Pizza al forno di legno (Wood-fired pizza)

This summer, Stefano finished our outdoor kitchen, complete with a wood-burning pizza oven.  It was a long-awaited addition, because for years we’ve longed for a wood-burning oven.  Because try as we might, we simply haven’t found authentic Roman pizza anywhere here.  The obvious solution, therefore, was to make our own.

Pizza al forno a legno

Due Spaghetti's back yard pizza ovenIn Rome, there are pizzerie on every corner.  When Stefano was young, it was a special treat when his parents Andrea and Maria took him, his brother Marco and his sister Debora out for pizza.  They’d sometimes go to a pizzeria in the Centocelle neighborhood of Rome, with family friends Mario and Vincenzina.  Other times they stay closer to home and go to Pizzeria la Ruota, or “the Wagon Wheel.”  Andrea’s favorite pizza was the capricciosa, a classic pie with mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, olives and a hard boiled egg in the middle.  Maria always ordered a pizza with funghi, a simple, light pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and mushrooms.  The kids usually chose a traditional margherita, or perhaps a pizza with salciccia, or sausage.

Pizza MargaritaPizza MargaritaIn later years, when Stefano and I were first married, our regular spot was Pizza e Fichi, in the Giardinetti neighborhood of Rome.  We’d sit at a table on their patio, where our son Sean would fall asleep in his stroller and we’d enjoy our pizzas long into the evening.

We’ve been wanting to blog about our wood-fired pizzas all summer long, but It’s taken a few attempts to get the dough just right.  The much acclaimed pizza napoletana that has taken the world by storm sports a thicker, yeastier and chewier crust.  While admittedly delicious, it also makes for a heavier, more filling pizza.  Romans at heart, we prefer the lighter and thinner Roman-style pizza crust.

We’ve settled on a recipe given to us by our friend Luigi, a baker from the Puglia region of Italy.  We also roll out our pizza dough, strictly forbidden with a Neopolitan crust but standard practice in Rome.  It’s delicious.

L'impasto per la pizza

Impasto per la pizzaBe prepared to plan an entire day ahead – the dough needs to rise and rest for over 24 hours.  This recipe will make enough dough for about 10 individually-sized pizzas.  When we fire up the wood-burning oven, friends and neighbors always seem to make their way to our back yard, and we’ve never needed fewer than ten.  But, half the recipe if you want fewer pizzas.

Finally, we didn’t convert this recipe from grams to cups, as we usually do.  There’s simply too much room for error.  It’s worth investing in a food scale if you don’t already have one.

And speaking of flour, we found that a high gluten flour works best.  We bought a large bag from our local restaurant supply store.  Otherwise, King Arthur carries a version.

Fiori di zucca ed aliciFiori di zucca con alici

1 kilo of high gluten flour
21 grams of active dry yeast, such as this.
20 grams of salt
20 grams of olive oil
600 grams of water.

Add the yeast to 600 ml of warm water.  Stir to dissolve, and set aside.  Weigh out the flour into a mixing bowl, and add the salt.  Return to your yeast and water.  Stir again to ensure the yeast is completely dissolved.  Add 20 grams of olive oil to the yeast and water mixture.

If you have a kitchen mixer with a dough attachment, place the mixing bowl with flour and salt onto it. Lock the bowl in place, and turn the mixer on the lowest speed setting.  Gradually pour the water, yeast and oil into the flour and salt mixture.  Continue to mix on low speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth ball.

If you do not have a kitchen mixer with a dough attachment, follow the procedure above but use a wooden spoon to stir the water into the flour.  Once mixed, turn the dough out onto a smooth work-surface sprinkled with flour, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough comes together in a smooth ball.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.  In the meanwhile, line two baking trays with parchment paper.

After 20 minutes,turn the dough out onto a large, floured cutting board.  Using your food scale, cut pieces of dough that weigh 150 to 200 grams each.  Take each piece of dough in your hands and work it into a ball, pulling the loose ends together at the bottom.  Place five balls of dough onto each baking tray.  Cover the trays with plastic wrap, or, slip your baking trays into these large 13 gallon kitchen food bags and wrap the ends of the bag under the trays to prevent air from getting in.

