The wood-fired oven This is an essential factor in the creation of the true Neapolitan pizza. The design of the traditional wood-fired pizza oven is more than 2,000 years old. These ovens are dome-shaped, made from brick or clay, and the roof is heated by direct contact with the flames from the burning wood below. The dome shape then causes the heat to be reflected back down to the base of the oven.
In a well-used oven (such as those in many pizzerias in Naples) the fire will never go out completely – even when there are no pizzas in the oven. The flames will die right down and just embers will be left burning so the oven can be brought back up to a temperature at a much faster rate. A pizza oven will reach about 400°C (750°F), at which temperature a pizza will cook in about 11/2 minutes. If you are lucky enough to have a wood-fired oven the woods of choice are cherry or olive wood, as they don’t smoke as much as other woods. Make sure you also invest in a long pizza paddle to get your pizzas in and out of the deep oven.
Wood-fired ovens are becoming more and more popular as an outside alternative to a barbecue. They are used to cook a wide variety of foods, not just pizzas. Whole large roasts and loaves of bread can be successfully cooked in them as well as semi-dried tomatoes, zucchinis and other vegetables.
The electric oven For a while electric ovens was beginning to replace the traditional woodfired oven in many pizzerias around the world. It seems today that the wood-fired oven may be making a comeback in most pizzerias but for many of us, an electric oven is still the main oven of choice. With an electric oven, we have a lot more control over temperature and this makes it more suited to most domestic homes. Although the flavour and smell may not be quite as authentic as that of a wood-fired oven, the pizza that you will produce can still be of top quality. It may be worth investing in a pizza stone if you are planning on doing some serious pizza making at home. All our recipes are tested in fan-assisted ovens, which produce a crisper, golden crust.
The pizza stone A pizza stone will transform your electric or gas oven into the modern equivalent of the clay and brick ovens used by traditional pizza bakers. Cooking pizzas on such a stone give them a crispness that cannot otherwise be achieved from an oven. Most pizza stones have been fired at temperatures in excess of 1,100°C (2,000°F). This enables them to give a very dry heat that is also evenly distributed, eliminating any hot spots and giving a consistent browning to your pizza. Pizza stones are suitable for use in both gas or electric ovens. Try serving your pizza directly on the stone and it will stay hot right through until the last slice. It is important always to heat your pizza stone first so it can absorb the heat of the oven. You will need a pizza paddle or use our parchment paper technique to transfer your topped pizza quickly on to the stone without losing too much heat alternatively, you will need to work very quickly to assemble your topping. Sprinkle a little flour on the pizza stone first to stop it sticking. Be very careful when handling the stone as it gets very hot and will remain hot for a long time. In our recipes, we have said to use a baking sheet as not everyone will have a pizza stone, but obviously if you have one use it instead.
The barbecue Cooking pizza on the barbecue is a great way to impress your guests. It requires no special skills, just the flick of the switch or some burning coals. It’s a good idea to keep a supply of frozen pizza dough balls in the freezer for those spontaneous summer evenings. Just defrost the dough (see page 13), roll it out and within minutes you can have a crisp, slightly charred crust with your chosen topping. Some topping ingredients, such as bunches of cherry tomatoes or grilled eggplants, are best cooked separately. Let the cheese melt on the base and throw the extra topping on – hey presto!