Pizzaiolo Beginners Guide

When I was a kid, pizza was my nonna’s heavy, cardboard like crust with a scraping of leftover sugo from a previous nights dinner and if I was lucky, that blocky mozzarella you feel is better suited to as a buoyancy aide rather than something to be cooked with. In my teens, pizza either came from the freezer or was the perennial and purportedly “thin and crispy” roman style crust, all flimsy wet base, chewy crust, danish mozzarella and dried oregano. Then at some point between my 20’s and 30’s the UK got really serious about pizza, like tambourine banging, self flagellation sermon on the mounts serious. All of a sudden consumers were thrust into an arena of sourdough bases, 48 hour levitations, leoparding, hole structure and my least favourite one “lo-mo” (low moisture mozzarella cheese…) In nearly every way, this was an incredible moment in the rapidly moving love affair the British have with Italian food, a new epoch of pizza. From Aberdeen to Brighton, if you looked carefully you could find a pizza that wouldn’t be a million miles away from what you could be eating on the Via Tribunalli in Naples. The caveat to this however, was everything behind making a pizza, became really complex, really quickly.

There has never been a period in the history of pizza where when making your own at home you can get so lost, bamboozled or suffer from extreme feelings of inferiority because that piece of dough you lovingly worked from a handful of flour, 48 hours later fails to achieve leoparding on the crust and you are looking at 3 likes on instagram. I am sure I will invite criticism by saying this from the more evangelical members of the cult of pizza, but don’t panic. Don’t seek a session on the couch with Enzo Coccia or waste hours watching youtube videos hoping in vain that you might find that holy grail-like tip. Pizza is simple. It was really simple and basic in Napoli 300 years ago when Carlo Collodi described it as a burnt piece of dough, a black toasted bit of bread covered in sickly garlic, a right “patchwork of greasy filthy”

There is lots of really simple recipes out there to get you started in the world of pizza making. Its probably best to find one which you feel comfortable with and going from there. If you havent made bread before, just a simple loaf, Id recommend you do this first before attempting a pizza. Pizza isnt difficult once you understand how dough feels, moves and acts. Once you have done this, then you can start to think about pizza, but like I said start small and then start experimenting

Top 10 Pizza Kit Essentials

1. Dough scraper

It will bring your dough together, keep your bowls clean, your hands clean and your work surfaces clean.

2. Electronic scales

A good quality electric scales will be the difference between calamity and absolute victory.

3. Pyrex bowls

Its not a necessity but it does help if you want to watch your dough proving and avoid the fear of over proving.

4. A Pizza stone

I personally don’t use them in the home oven as I like the nostalgia of a baking tray, however if you do want to get as close to the real thing and don’t have the money for a pizza oven in your kitchen, they can give you a similar effect of a true stone baked pizza.

5. Some clear plastic bin liners or big plastic bags

No, its not because you will need extra bin liners to accommodate all the dough and failed pizza crusts you end up throwing away. I use these to cover my dough when its proving. The clear ones are good as you can still see the dough and know just the right time to stop and proving. Plus, they are reusable and in the long term, much cheaper than cling film.

6. A rolling pin

Just in case your dough isn’t playing ball

7. An oven safe frying pan

Again, a strange one, but frying pans are great if you are making a pizza in your home oven. You can place your base in the pan, top and place on the hob to start the base off, before putting into a hot oven to finish. Clean and simple, even better if you have a detachable handle

8. A measuring jug

Accuracy again, is key to creating a decent pizza.

9. A stand mixer

– if you can afford it, is a very worthwhile piece of kit and will save you a lot of time and muscle wastage.

10. A picture of either The Virgin Mary or Maradonna to hang close to the oven

It will make you feel like you are a true Neapolitan pizzaiolo and in turn build your confidence more than any 3 day intensive course in Naples itself could.

The first recipe is unashamedly, a basic bread recipe, id say this is your baby step into making pizza and forming, feeling and experimenting with this dough is going to be integral to progressing to more difficult, complex doughs that require a bit more tomfoolery and experience. This dough doesn’t require long proving times and is not going to coat you and every exposed part of your kitchen in a chewing gum-like dough that makes the blob moving into your a more preferable option than making dinner.

