Earlier this evening the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Southeast hosted a social networking happy hour at Piola Brickell that was preceded by Pizza 101: "we invite you to learn how to make a real Italian pizza with one of Piola’s master pizza makers! They will teach you all the tricks you need to know to make a superb pizza, while you make it with them right then and there. As a final reward for your efforts, you will get to eat the pizza you made during the class and share it with your friends!!"
I've got no particular need of the networking, but my pizza skills could sure use some work. So, off I went.
Parking's a pain in Brickell, but I got there more or less on time which meant, of course, waiting a good ten minutes for Piola to get their act together and for anyone else to show up. Once they did, they got four of us lined up along a table, dumped a truckload of flour on it and handed out discs of dough for us to work with.
The instructor did far more flirting than teaching, but I managed to pick up a few pointers. First of all, the texture of the dough was unusual. Soft, but not wet. Elastic, but not tight. That seemed to be the biggest trick of the night and I wish they told us how they managed it. I suspect part of it is from intensive kneading following by a lengthy rest to relax the gluten. The hydration level was hard to pin down, though. It can't have been too high as the dough didn't seem to pick up any of the flour, but normally a dough that dry is stiff. I dunno.
I'm also not sure why they used so very much flour. The dough didn't seem in any risk of sticking to the work surface. I presume it served some important function, though. There was a big minus as they never warned us to shake off the excess and we had big problems with baked on/caked on chunks of flour on the finished pies.
The chef demoed stretching the dough, so even if he didn't try to explain it, we had a model to follow. I've seen some folks say to use your knuckles, but he used his fingertips. He also had an interesting technique of letting half the dough droop off the side of the table while he rotated it around, letting gravity stretch it out. It worked pretty well for me too, but the texture of the dough was very forgiving. I'd want to be really confident any dough I made at home wasn't going to tear before trying it.
Most folks used tomato sauce and they showed us the technique you probably know of spooning a dollop in the middle of the pie and then using the back of the ladle to swirl it outwards. It was hard to judge just how much to use since a little goes a long way, but never quite as far as you'd like. Then a couple handfuls of shredded mozzarella and a pretty good selection of toppings. I lot of folks, I think, overloaded both with cheese and with too many and too much toppings. I believe it's traditional (and just a good idea) to use no more than three. I went with ham, roasted peppers and basil. OK, also some ricotta, but I went light on the mozzarella so the ricotta was intended as part of the cheese element, not a separate topping.
It turned out OK, but I had problems with excess flour and I like a spicier sauce than Piola uses so their unexpectedly sweet sauce threw off the balance of flavors a bit. One other point I learned from someone else's pie was that anchovies are to be used sparingly no matter how high quality they are (and these were really nice ones).
I think the big takeaway here was that getting the right texture on the dough at the start makes the process go much smoother and faster and gives you a better texture and flavor at the end. Does anyone have a favorite recipe they'd like to share?