A well-made pizza is a symphony of simple elements: a wheat base with just the right measure of crispiness, gooey melted fior di latte, and a selection of quality ingredients on top.
Richard Purdue, head chef at Rosetta Trattoria in The Rocks, knows this well. Having begun his career at Neil Perry’s Rockpool in the 1990s, Purdue’s extensive experience with pizza-making sees his style sit somewhere between the traditional Napolitana and classico. On Rosetta’s new lunch menu, the chef oversees a margherita, marinara, which comes with Scalia anchovies or Ligurian olives, and the Inferno, with fior di latte, ‘nduja and chilli salami.
We asked Purdue to let us in on the biggest mistakes people make when making pizza at home.
Don’t disrespect the dough
Good pizza “is all about the dough,” says Purdue. “If you’ve got a bad base, you’re never going to have a great pizza. The base needs to have flavour and texture.”
First, he says, choose the right flour. “If you use plain flour, you’re never going to have a nice dough. If you use normal baker’s flour you can buy in the supermarket, that will be strong enough to make a dough you can ferment for a day. Then there are specialty flours that let you ferment up to three or four days.”
Keep the recipe simple. “It’s basically flour, water, salt, plus a leavening agent – either sourdough or yeast,” says Purdue. “The longer the fermentation the better the flavour.”
Finally, work your dough with care. “You need to respect the dough when you’re shaping your pizza,” says Purdue. The fermentation process is about building up bubbles of carbon dioxide in the dough to create aeration after cooking. “You want to do everything you can to keep that precious gas in the dough.”
So stretch the dough rather than push it – and don’t use a rolling pin. “If you gently shape it into a disc, and then just work stretching it, making it bigger across the board, you’re keeping the bubbles in there – just stretching them out. As soon as you start pushing, you’re pushing the gas out and that’s when you don’t have an aerated base.”
Don’t use a pre-cooked tomato sauce
Make your own sauce using the best tomatoes you can find. At Rosetta, Purdue uses tinned Italian San Marzano tomatoes. “We puree them, add a little bit of olive oil and a couple of basil leaves and that’s our sauce,” he says. “It’s not cooked at all. If you’ve pre-cooked your tomato and then you put it in the hot oven, it gets too jammy and too concentrated.”
Select the right cheese
Hard cheese has no place on a pizza, says Purdue. Instead use a good quality white cheese like a bocconcini or buffalo mozzarella. “What’s sold in a supermarket in a bag as shredded mozzarella hasn’t got a lot to do with mozzarella,” he says. “It’s just a bland, stretched curd cheese that’s stringy when hot and rubbery when cold.”
A good quality bocconcini, on the other hand, is less matured, which means it’s not as dry. “It’s much softer when it’s cooked,” he says. “You’re after softer, because you want the contrast in texture between the topping and the base.”
Purdue has a tip for using buffalo mozzarella, which can have a high water content and “sludge” your pizza. “If you’re going to use buffalo mozzarella, you need to drain it well,” he says.
Less toppings is more
Purdue recommends using no more than three ingredients on a pizza. “The only protein that should be on there is cured meat. You don’t put a piece of chicken on there, you put salami, prosciutto – all the cured cuts. You’re using a small amount of them, so you want them to be highly seasoned.”
Cook at high temperature
When cooking pizza, the hotter the better. At Rosetta, the pizzas are baked in a super-hot oven that scorches the crust to create an extra layer of flavour. “There is a balance between the sweetness of tomato and the bitterness of the blackness on the crust,” says Purdue. “Pizza needs to cook really quickly, so you get that lift and chew in the dough, and it doesn’t dry out and become a biscuit.”
Commercial pizza ovens reach temperatures of 400 to 450 degrees Celsius. “That’s really hard to achieve at home,” says Purdue, who has a trick for cooking pizza in domestic ovens. A pizza stone can help create the high heat needed to cook the base like a stone oven does. Purdue uses a paving stone he bought from a hardware store.
“Once the stone’s hot, turn the griller element on,” he says. “That’s the best way to approximate a proper stone-lined oven. The hot paving stone will cook your base from below and having the griller on will approximate the pizza being in an oven chamber at 400 degrees.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Rockpool. Try Rosetta Trattoria’s expanded menu specials available now, including an express lunch offer of pizza or pasta and a glass of wine for $29.