  • 500g 00 flour
  • 3g fresh yeast/10g dried yeast
  • 300ml lukewarm Water
  • 10g salt


– Mix the salt and flour together (you don’t want the yeast and salt to come into contact, so mix the salt really well and it will give it a little forcefield of flour to protect it)

– Mix the yeast and water together and let sit until the water develops a little bit of foam/surface bubbles

– Slowly add the water/yeast to the flour. Remember that flour has a tremendous capacity to suck up liquid so the more you mix the better.

– Once your dough is smooth and pliable and is no longer mottled, place it in a bowl, cover and leave for around 4 hours. I use a clear glass pyrex bowl so I can watch it and usually write the details of the dough on the bowl or cling film. Try and make sure the dough is left in a warm place, away from drafts.

– Once the dough has really doubled up youn need to knock it back to stop the levitation otherwise the dough will over prove .

– Punch the dough down and form into balls of equal weight, I usually go for about 200g

– Form the balls and cover with a little more flour and make sure again, they are covered with either a tea towel or clingfilm. You don’t want any air to get to the dough

– Once the dough balls have doubled up, you want to open them out. Its quite hard to describe how to do this so either watch the video, find a video or use a rolling pin. All I would say is that you want to push the dough out from the centre to form a crust, rotating and moving the dough as you go along to create the base.

– Once the dough is opened up into the pizza base, you need to top it and put it in the oven as high as possible. I leave the cheese off and put it on once the base is baked so it doesn’t get too brown or burnt.


I am loathed to do much more than get a really good passata or can of whole tomatoes, crush them down, add a good pinch of salt, lots of torn basil, extra virgin olive oil and a twist of pepper.

When you start cooking a tomato sauce, you concentrate it, it becomes a bit jammy and I like my pizza sauce to be light and still quite fresh tasting so again, I wouldn’t really recommend cooking out a sauce. The time the pizza will have in the oven will give it exactly the right amount of cooking time it needs and leave that sparky, fresh taste of the tomatoes one of the main stars of the show

In a few of the restaurants I worked in, the pizzaiolo’s would add different additions depending on their own locality, but it was really nothing more than maybe a pinch of good quality dried oregano, very finely sliced garlic, a little chopped anchovy or a pinch of chilli. Remember less is more with a pizza.

All I would say is that don’t go over the top, keep it light, simple and don’t think that a ragu is the best way to layer that ground work of flavour for a pizza.

Other vegetables make great bases, not just the tomato. One of my favourites is to make a Genovese finto. This is basically a load of onions, sweated down for about 40 minutes with some salt, olive oil, a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. You need to add a bit of water and sugar too. You get this really moorish, sweet sauce that works brilliantly with some fiore di latte and fresh chive.

Recipe 2:

This recipe is a little more advanced and should give you a lighter crust. You will need some fridge space or somewhere cool for this to rest over night. I sometimes cover this dough and leave it by the back door or in the porch where it will stay a little colder and the reaction will take longer. You can do this recipe by hand, but I would really recommend doing it in a stand mixer. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you will probably need to have a dough scraper to work with the dough as it will be quite wet.

  • 500g 00 flour
  • 350ml water
  • 2g fresh yeast
  • 10g salt

– Mix the water and the yeast together, and as before, wait for the yeast to start producing bubbles

– Mix the flour and the salt together

– Slowly add the water and integrate well into the flour.

– The dough is going to be wet, so id advise working on the kitchen table on a wipe clean tablecloth, the type you would probably bring back from a trip to Italy. You know the type, plastic and adorned with lemons.

– Work the dough for a good 20-30 minutes, cover and leave over night. When you come down in the morning it should be a flat surface, but nearly reaching the top of the bowl.

– I knock this back again, and add a little extra flour before forming into balls and letting rest until I need to cook. You want to make sure that the dough has half an hour out of the fridge before you start to form the base as it will be too tight to open out.

Worth Remembering:

I wish someone had told me when I first started making bread, that sometimes things go wrong that are totally out of your control. Ovens may have dodgy seals, yeast may have died, the wind may be blowing in the wrong direction, the temperature may plunge or soar, humidity etc etc. Lots of things can affect your dough, so do not despair if things don’t turn out perfect.

