A seemingly simple comestible, pizza is fraught with complexity. Whilst thought of as an Italian food, many Americans claim it as their own, and to be fair, the pizza, I've had there could well be a species of its own. A "good pizza" seems to be a matter of opinion, and therefore the definition of "a good pizza" is a little slippery to lay one's hands on.

Even in Italy however, pizza is variable, and it is possible to travel the country sampling variations on a them. From the pizza bars in Rome to the cafes of Naples, not forgetting the ovens in Pompeii, it is impossible not to be drawn in to sampling this fine food. Until of course day 4 where, if you're not a big bread/dough eater like myself, cramps may start to set.

Of course I speak from personal experience - my first holiday with my now husband was a touring trip of Italy, and we covered a lot of ground (and quite a lot of pizza). I'm not a big bread eater, and have only really started to enjoy bread since the revival of artisan baking techniques - bread that I enjoy and doesn't seem to bother me afterwards.

Which brings me to the first point of distinction for good pizza - the base. An American food chain (ironically in Australia owned by a company called Yum!) introduced the concept of thin or thick to the masses. This categorises the pizza lovers rather well.

Whether you are a thin or a thick crust person, it's then possible to define a good pizza within these categories. If you sit on the thick side of the fence the dough you are looking for is bread-like, not spongey, and not too dense (lest eat one slice before blowing up like a Buddha).

On the thin base side of the fence, it's not simple either. A too thin base burns at the edges, and unable to hold itself in the middle. Too thick, and it's not a thin base. And then there's the issue of how close to the edge the toppings are distributed. A recent wood-fired experience in Mullumbimy had damn good pizza, but the almost 2 inch border for the topping made an extremely cripsy, roof of the mouth lacerating experience (not to mention the bit that flung across the room when I tried to break it in half).

Toppings are the next point of distinction and can then be subdivided into quality and density, which are usually inversely proportional. Good quality ingredients sparsely arranged on the pizza can be delicious, the converse not so.

Topping combinations are contentious (think "gourmet pizza") - chicken, bbq sauce, satay, smoked salmon, tandoori and corn chips do not belong on pizza. Enough said.

The third defining feature of pizza is the method of cooking. The fashion of all things rustic has brough the wood-fired oven back to the fore, yet there are great pizzas to be had from the electric ovens too (Arthur's in Paddington, now young Alfreds in Circular Quay, I believe has always been electric).

Some purists will view the wood-fired oven as the benchmark, whilst others don't weigh in heavily on this. The wood-fired oven pizza certainly has more going for it in terms of the experience - the glowing embers, the heat as you walk past it, the deftness of the pizza cook juggling the paddle without dropping the pizza or poking the service staffs' eyes out (not as easy as it looks let me assure you), the glowing embers, the wafts of smokey pizza flavours in the room, the glowing embers... Clearly a favourite with the pyromaniacs!

*NB: the picture of the wood-fired is from the bloggers' banquet photos on flickr

The pizza experience at home is not entirely straightforward to replicate, but not difficult either. The toppings are a cinch - make the tomato base with a tin of Italian whole peeled tomatoes, add oregano, some crushed garlic, salt & pepper and leave to sit for a while. Toppings can be as easy as rifling through the crisper and the pantry to come out with anchovies, tuna, capers, mushrooms, rocket, onion, tomato, peppers and a trip to the deli can complete requirements - salami, salumi, bocconcini and/or mozzarella.

The dough is easy to make - there are plenty of recipes online; they all read similar and yet the results are variable, and I believe impacted as much by the rolling and cooking (heat, method and duration) as anything else. If you're a thin base fan, don't be tempted to roll the base out too thin - it needs to be thick enough (a few mm) to still have some spring.

For most, the cooking method is restricted to the household oven. For some, achieving a hot enough oven will be difficult for pizza perfection however if you have the standard apartment issue smeg, as I do, you will learn that the oven on steroids can have its advantages. I have recently experimented with cooking pizza on a sandwich press with fairly good results - it's not hot enough, but that's partially compensated by the direct contact with the base (don't forget to put the grill lever up or you'll have contact on the toppings as well and that will be a big mess!).

Unless you're really lucky, or are very good at making friends with spare wood-fired ovens (and can find someone move and to install it - Ella you truly are amazing!), or have attended a bloggers' banquet in St Kilda's veg out garden, it's unlikely that the home pizza experience is going to be wood-fired.

Until now...

