Pizza by Gabriele Bonci, Rizzoli 2013, hardcover $30.00, 256 pages

As with all simple things, pizza requires attention.

Step away from the phone. There is no excuse for not making your own pizza—from dough to toppings.You can use my simple recipe:

1 cup white flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

generous teaspoon of yeast

teaspoon of salt

½ cup of water

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Mix the ingredients, knead into a dough, let it rest/rise for an hour, stick it in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat, stretch it out, top it, and bake it hot.

But if you’re ready to up your game, work with Bonci’s techniques and recipes. Bonci, described as a “pure soul” and a “wonderful cook,” is devoted to making the best pizza in small Roman shop. He’s gathered a legion of followers, one of whom points out that Bonci has developed new flavors and textures for Italy’s best known food. Far from a dead thing in a box, Bonci’s pizza is a “living food.”

He begins with ingredients, encouraging you to find real food, not supermarket products. Farm markets are obvious sources for toppings, but it will not be possible to recreate the organic milled and specially blended flour that Bonci uses. The English translator helpfully notes that American bread flour is a reasonable substitute, particularly from smaller mills like Heartland and King Arthur. And with some practice you could blend for a personal balance of germ, protein, and gluten.

The dough that you make will be the foundation of the pizza and Bonci devotes pages to techniques, ingredients and explanations of what you and your ingredients are doing when you make dough—the chemistry of water, salt, yeast, and flour. His best advice is to be flexible, observe the way your ingredients, oven, and hands combine.

I followed Bonci’s directions to create a natural yeast. It took ten days to set up a mixture of rye flour and water, fed with more flour and water every few days while it gathered yeast from the air in my kitchen. Mine didn’t bubble and stiffen as shown in the book’s photos, but I forged ahead, mixing it into a dough that rose slowly and then sprung into an airy flat bread in the oven. I am a convert to natural yeast, which, when fed, can live indefinitely in your fridge.

But dough is more than ingredients. Its structure is created through manipulation and Bonci recommends not punching it down, but repeatedly folding it to create and capture air bubbles. And when it’s risen, he doesn’t use a rolling pin or fling it into the air, he gently stretches it into place on an oiled pan. Even when I used his instant yeast recipe and followed his techniques, the result was superior.

Bonci’s dough, baked in a 450-475 oven is like a flatbread—sometimes toppings are baked in, sometimes added later, and sometimes sandwiched. With the care he takes to create the dough, Bonci uses only the best ingredients, inspired by the season. In the summer he tops with zucchini, figs, or octopus, or with grilled peaches and greens. In the Autumn, he uses mushrooms, gruyere and chicory, or with oranges, spinach and coppa di testa. Winter is time for chickpea puree and baccala, or duck and oranges and in the Spring, artichokes or eggs, asparagus, and lemon.

You’ll be challenged to find his exact ingredients like that coppa di testa salumi or the Roman puntarelle greens. But you should rise to creating your own version inspired by his surprising combinations.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it quickly becomes instinctual second nature. And anything else will taste like the cardboard box it came in.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
This entry was posted in baking, chef, cultural, food focus, international, technique, what's for dinner and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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