Perfecting Your Wood-Fired Pizza, a seminar with Dice-K, Pizzaiolo and co-owner of La Sorrentina…
This post is all about our experience in learning how to make a wood-fired pizza in a custom oven that was brought over from Sorrento.
I believe that pizza is the perfect food and we are thrilled every time we have an opportunity to learn more about this fine art form to improve our technique.
You can imagine how excited Valery and I were when our local Pizzeria, La Sorrentina, in Vancouver, Washington offered a seminar entitled, “Perfecting Your Wood Fired Pizza with Dice-K”. ( Dice-K is short for our resident Pizzaiolo, Daisuke Matsumoto, who has a fascinating story).
On-hand for the event was La Sorrentina co-owner Amy Hernández Matsumoto, who shared the lineup for the day, as well as a history of pizza. Valery said that, “Amy is delightful and has the wonderful ability of making you feel welcome, as if she has known you forever.”
The experience of making wood-fired pizza in a full-size, custom oven that was brought over from Sorrento, was quite spectacular and I highly recommend it!
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Before diving into the seminar, let’s take a step back and look at a (very) brief history of pizza…
Naples is the home of the first pizza and it may date back thousands of years. In its earliest form, it was just a flatbread with toppings.
The introduction of tomatoes as a topping did not even come into the picture until it was brought from the New World (possibly Peru) in the late 18th century.
Once Tomatoes were incorporated, there were two main pizzas to be had, the Marinara( topped with tomato, oregano, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil) and the Margherita(Topped with tomato, mozzarella, and basil), the fabled favorite of Queen Margherita of Savoy.
Eventually, pizza was introduced into the New World by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century and it has had an accelerated evolution to an extent that, I believe, many people may not be able to appreciate pizza in its most basic forms. In the United States, many pizzas are judged by the size and number of toppings heaped atop vs the quality of the ingredients… and don’t even get me started by talking about pineapple.
Learning how to make Pizza in its most simplistic, original form is a real treat and one has to appreciate the absolute magnificence of reproducing a flavor palate that is both complex and unique.
We have continued to enjoy our Blackstone Pizza oven over the years (even though they have stopped making them – sorry folks) and watched intently as quite a few manufacturers have ventured into the pizza oven arena over the past few years.
The point here is that almost everyone loves pizza and the joy of becoming your own ‘at-home pizza chef’ is an appetizing and gratifying experience as you learn to hone your skills, try out new recipes and even develop your own.
Now, you can certainly cook a pizza in your home oven but as it has temperature limits, you end up waiting quite a while before you can actually eat. I think this is the main reason that people are looking at the high-temperature ovens to cook their pizzas, whether it be wood-fired or propane-fueled such as the Ooni or the Gozney Roccbox.
Now let’s dive into our seminar at La Sorrentina…
As you can imagine we had a superb time and wanted to share some of the highlights and useful tips with you.
Here was the outline of our itinerary for the seminar:
A discussion of the art of the Pizza Napolitana
Practice forming dough into the shape
Understanding the art of cooking in a high-temperature oven
Hands-on pizza making using the wood-fired pizza oven
Enjoying our hand-made pizzas along with wine or beer
Time to ask questions on dough making, Ingredients, etc.
We also received a kilo of Caputo 00 flour to take home!
The process of making this specific dough has two main steps:
Day one is the Biga Day where pre-fermentation takes place and day two is where you complete the dough mixing, shaping and cooking.
INGREDIENTS Day 1: The dough was simply Caputo 00 flour, water, and dry yeast Day 2: More water was added + salt
One of the most important facets of the class is the tactile experience. I can share the photos but you need to know how it feels to know if you are on the right track.
This is how ithe dough should look on day one…
Day two before adding the rest of the ingredients…
Day two after adding the rest of the ingredients and completing the mixing…
You will notice how pliable the dough is as Dice-K show us a stretch…
Time to make the dough balls by dividing up the dough and curling it into itself (like you are making a jellyfish by hand)…
Once your dough is ready it is time for the sauce and this is literally a hands-on process where you mush up the San Marzano tomatoes with your hands.
You will want to leave it a bit chunky. Add in salt and sugar and mix thoroughly. Note: We used Ciao Italian Peeled Tomatoes.
Once you have your ingredients in order, it is time to actually make your pizza.
Take a dough ball and plop it into a 50/50 blend of Semolina and regular flour on both sides.
Work the dough into a round shape from the middle outwards, avoiding touching the edges.
Once you have it about 10 inches in diameter, you add your toppings. For the Marguerite, that will be the sauce followed by fresh mozzarella and basil leaves with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
Pull your small round pizza onto a pizza peel and stretch it out on the peel (About 10 -12 inches).
Time for the oven! If you have a wood-burning pizza oven you know there are a lot of details that go into using it. You have your choices in hardwoods, how you maintain the fire, and the sweet spot to place your pizza to cook. You will want to follow your manufacturer’s instructions.
Ideally, you should be able to make a Marguerite in under 90 seconds. (Quick enough for the basil to stay bright green).
Here is one of our Marguerites…
Lastly, we had the opportunity to make a pizza with our choice of ingredients.
Valery went more along the “Veggie” path where I chose a meatier pie.
Here is mine:
Summing it all up, making pizza is a lot of fun and can be very tasty.
If you look at pizza as just food, you are missing out on the best parts of all of this.
We heartily recommend taking a class and you will discover a new world! If you are in the Portland, OR / Vancouver, WA area and this class is offered again, you should not hesitate to sign up and join the fun.