Submitted by Darlene Ford, RVT, RVTTC Director
It was a difficult decision deciding on this topic. Something I am passionate about of course. People, animals, travel, art, the outdoors? In the end it was the journey of making the best Italian pizza in Dixon, Saskatchewan.
8 years ago my family—husband and two sons, then 16 and 13—travelled for nineteen days on our own in Italy. We really only had one mishap: in Naples waiting for the 1:41pm train in the station on platform three. At 1:38pm a train arrived. Being from Saskatchewan we all thought “Oh, look it’s a few minutes early.” Having only STC buses in our travelling past that could have a twenty-minute variation in arrival time it seemed a safe bet to embark on this offering. We board the train and are happily discussing amongst ourselves how excited we are to be going to Sorrento and Pompeii. Another passenger on the train, and you are now going to think I am making this up for dramatic effect but I swear it to be truth. A man in a trench coat and fedora (I swear!) looked at us and said “No Sorrento.” Four pairs of eyes widen. What? This train doesn’t go to Sorrento? Again, “No Sorrento,” also no English. He pointed to the route map on the train wall and we realize we have boarded the wrong train. At this point I must say that our Italian was also frighteningly close to zero as well. With the kindness and help of a young man and only words none of us understood we made it on the correct train and on our way to Sorrento where we truly fell in love with pizza.
The pizza in Italy varies substantially from north to south. The southern variety has a thin crust with big charred bubbles on the edges. Very few toppings. It is chewy and has some crunch at the same time. It is delightful. We came home wanting more.
After talking about it for years, three years ago we hired a potter and kiln building friend to make us a wood fired pizza oven in our yard on the farm. Our oven has a stone base so an iron frame needed to be welded to support the weight of the rock plus the oven. It took just over two weeks to complete the actual building of the oven portion. The structure itself is a beautiful addition to the yard even when not being used.
The first fire in the oven has to be slow and long to cure the mortar. Five hours later we cooked the first pizza. The oven was so hot (well over 1000 degrees) that in 45 seconds it was charred and pretty much inedible. How the fire is burnt and maintained is very important. We have discovered (after much trial and error) that 900 degrees is best. At that temperature it takes approximately 90 seconds to cook a pizza and the crust is a perfect emulation of that Sorrento goodness. This brings me to the next very important element: the crust. It is critical to a good pizza and again after trying numerous doughs I have discovered that buying OO flour imported from Italy (of course, they knew all along!) Slow fermenting the dough refrigerated overnight gives the most authentic bubbly crust. I have yet to perfect the dough throwing in the air to shape it technique but I continue to practice. Maybe one day!
It has taken us almost a decade. Yet on summer evenings with friends gathered, music, eating, drinking and enjoying life in general the pizza of our memories crosses the pond and nestles into our little Saskatchewan farm. The journey has been a grand one and very much worth the effort.