“Melbourne pizzaolo Johnny Di Francesco has been perfecting pizza his whole life in Australia and in Naples, and in 2014 he won the huge Best Pizza in the World competition in Parma, Italy against 600 competitors from 35 countries. The key is using the best ingredients, mastering the art of rolling the balls, stretching the dough, creating the cornichone or crust, using simple delicious toppings, having access to a wood-fired oven and getting the temperature just right – the optimum is 400°C (750°F).” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire
- 600 ml (20½ fl oz/2¼ cups) water
- 30 g (1 oz) fine sea salt
- 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) 00 pizza flour, sifted (the brand Johnny likes is 5 Stagioni)
- 1.5 g (0.05 oz) fresh yeast
- 400 g (14 oz) tinned Italian tomatoes
- 1 tsp salt
- 80 g (3 oz) buffalo mozzarella
- handful of fresh basil leaves
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Rising time up to 24 hours
To make the dough combine the water and salt in a large bowl – mix well to dissolve the salt. Add 200 g (7 oz) of the flour and mix by hand until it reaches the consistency of a pancake batter. Add the yeast and some more flour, combine well. Gradually add more flour, continuing to mix as the dough comes together.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic, continuing to add flour (you may not need to use it all). This can take up to 10–15 minutes.
To test if the dough is ready, push your finger into the centre – if it springs back it’s ready to rest, if not continue to knead.
Place the dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover with a damp cloth and set aside. Let the dough rest for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, divide the dough into 4–5 round balls, ensuring there are no air pockets. Place in a flat container that can be sealed to be airtight, cover the balls with a damp tea towel and seal the container. Allow the dough balls to rise. This can take up to 24 hours during which time they will double in size.
Dust balls with a little flour before starting to stretch.
Leaving a border of 2.5 cm (1 in), this will become the cornicione, press your fingers into the dough in rows, turn over and repeat. Do this three times on each side. With one hand in the centre (taking care not to touch the cornicione), use your other hand to stretch the dough outwards, turning 90 degrees each time until a round of 25–30 cm/10–12 in) has formed.
Mix the tomatoes (undrained) and salt in a large bowl. Crush the tomatoes by hand until pulpy, taking care not to squash the seeds.
To make the pizzas, spoon 2 tablespoons of the tomato mixture over each pizza base and spread evenly, taking care not to cover the cornicione. Tear over the buffalo mozzarella, sprinkle with basil leaves and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Slide onto the pizza paddle and stretch back to the round shape before cooking in a wood-fired oven at 400°C (750°F) – the pizza should cook in 90 seconds.
• The closest approximation to cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven is to use a pizza stone in a domestic oven. Make sure the stone and oven are preheated to the highest temperature – usually around 280°C (535°F). They will cook in around 10 minutes.
Recipe from Food Safari Fire by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55). Photography by Toufic Charabati.