The UK loves pizza! With a Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, or Domino’s on every high street, it’s unsurprising that UK pizza consumption is only just behind the US. But do we truly appreciate the effort that goes into making the perfect pizza? The first ever National Pizza Awards, organised by Casual Dining Magazine, aims to give credit where it’s due. With hundreds of entries from all over the UK, sixteen finalists showed what they could do with dough, in London last week.
The winner was Luigi Forte, who is perhaps unsurprisingly from Italy, AKA the home of pizza. He tells me he won because his pizza was different, but also gives a nod to positive thinking, “if you don’t think you’re going to win, you’re never going to win!” Luigi, who’s head chef at pizzeria pub The Wenlock & Essex in Islington, entered a pizza he created – the Zuccosa. Explaining that zucca means pumpkin in Italy, Luigi tells me he made it with pumpkin sauce, rather than the standard tomato, and added salami, smoked mozzarella, porcini and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Luigi says pizza is best enjoyed with chili oil and an Italian beer, “you don’t need nothing else.” As winner of the 2016 National Pizza Awards, he shared with me six tips for making the perfect pizza at home. So follow a simple pizza dough recipe, like this one, and take Luigi’s pointers on board…
- Use the best ingredients – aside from Maldon salt, these are all Italian! Virgin olive oil from Puglia or Calabria, Fior di Latte mozzarella from Southern Italy, Cinque Stagioni flour and chili oil from Calabria.
- Leave the cutlery alone! Divide the pizza into slices with a pizza cutter, then eat it with your hands – never use a knife and fork.
- Don’t flood your taste buds! To fully experience the flavours, choose up to four toppings that go well together. Don’t go crazy – you can’t put roast beef with blue cheese – that would be horrible.
- Knead the dough by hand and never use a rolling pin! When it’s no longer sticky, you know it’s ready. To flatten out the ball of dough into a pizza shape, start by using the tips of your fingers to slowly open it out, and gradually start to shape it using your hands.
- Cook the pizza in the middle of the oven (for better ventilation to cook it evenly), for seven or eight minutes. Cook thicker crusts at 250 degrees, and thinner crusts at 240. You know it’s done when the crust rises and goes brown.
- Start from scratch! Leave the tomato paste at the supermarket, and make your own tomato sauce by blending tomatoes, oil, salt and basil.
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here