Nonna’s Pizza Dough

September 28, 2014

One of the most special parts about going to visit our friends in Italy, is being greeted by their grandparents, whom just happen to have a small apartment in the house above. They don’t speak any English, and they know that my Italian is still shakey, but they never fail to attempt conversation anyway. From the bits and pieces that I can clearly comprehend (with ears that seem to magnify the words farfalle, gelato and mamma mia!) they mention the weather, and babies. They comment on how we always seem to be wearing cycling clothes, and love to make strongman (woman) gestures with their arms when they see me, before asking again about babies. I think they like me because I can’t help but beam in their presence, I always ask them how they are in elementary level Italian, and I squeeze their hands when they squeeze mine. I like them because they pinch my cheeks (and my husbands cheeks,) and because they still go for little walks (passegiata) together each evening. Because Nonno still makes his own ragu, puts up tomatoes, and sneaks the ladder out into the yard to fix things even though -well into his 80’s – he’s been scolded for doing so. And, because Nonna’s hands are soft and knowing, and because I now know that she has the most wonderfully simple recipe for pizza dough I’ve ever heard of, and she knows it by heart.

Matte made the dough from scratch for the first time on the night that he made homemade pizzas for us in the wood-fired oven beneath the stone arches off the patio of their home. He was able to rattle it off to me easily, as we kneaded and rolled the dough into individual balls on the broad, table of their comfortable and heart-warmingly Tuscan-style kitchen. He shared it with me – I’m sure- as Nonna had shared it with him; like the most obvious something he had known forever but just recently realized. Like “the sky is blue, can you believe it?” Well, in this case, I can.

Almost Pizzas

I can safely say that I’ve never had such spectacular pizza, and I can say sadly that I’ll not have pizza so good again until we return to Tuscany so that he can cook it for us. It’s just not the same to turn the dough here in my kitchen in Boulder as it is on the weathered dining table in his father’s kitchen. The pizza stone in our oven could never get as hot as the floor of the oven that he stoked with fire for hours before cooking the pizzas. And plus there was a starry night sky, and all that wine that just seemed to keep appearing….

Rolling the Dough

The recipe below is a compilation of instructions that I ran to scrawl in my notebook while in a lovely wined-haze as soon as dinner had wound down, and of the additions that I realized I had forgotten once I got home to our kitchen here in Boulder and gave the dough a go. t’s a simple, straightforward recipe and one that we’ll keep as a souvenir from our first trip to Italy together.

Our Pizzaiolo

A couple of notes on this pizza dough recipe: From start to finish, the process of making this dough will take you roughly 3 hours so it’s the type of thing to do on a weekend, or when you have a bit of time to work the dough properly. (The dough also keeps well if refrigerated, so if you made the dough ahead of time you could always let it thaw on the countertop for 1.5 hours before baking to make it more suitable for a weeknight dinner.) The original recipe calls for a single ounce of fresh yeast, which is quite hard to find in the United States. So, I’ve identified the conversion of active dry yeast you’ll need as well. As far as toppings, you could use anything from simple tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to more extravagant vegetables, charcuterie, cheeses, whathaveyou. I might suggest that you have a simple tomato paste, some dried oregano, and fresh mozzarella cheese on hand as a jumping off point. 

Lastly, a note on oven temperatures. We baked the pizzas in a firey stone oven, stoked with wood. To best recreate this effect, I suggest cranking your oven up to its hottest point possible for a nice crispy crust. If you have a pizza stone, follow the instructions for use of your specific stone. If you don’t have one, you can do as we do, and bake your pizza atop a large slab of granite purchased for pennies at Home Depot; the stone retains heat far better than a baking pan or pizza pan, and therefore lends a crisper, chewier, more Nonna-approved crust. Enjoy! – xo L

Nonna's Pizza Dough
  1. 1 ounce fresh yeast OR 5 tsp active dry yeast
  2. 310 ml (1 1/4 cups) warm water
  3. a pinch of sugar
  4. 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  5. 500g (1lb 2 oz) white bread flour
  6. 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing
  7. your desired toppings! *500 ml (2 cups) tomato sauce, dried oregano, + 300g(10.5 oz) fresh mozzarella are suggested to have on hand*
  1. *From start to finish, allow 3 hours to make pizzas from this dough. You can also refrigerate and keep the dough for up to three days, just bring it up to room temperature before rolling out and using for pizza!*
  2. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and the pinch of sugar and leave it to activate (you'll know its active when its bubbling!)
  3. In a separate, large + wide bowl, put the flour and half a teaspoon of salt and make a well in the center. Add the yeast and the olive oil to the center and mix in with a fork to incorporate. (*A fork is recommended because it works the dough less, and will lead to a more tender pizza crust.) Once the yeast has been mostly incorporated, use your hands to knead the dough for roughly 10 minutes to get a smooth, compact dough. If the dough feels dry or shaggy, add a bit more water just one tablespoon at a time. If it feels too wet, or sticks to your hands like goop, add a bit more flour just one tablespoon at a time. Once the dough is nice and elastic, place it into a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a cloth, and leave it to rise in a warm place (inside your oven with the oven off is a good spot) for 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Once the 1.5 hours has passed, preheat your oven to 400F degrees. Lightly grease three pizza trays (or flat baking sheets) with olive oil. You may have to cook the pizzas in shifts.
  5. Next, punch down the dough and divide it into three equally sized balls. (If you have a kitchen scale, its advisable that you weigh each ball to be sure they are the same weight!) Put the three dough balls onto a tray, covered with a cloth, and leave them to rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Dust your countertop or workspace lightly with flour. Then, with a rolling pin, work with one of each of the three balls of dough separately, rolling it out into a 1/8 x 12 inch disc. Repeat with all three of the dough balls.
  7. Place the discs on each of the baking trays and cover with toppings to your hearts desire (remember, more is not more in this case!)
  8. Bake the pizzas in the oven until the dough and underside of the pizza is lightly golden and firm. This will take roughly 15 minutes. I suggest at this point, that you put one last little dusting of fresh mozzarella atop each pizza and return the pizza to the oven for a little longer, until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

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