– by Lizzie Macaulay
Yeast. That delightful to eat and drink, but slightly intimidating to cook with, little fungi that makes things so incredibly airy and delicious. I’m a fan.
Lately I’ve been trying my best to grapple the yeast beast and figure out how to cook with it. You see, this year, we bought this flashy new barbeque and we decided to try making pizzas from scratch on it. I thought I was making some pretty great progress until the opportunity to write this column popped up. It turns out… I know nothing…
Local legend, and pizza god, Paolo Esposito was gracious enough to invite me into his kitchen to learn the ins and outs of making the perfect pizza. I’ve been behind the scenes of many a restaurant in my hospitality career (a squillion years ago), so to step behind the iconic bar at Paolo’s Pizza Bar on the Esplanade, I feel a strange mix of familiarity and reverence.
I’ve been looking forward to working on this column for weeks, and as I wash my hands and don my special ‘kitchen hat’ to begin, I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. I revert to giggling awkwardly, and no matter where I stand in this beautifully organised kitchen, I don’t belong.
Thankfully, Paolo is a kind and patient man who generously shows me the ropes, despite it being the busiest night of the week.
“Today,” he says, “we are going to make the Queen of Pizza – the Margherita.”
How hard can it be – it’s just cheese and sauce, right? Oh no, as I quickly discover, it is an artform. A carefully orchestrated dance that Paolo has been performing for years.
The delicate, but firm touch to stretching and shaping the dough. The specific spiral pattern of getting the sauce just right on the pizza base (remembering not to touch the sides!). The wild dance of the pizza swirling round the distinctive custom wood-fired oven under his guidance…
I notice the warmth radiating from the oven and I’m grateful for the fact I’m doing this in winter. I ask Paolo how he copes with the heat of the oven during our summer months.
He scoffs a little, winks and says, “We pizzaioli are different.” I know exactly what he means. By the time this little tête-à-tête is complete, the pizza is ready to come out of the oven – gloriously golden, smelling of everything that is right in the world.
He cuts it directly on the plate with such strength I’m stunned the plate withstands what must be a regular occurrence. I make a mental note to ask how many pizza plates they go through, but quickly forget as the moment of truth arrives.
If this were a cartoon, I would be floating in mid-air and following the smell lines rising from this magnificent creation. It is crisp and full of flavour and has the distinctive, ineffable quality that all things made from scratch do. Like someone has turned up the flavour volume on every element.
As I write this, I’m still rehearsing the steps to the perfect pizza in my head…
1. Take the perfect ball of dough and place it on a floured surface (semolina preferred)
2. Go ‘bah, bah, bah, bah, bah’ with your fingers to push the air bubbles out to the sides to create the perfect crust
3. Stretch and spin, stretch and spin
4. Pull the base over your knuckles and fling it in the air
5. Swirl the sauce from the middle to the outside leaving a finger-width of gap between sauce and crust
By no means am I saying I am now an expert in pizza making, but I sure am confident pizza night at the Macaulay’s just got a whole lot better.
With enormous thanks to Paolo, Leanne and the very patient crew at Paolo’s Pizza Bar:
446 Esplanade, Torquay.