Let the dough rise for 3 hours at room temperature.  Then, place the covered baking trays in the refrigerator for about 20 hours.  The next day, pull them out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking and let them return to room temperature.

If you are using a wood-fired oven, bring the oven up to temperature of about 900° Fahrenheit, or 480° Celsius.  If you are using your home oven, preheat it to it’s highest setting, with a pizza stone inside.

On a floured work surface, roll your dough to about 1/8 inch, or about 3 millimeters thick. Top your pizza with San Marzano tomatoes passed through a food mill, diced fresh mozzarella (after dicing, let your mozzarella sit in a strainer on top of a bowl, so that the extra water drains off), and the toppings of your choice.  A few of our favorites are below.  Slide it into the wood-fired oven, where in just 2 to 3 minutes it will be done.  Or, place the pizza on top of the hot pizza stone, and bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until done.

Pizza Menu


Pizza con le patate (Rosemary Potato Pizza)

A stop by our local panificio, where bread is made and sold, nearly always ended in a piece or two of pizza al taglio along with our loaf of bread.

Rome is famous for its pizza al taglio, and there are pizza shops that sell literally dozens of varieties.  Panifici, however, typically sell just a few types – perhaps pizza bianca with no toppings at all except olive oil and sea salt, pizza rossa with just crust and tomato sauce, pizza con le zucchine with grated zucchini and mozzarella, and one of our favorites – pizza con le patate, or rosemary potato pizza.

We’ve recreated that pizza at home, and love to make it on a lazy weekend, for family gatherings or for parties.  It is delicious right out of the oven, but it tastes great at room temperature too, so it can be made ahead of time.

In our version,  paper thin slices of potato and grated fresh mozzarella cheese are layered on top of a thin pizza crust, and the whole thing is adorned with fresh rosemary leaves, sea salt and ground black pepper.  A drizzle of olive oil is the final touch.

The potatoes cook along with the crust, the mozzarella melts and turns golden brown on top, and the rosemary releases its fragrant aroma.  Gotta run – ours looks and smells done!

for one 9×13 in pan

Pizza crust
320 grams (2 and 1/2 cups) flour*, plus extra.
8 grams (1 and 1/2 tsp.) salt
20 grams (5 tsp) active dry yeast
250 ml (1 cup) warm water
olive oil

Potato Pizza Topping
1 and a half medium potatoes
1 tub of fresh mozzarella (226 grams, 8 ounces)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1-2 cloves of finely minced garlic (optional)
ground black pepper
olive oil

* If possible, use Italian type 00 flour, found in specialty stores and online vendors.  We use King Arthur Italian Style flour.

Mix the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  In a separate container, add the yeast to the warm water.  Stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Slowly pour the water and yeast in, and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is well mixed.  The dough will probably be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a smooth, well-floured work surface.  Mix the dough by hand, incorporating more flour as needed to keep it from sticking.  Knead by hand for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy.

Clean the bowl you mixed the dough in and drizzle olive oil inside it.  Gather the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, rotating it so that it becomes coated with oil on all sides.  Cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm location to rise for one hour.

While the dough rises, prepare your toppings.  Drain the mozzarella and grate it through the largest holes of a grater.  Wash the rosemary and pull the leaves off of the stems.  Peel the potatoes and slice them very thinly.  We use a vegetable slicer at 1/16th inch to help achieve thin, regular slices. Rub a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Preheat the oven to 350° F, 180° C.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Punch it down and stretch it into a rectangular shape.  Place it on the baking tray, and using your fingers and the heel of your hand, press it evenly into the baking pan, working it towards the edges and corners while maintaining a consistent thickness.

Layer the potato slices over the entire surface of the pizza, overlapping the slices only slightly at the edges.  Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top of the pizza. If you choose to use garlic, add it now.  Salt and pepper liberally, and then toss the rosemary leaves on top. Complete your pizza with a thin drizzle of olive oil on top.

Bake at 350° F, 180° C for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the mozzarella browns and the crust turns golden brown.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pizza con le patate