When I decided I really wanted to learn how to make bread, I just would buy some cheap flour and yeast and put aside a day now and again to get a real feel for it all. Id weigh out everything, even water, and make notes. Id experiment with different temperatures and moisture levels until I started to understand what was happening a bit more. So to reiterate, when you are making your pizza don’t despair if it doesn’t look like the experts you follow on social media or have seen in a cook book. It is a skill to make bread, and like all skills it requires a little time, patience and investing in. Remember, whatever you do will more than likely be edible so its not all bad and you will have fun getting there.

A Caponata for all seasons

Caponata , aptly nicknamed “A Hungry Mans Dream”, is quite possibly one of the best meals you can make if you are a body toning nut job who doesn’t want to compromise on the flavour and morale that is usually associated with “Health” food. Its very simply a vegetable stew, but one which allows each vegetable its own little spotlight. People may scoff at the thought of It being healthy as its best made when fried, but it can also be done under the grill or even blanched (maybe for those suffering from Orthorexia)


Caponata is the pinnacle of Sicilian baroque fantasy cooking, with its roots pretty much dipping in and out of nearly all the major culinary influencers (a term I cannot stand) that set up shop on the island.

The earliest recipe for the dish comes from Agrigento, which is apt, as the city like the recipe, was fought and debated over for hundreds of years and by a variety of invaders. A tapestry of Byzantine/Roman sweet and sour (or Agro Dolce), the veg comes courtesy from Arabic and Carthaginian influence and the simplicity is possibly Hellenic. The Norman influence is lacking, I can only assume they were developing that most inferior cousin to Caponata, the Ratatouille.

I have added a touch of honey to this recipe to increase the length of the flavour, plus bees and honey have a wonderful historical significance in Sicily for bringing good luck and fortune.



1 aubergine (I like the round purple aubergines from Sicily for this)
1 stick of fresh celery
1 bunch of fresh mint
Handful of sliced almonds
1 Onion (Tropea are fantastic)
Half a teaspoon of honey
7-8 Torpedino tomatoes
2 litres of sunflower oil
Good extra virgin olive oil
Handful of capers
1.5 Tablespoon red wine vinegar



1. Start by finely dicing your onion and sautéing in a little olive oil on a low heat, and half a tablespoon of the vinegar. You want to cook this until its translucent and without any signs of colouring
2. Peel the celery of its strings, finely chop. Bring a pan of slated water to the boil and blanche the celery in the water for 20 seconds before plunging into cold water. Do not throw this water away
3. Heat up some sunflower oil in a pan. Chop an aubergine to your liking, by this I mean a small, medium or large chunk. I personally like a medium/small chop. Salt a little and pat dry. Shallow fry until golden brown and set aside on kitchen paper.
4. In the boiling water, drop the tomatoes in for 20 seconds and carefully remove and skin.
5. Once the Torpedino tomatoes are skinned, roast them in a dry frying pan until a little coloured and removed.
6. Mix the vegetables with finely chopped mint, toasted almonds, capers, some celery leaves, honey, vinegar, olive oil and allow to marinate for 30 minutes minimum, before serving. Tastes better at room temperature.



Joe Hurd – A nostalgic look on my love affair with Stracchino

stacchino, joe hurd, holidaysThe Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route

I never did holiday romances growing up, not in the conventional sense, but the closest I got was a story that makes Heathcliff and Cathy look like Alex Reid and Jordan.

When Calabria started getting too hot for my fur lined Yorkshire father, we switched up and would go to the cooler Adriatic climes of Cattolica, a tributary party town of the once great 70’s package holiday Mecca, Rimini. It was a brilliant melange of amusement arcades, knock off football shirts, granita stands, seasonally burnt German tourists, pastel tablecloths and sticky plastic garden chairs – perfect for a teenager from Hull.

Of course, being on the Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route, you got plenty of opportunities to meet girls and I reckon many of the lads, with whom I would spend my days smacking a 99p flyer* backwards and forwards across the luminous green pool,did.

Not I.

No, back in those days I had one main occupation on holiday -eating. I was like a horse with blinkers and a nose bag attached. From the morning buffet of salami, prosciutto cotto, hot rolls and Nutella brioche to the evening 6 course meals of Salumi, giardineri, veal, passatelli, during the whole shebang with various interruptions throughout the day of Stracciatella gelato and granita, I grazed merrily under the Italian sun like a fatted lazarini.

It was on one of these trips, however, I arguably fell in love with a cheese that had about as much affect on my life as Helen did on the history of Troy.