Ladies & Gentlemen, I present you with...

the weber pizza

Some time ago, I began musing whether the weber could be extended to pizza. With a little encouragement (thanks girls) and a willing taste tester (he's just so good to me!!!) we gave it a shot. Whilst not technically wood-fired (coal fired doesn't sound attractive, does it?), cooking the pizza on the weber does impart that certain rustic smokiness that the wood-fired experience has. I am sure a mix of wood and coal would go even further, and it's worth pointing out that we NEVER use the "easy lighting" coals as anything cooked on them has a funny petrol tang to it.

The point is, that with a little thought, a little lateral thinking, and some fresh ingredients, it's possible to eat really well. It might not be the perfect pizza, but I reckon it's a "good pizza.

I think we'll be doing it again!


Cindy said...

Hmmm, the Weber pizza! This looks promising.

My main pizza gripe when ordering out is poor choice of topping combinations. I want a small number of good quality ingredients with complementary flavours. Throwing every non-meat ingredient on does not a good vegetarian pizza make!

purple goddess said...

Like Cindy, I am a three, maybe four toppings MAX kinda gurl. Nothing worse than ham/salami/capsicum/olive/cheese/pineapple/shrimps
and more on a single pizza.

For the record, I am a thin crust gurl, too.

I love the idea of Weber pizza. Might stop my cravings for pizza when we're in town.

good on ya, mate!!

grocer said...

I'm with you both.

Despite being a meat eater, when it comes to pizza I am inclined to the "vegetarian" if the combos are right - mushrooms are without a doubt my favourite pizza topping. Eggplant is also excellent.

Good to see you Cindy, love your bimbo post too!

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

I long for my own wood oven Grocer. I'm gonn amake mine big enough so I can curl up in it when the embers die down on a winters night!
I like the very simplest of toppings, perhaps two or three at most. I'm a sucker for furry, rank smelling, salty & dried twigs that are also known as anchovies.
You said you are a fan of mushies on pizza I am too but I HATE them sliced raw then put on. I always cook them down in olive oil, garlic & some thyme or oregano then put them on. This imparts them with heaps offlavour AND they dont dry out.

grocer said...

Hey Gobbler, what a privilege to have you stop by... Your oven comments actually made me laugh out loud.

I can understand your perspective on the mushies - I had a pizza like that at milk & honey in mullumbimby a few weeks ago. Fabulous!

Anchovies YES I like too but not whole. I like bits mushed through the tomato.

The Swan said...

Count me in for thin and simple also! And while I'm not really a fan of the over-the-top 'gourmet' pizza varieties, I do pine for the wonderful Smoked Trout pizza they served at the (sadly defunct) Pig & Olive in Potts Point.
The Webber pizza looks fab...I'm gonna give it a try.

purple goddess said...

I been thinking.. you could whack some aromatics on the weber, like vine clippings or hickory chips... even some redgum chips, to add flavour.

This idea has really got me thinking.

grocer said...

already onto it!

Oh for the love of food! said...

Hi there, thank you for coming by my blog, it's not often that I hear from another Aussie foodie, so this is a treat. I've checked out Duncan's syrup and tang on your recommendation, it's seriouly cool stuff! Thanks. Your weber pizza is a brilliant idea ;o)


Do you have a pizza stone you could put on top of the grill? That might be interesting.

Now if I put my pizza stone on our hooded gas BBQ and chucked some wood chips in the iron smoke box... Mmmm.

I'm with everyone on the multi- topped pizzas. Can't stand satay chicken, sweet chilli anything, pineapple.


grocer said...

Hi Pat, Welcome and thanks for stopping by.

We just used pizza trays - sought advice from the esteemed sticky and went with that in the end.

I'm not sure how it would go on gas... I'm not a great fan of the gas bbq though!

beachsands said...

Milk and honey's pizzas are impossible to cut, but I still love them. I'm definitely going to try the webber thing. M and H's toppings are extremely good. The ambience is pretty crazy. Did you have the salad or dessert? Their salads are so good. Oh and I'm definitely a thin base girl and anchovies...oh yeah!

grocer said...

M&H toppings were fantastic. We had salad and I was extremely impressed that it was organic salad leaf and no premium charge for it!

And you could tell it had been picked that day, leading me to suspect that they may just grow it themselves...

As you say, their toppings are excellent. The pizzas are v generous in size as we found out, so there was no room for dessert.

If you get that way frequently, I also recommend the pizza at The Northern in Byron. It's very good (slightly less rustic than M&H).