Johnny Di Francesco is a pizza master whose Neapolitan pizzas at 400 Gradi have been voted amongst the world’s best, collecting many awards and accolades over the years. How does he do it? When you talk to Johnny and ask him what makes the pizzas at 400 Gradi his answer is quite simple
We stay as true as possible to the traditional Neapolitan style/recipe. Why alter something that has been perfected?
This notion resonates through the entire pizza making process to the point where Johnny imports his water from Naples. To some this may sound excessive however the science behind it is that our water tends to be hard (higher mineral content) which can effect the flavour and rising process of the dough.
Johnny proudly shares his knowledge in the form of pizza making master classes which are run on Saturday mornings at 400 Gradi. Recently The City Lane was invited to one of these master classes to learn the science behind creating the perfect pizza Neapolitan pizza and to discover how to make these pizzas at home.
To make a traditional Napoli pizza you only require four ingredients: Tipo 00 flour, water, salt and yeast.
For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being able to import water from Naples, filtered tap water at approximately 8°C will suffice. Secondly you need Tipo 00 flour with a W rating of 280-330. The W rating is a test that tells us the strength of the flour by determining the rupture point of an inflated bubble of dough. The higher the rating the more bubbles will occur in the crust which will make the pizza base lighter. This rating is not always present on the packaging so you may need to do a little research before you decide on which flour to purchase.
Next is the yeast. Most of us are probably guilty of using one of those 7g packets of dried yeast when we have made pizza at home but in Johnny’s opinion this is a major faux pas. You should in fact only use 1-2g of fresh yeast, which will encourages a slow rise and a more mature dough. The maturation process is really important as it changes the structure of the dough and also helps to decrease that bloated feeling you can get when you eat pizza. Typically, it is recommended that you should leave the dough for 24 hours to mature.
Once maturation is complete the dough is stretched by hand (never by a rolling pin). You are supposed to use your fingers to indent the center of the dough and push it out slowly to form a crust which will bubble away when it is cooked. This stretching process is probably the most challenging part of making the pizza as if it’s over stretched you will end up with holes in your pizza base however if it’s under stretched you will end up with a really thick base.
Even after the master class my pizza stretching skills do not allow me to throw the base in the air like Johnny. This may be possible one day with a lot of practice.
When it comes to choosing toppings Johnny has one rule – “keep it simple”. He recommends a maximum of four toppings so choose carefully.
Johnny’s last tip is to cook your pizza for 90 seconds at 400°C in a pizza oven. However if you don’t have a pizza oven at home, turn your oven up to its maximum temperature and cook your pizza for 8 – 10 minutes.
If you’re keen to give these pizzas a go at home, here’s Johnny Di Francesco’s award winning 400 Gradi pizza dough recipe.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes / Resting Time: 26 hours / Makes 8 bases
- 1kg Tipo 00 flour
- 600ml chilled filtered water
- 1-3g fresh yeast
- 30g salt
- Mix the water and salt together in a large, clean bowl until all the salt has dissolved.
- Add in approximately 20% of the flour into the salt water and mix well by hand.
- Add the yeast and mix until it is incorporated.
- Continue to add the flour a little at a time, mixing continuously.
- Once all the flour has been added, knead the dough for about 10 minutes by hand.
- The dough is ready when you can press the dough and it springs back.
- Put the dough aside for 2 hours covered with a damp cloth.
- Divided the dough into 8 pieces and form into smooth balls.
- Place the balls into Tupperware containers with lids and leave to rest for 24 hours.
- Gently press the balls out into a circle. Using your fingers, slowly push from the center of the dough towards the edge.
- Once you have stretched you dough to its ideal size, top your pizza however you like. Just remember Johnny’s rule of a maximum of four toppings.
- Place your pizza into an oven on maximum temperature and bake for 8-10 minutes.