Stracchino is that shy, shrinking wall flower of the cheese world. It’s hard to find in the UK, difficult to contain and has a reputation for not travelling well. It arrives begrudgingly, from tired (Stracche is a Lombard colloquialism for “tired”) stressed cows brought down from their summer vacation in the lush mountain pastures of Lombardy and Piedemonte. The first milk they produce is slightly fatty, rich and bitter and this is where Stracchino gets it trademark boozy aroma from. It makes for the perfect turophile love story.

In 2001 my parents finally liberated me from the hotel’s poolside lunch menu of stomach cramping lasagna, chlorine spattered imitation beef burgers and a Salad Nicoise solely designed as a threat to punish any infant miscreant. I was free to wander through the lunchtime human tide of sweltering shimmering Germans, willowy red Dutchmen and English families perpetually on the hunt for “Spag *shudder* Bol” .

The one place that seemed to cater for any of the actual inhabitants of Cattolica was a blue garden shed run by a mother and son team flipping out hot Piadina by the truck load. For a greedy teen boy, or anyone this side of vegetarian, what isn’t to love about hot flat bread made from strutto (good time pig juice/lard) with a thick white mantle of rich, acidic spreadable cheese with a yeasty back taste? I didn’t know what I was asking for but my now honed technique of pointing and moving my head in a culinary direction landed me with Stracchino and prosciutto day after day.

Stracchino was a revelation. It’s not a cheese that slaps you round the face and leaves you drooling on the floor, no Stracchino is dairy humility. It’s the cheese equivalent to Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”; It gives a lot, you overlook it, maybe even dismiss it…then a few days later realise it’s possibly one of the best things to have ever entered your mouth. The flavour is one of persistance, it builds and grows before registering in your brain as something quite unreal and moreish.

It’s an oddball cheese to be fair. The texture, when straight out the fridge is satisfyingly gelatinous but give it time at room temperature and it acquires the solemn ooze of lava, letting itself spread out much like a midriff on a fat man following a 12 course dinner. On the palate it’s thick, sticky and heavy, you could even say a little bit boozy? It coats every corner of the mouth with a satisfying earthy, acidic farm yard flavour, before dissipating into sweet, milky vapours that remind you of a young grana padano.


Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils joe hurd, spaghetti bbc saturday kitchen lamb chops with stracchino

I was hooked, but I didn’t realise it until my return to the UK. I had taken my alabaster goddess, with her un-sculpted lines and love handles that make it look more like some flabby bread dough than cheese, totally for granted. In the UK, circa 2001, it was nowhere to be found.
I remember clearly going into our local branch of Safeways and keeping my eyes partially closed in Christmas morning-like anticipation,hoping that maybe one of those featureless tubs, nestled amongst the spiky bergs of Parmiggiano Reggiano, would be my creamy Holy Grail but only to be totally disappointed on finding largely insipid pots of supermarket mascarpone and ricotta.
Later, when I was a little older, we hooked up in Bologna. Shunning the opportunity to catch up on some underage drinking round the back of the Conad supermarket, I’d wander the colonnades of the old town tucking into this block of alabaster cheese tang like it was an apple.
I even got bold, smuggling as much stracchino wrapped in cling film through customs at the height of the foot and mouth scare like a crazed dairy obsessed Howard Marks as I could fit in an Umbro duffel bag. The border control didn’t scupper me but the intense heat in my bag generated in the near greenhouse conditions of Charles de Gaulle airport transformed the cheese into a fizzing ball of milk funk. I was gutted.
It would be years later I saw stracchino again, sitting prettily in the shop window of one of London’s outrageously priced Italian delis. She was still the same, pearl white, plain and unassuming, hiding the mysteries contained within but now with a price tag of nearing five quid and rendering it way out my league.
We are older now. Stracchino is becoming more available to the public, whereas with abs to maintain, I’m becoming less available to cheese. I see it now and again; in place of Mozzarella on a Pizza, where its beautiful melting abilities and subtle richness outshine the best buffalo and burrata. Occasionally she pops up tucked into a tortellini or stuffed into a veal chop by recent converts with Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils, sat jauntily on a blue rimmed plate atop a marble counter. Soon the East end hipsters will come and elevate it to lofty cheese heights, waddling West London food bloggers will rave and strike their piggy little flags into its terra un-firma. But me and Stracchino will always have that summer, in Cattolica.


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