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Pizza Passion

As a teenager in the sixties I grew up on a diet of good traditional Hungarian food at

home. At school the lunchtime swap- session that all kids love to do, exposed me to not
only vegemite and pickle sandwiches, but also to the wonderful ‘wog’ food of my fellow
‘New Australian’ classmates. Growing up in StKilda we never saw the food of our own
Eastern European heritage as exotic, but the food of the Mediterranean opened up truly
exciting tastes in a new world. Australian cuisine was changing quickly.

The café had already become part of my family’s life both in Hungary and then in
Every week after sport on the Yarra we would head into town, straight to the coffee bar at
Pellegrinis’ to eat basically the same food that is still served there today. At the
communal table in the back kitchen Emma, who still rules that cosy nook, would tolerate
our pimply adolescent chutzpah and prepare fresh cannelloni, lasagne or pizza depending
on the day of the week. In the early sixties these now common dishes were truly exotic.

Comics were a big part of our literary diet and Pizza appeared again with Archie and
Jughead in the drugstore and soda shop. These cartoon heroes were forever delivering flat
cardboard boxes of strange fare. Pizza had arrived in print but not yet in person.
My favourite slice in the sixties came from a little café on Swanston Street between
where the little man at Alexander’s tapped on the window and Foys. It was only available
when a small hand painted sign would appear on the window. I knew that it was going to
put a serious dent in my weekend budget. Strangely they called it marinara but it had no
seafood only a thin crisp crust, tomato flavours that only a country garden or a romantic
memory can deliver and dried strong pungent oregano. Little did I know it was the real

Our first visit to Italy completely changed my perceptions of pizza. We found simple
slices, wafer thin crusts, strong flavours. These were nothing like the fare served in the
then new pizza “parlours” like Poppas and such that had started to spring up everywhere.
The wood oven was king. Italian markets were full of great regional fare and the pizza
toppings were surprisingly traditional.

In Rome there is pizza bianca. On our last trip we were mesmerised by the pizza maker at
the forno at the Campo di Fiori market. How do you put a 2 metre pizza into the oven
with a small peel? This bakery is open to the street and during summer provides one of
the best shows in town. This wonderful bakery makes pizza bianca by the mile and it is
eaten as soon as it is made. It is sold by weight.
There did not seem to be any of the pre made and reheated slice shops that seem to be
springing up lately.

Naples is the ancestral home of pizza and continues to protect the tradition with
organizations dedicated to the preservation of Neapolitan Pizza in much the same way
that wines of a region are classified.
There are many criteria for good pizza; my benchmark is a crisp but still tender base that
can be folded without cracking.
I always advise a little restraint when the creative urge hits the pizza cook. Elaborate
toppings often only disguise a mediocre base.
Slowly cooked vegetables allow mellow flavours to develop, as the pizza is cooked so
quickly these flavours need to be prepared beforehand. Slow roasted garlic, fennel,
onions and of course tomato, all contribute to a great pizza.
The masonry pizza oven can only be approximated in the home kitchen, but by using a
stone or tile and some fierce heat we can get close.
If you get carried away as I have been, you can always build a ‘forno’ in the back yard.

The flour for pizza is traditionally OO with medium gluten content. The grading is how
fine the milling is, not the level of protein. On all Italian flours the gluten or protein
content is displayed, sadly this is not so with Australian flours. For pizza we do not want
to create really tough dough like for bread. It requires a gentle touch and a good deal of
judgement. Plain flour in Australia can vary enormously in its gluten content so I start
with half OO and half baker’s flour and try to stick to one brand. Unfortunately there is
variation within domestic brands also. Unbleached bakers flour works well if you do not
over knead the dough. It seems a pity to have to use imported flour in a country capable
of branding produce properly for export, but one that treats the domestic user with less
care. For a really great base use a little sourdough leaven and leave the dough overnight
for a slow second proof in the fridge.
Like all good coking – keep it simple and don’t forget the pineapple.

Basic Pizza Dough

For about 5 Pizzas

500g of Unnbleached Bakers flour

1 teaspoon of Saf or Fermipan yeast
Or 30g of fresh yeast
Approx 300ml lukewarm water.
2 teaspoons of salt

Mix the flour salt and dried yeast together. Slowly add the water and knead for about 10
mins. This can be done in a mixer with a dough hook. The mixture should be a little
sticky but not really wet.
If using fresh yeast dissolve the yeast in a little warm water add a little sugar, wait till it
bubbles and proceed as for the dried yeast.
For a really crisp base leave covered in a large bowl overnight in the fridge.
Roll into small balls and cover with a bowl in a warm place and allow to rise to double its
size. Roll out thin and add your favourite toppings.
The cooking process for all these delicious pizzas is similar. A very hot oven is needed
and a terracotta tile on the base and one on the top shelf of the oven helps retain heat and
give the base the necessary bounce.

Basic Pizza Sauce

1kg Peeled seeded and chopped tomatoes or tinned tomatoes.
Nothing beats home-grown vine ripened tomatoes that have had to struggle a bit.

150ml of a spicy extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic crushed with a little salt and fresh chilli
Salt and pepper

Cook in a heavy bottomed pot on a slow simmer for about 20 mins to thicken.

The Neapolitans call this Pizza a la Romana and the Romans call it Pizza a la Napoletana

Spread the base with Pizza sauce into which a little anchovies have been added and some
crushed garlic. Leave a little room around the base. Drizzle with olive oil and bake
quickly at 280C for about 8 mins. Crush some pungent dried oregano or fresh basil on top
before serving.

Braised Fennel topping for pizza

250g Fennel cut into fine strips
100g Red Onions sliced
1 pinch freshly ground fennel seed
2 cloves of garlic
A little fresh chilli
Salt and pepper
50ml EV olive oil
100ml of water

Crush salt, pepper, garlic, chilli and fennel seed in a mortar and pestle.
Slowly braise the sliced fennel and onions in olive oil and water add the crushed spices
and cook till the fennel and onions are soft and caramelised. The water will naturally
evaporate but it will have steamed the vegetables to soften them.
Caremelised onion toping for pizza.
500g sliced onions
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 clove of garlic a little chilli and a couple of anchovies all crushed together.

Slowly cook all the ingredients firstly with the lid on to steam the onions and then
uncovered stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking and burning,

The French call this a base for Pissaladiere it is spread on thin pizza dough and olives
strips of red capsicum and extra anchovies are arranged neatly over the onions, but the
onion mix is a delght on its own.