Real Italian Pizza. Out of a wood-fired oven real! How often do you get the chance to make real Italian pizza out of a wood-fired oven in Italy? In my head, never. So I had to jump on the opportunity when it presented itself during our Italy road trip. I have always been a huge fan of eating pizza so why not find out how to make the best kind from the people that mastered it? What started as a polite ask to our host about the possibility of learning to make a real Italian pizza turned into a fun night of cooking lessons and overeating that I will never forget.
We were staying at a wonderful bed and breakfast that we stumbled upon in the night. The host, Gaetano, had shown us around quickly the night before but since we arrived so late it was just a brief introduction. As we were enjoying our breakfast outside in the outdoor dining area, I noticed the wood-fired oven. I immediately told Nikki that I had to have a pizza out of that thing. Better yet, I wanted to make a pizza that would come out of it.
I am not a cook. My skills in the kitchen are limited but that was one of the things that I wanted to work on during these travels. It was part of the reason that we stayed with a chef in Miraflores, Peru, giving me the chance to learn how to cook Peruvian ceviche. Food brings people together and if you know how to make certain cultural dishes, you can help out when friends come together to share meals. At least that is what I tell myself. If I’m ever put the test, watch out.
So there I was with this chance to learn how to cook real Italian pizza from a wood-fired oven in a small town in Italy. I just needed the host to go along with the idea. I learned a while back to never be afraid to ask anybody anything. I pride myself on it a bit. Usually, people love to help others but they are never asked. And once again, that was the case here. I used Google Translate on my phone to get my idea across to our gracious host and he was overly pleased with the idea. I told him Nikki and I would provide the wine and get the toppings if he could just give us a list of the needed items. I also told him that the most important part was me learning how to make and cook the pizza. We weren’t just looking to eat pizza here….it was about learning to make it. He loved the idea. We decided that it would happen the night after next.
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In the morning of Pizza Day, he gave us the short list of needs – Mozzarella and pizza sauce. He said that he had the dough covered. Nikki and I added some mushrooms and spinach to the list. We already had a couple bottles of wine that we got when staying at the vineyard a few nights before but we added 2 more bottles just in case. He mentioned that there would be about ten people that would be at the dinner.
After our day out discovering the local towns and a trip to the market, we got back to the residence at about 4:40 with the idea that I would begin near 5:00. I ate a small late lunch quickly because Nikki and I never had the chance to eat during the day and he set the expectation that we would eat dinner near 8:00. A small mistake on my part.
I get to the small kitchen at 4:50 ready to go! The wood-fired oven is already going and Gaetano and his nephew, Michael, are setting everything up. He, first, has Micheal show me how to prep the dough. It was a fun process of pushing the dough all over after mixing the needed ingredients (sugar, flour, salt, yeast, oil, water). This takes a good 15-20 minutes getting eight potential pies ready that would need to rise over the next couple of hours. As we continue to prep the fire, we lay out the toppings and cut up the mozzarella.
I could tell that these two were just as excited as I was and this wasn’t something that they did often. It was going to be a fun family experience for them as well!
At around 5:50 they are getting a bit antsy so they begin to make our first pizza ahead of schedule. Its an awesome process – spread out the dough, pizza sauce on top, mozzarella chunks, salt, spread the shredded mozzarella, oil, add some flour everywhere, throw it in the oven, and, BANG, out in like 4 minutes! We eat that one. Then another. Then another. I ask if this is dinner and he says no, it’s still planned for around 8:00. Oh boy, I am already getting full.
At around 6:20 one of his local buddies that works for a pizzeria comes over with about 15 flour balls ready to go. This guy is a pro. He is about 30 years old and he is showing all of us how it is done. Flipping the dough all over the place like you would expect him to. Gaetano and Michael are loving it – laughing and smiling! Gaetano’s youngest son, Gabriel, is there now too enjoying it. The pro makes one – we eat it. Then another. Still, this is NOT dinner. Nikki comes down, they make her a pizza. Then another. EAT! EAT! They keep telling us.
“You like the pizza?!?! We make the pizza for Italy and America!!!” We would laugh over and over when Gaetano repeated this in his broken English throughout the night.
Finally, the other family members begin showing up. Everyone is eating and the wine is flowing. It’s an unofficial start to the dinner that has been going on for 2 hours! I can’t eat anymore but I do. I eat over five pizzas myself. Stuffed. Nikki is at her breaking point and I try to tell Gaetano that she can’t eat like me but he isn’t quite understanding because as I am telling him this his ex-wife brings out a bowl of cooked spinach. They thought that she wanted to eat the spinach that way because she wasn’t eating enough pizza. Nikki makes me sneakily eat most of it and I do….damn, it was the best warm spinach I ever ate.
We continue to drink more wine and talk, through Google Translate, about each other’s families and future plans. Gabriel dreams of being a mechanic in the United States.
Another family comes (big Italian family here), I make my first pizza start to finish by myself. They love it! I make another one. Now I have to eat some of it. Gaetano makes another pizza. EAT! EAT! they say.
More wine. Nikki goes to bed – she can’t take any more food. I’m still eating. A Watermelon appears. Gaetano adds lemon juice to it. EAT! I do and it’s great. One more drink. I’ve been balancing with water for about 2 hours but I am stuffed and kinda buzzed. Just kinda buzzed because the wine is struggling to work through all of the food.
More family shows up….this time it’s the two sisters of his ex-wife. They offer me more food. I’m done. I have to leave before I fall over. I blame it on me having to check on Nikki. I can’t do it anymore.
WHAT A NIGHT!
“You like the pizza?!?! We make the pizza for Italy and America!!!” – these words will stick with me for a while.
My ‘never being afraid to ask a question of somebody’ skill was strengthened once again. You just never know. In this case, they wanted to make the pizza just as much as I did but they probably didn’t have a reason to lately. We gave them a good reason to have a family celebration.
And boy did we celebrate!
Traveled July 2017