Fresh Mozzarella, 200g, $5.50
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze
"This fior di latte-style of mozzarella is actually better for pizza," says D'Elia. The white cheese is made from cow's milk and is generally drier than its buffalo counterpart. "You don't want watery cheese on a pizza unless you like your toppings sliding off."
Perfect Italiano Perfect Pizza Cheese, 250g, $4.25
A mix of grated mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan (pictured, right) that isn't too bad in a toasted sandwich. "This cheese is dry, so it can melt better in a home oven than some watery mozzarellas," says D'Elia. "Of course, the pizza will also taste like a cheap takeaway job."
Pizza party! Photo: William Meppem
Go from dough to whoa with these tips from the pros
The best thing home cooks can do to enhance their pizza game – besides making a backyard wood-fired pizza oven that reaches temperatures approaching the surface of the sun – is drying buffalo mozzarella.
"Slice the cheese, place it in a colander over a bowl and leave to strain in the fridge for a few hours before cooking," says Matteo Ernandes, head pizzaiolo at Sydney's Matteo. "You don't want watery pizza toppings or your base burning while the cheese takes more time to properly melt."
Matteo Toffano from Johnny's Green Room in Carlton, Melbourne, says the best ready-made pizza canvas is the one you make yourself. "At home, I make about 12 bases at once, vacuum-pack them already sauced, and store them in the freezer. I've got four kids, so having them ready to go is a lifesaver."
This recipe from Toffano makes about 20 bases, but measurements can be adjusted. You will need a vacuum sealer but, he says, "there are models that will do a fine job for less than $100".
- Add 10g fresh yeast to 1.5 litres of water and whisk until combined. Add 2.4kg pizza flour (he uses Molino Dallagiovanna) and 60g salt to the water.
- Mix until silky and combined. If using a dough mixer, work it for 6 minutes; by hand, work the dough for 10 minutes.
- Cover the dough with a cloth and leave to rest in a cool, dry place for up to 12 hours but a minimum of 3.
- Preheat the oven to 210C fan-forced (230C conventional) and divide dough into 220g balls, which will make 30cm pizza bases.
- Roll out the dough to fit an oiled pizza tray, top the base with pizza sauce and par-cook for 4 minutes. Let the base cool, vacuum-seal and freeze.
- Finish as you like straight from the freezer and cook in a hot oven.
"There are no rules for toppings," says Toffano. "I always enjoy anchovies, and now that we're in winter I use lots of lovely bitter greens."
This article appears in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 6.