On Sunday evening I was making fornarina for my family, and for some friends, who always happen to come by on Sundays when the oven’s on and the wine bottle is open.
Since you ask, fornarina is a sort of pizza, but without the usual toppings.
I didn’t have high hopes. While I’ve been making pizza since I was a university student in the 80’s, never once have I managed to produce one with a thin, crispy base.
Stodgy and soggy is my speciality. Not that the kids complain, but I’d always hoped that I’d get it right some day.
Over the years I’ve changed the recipe I used (egg? milk?), varied the type of flour, added or not added olive oil, and experimented with varieties of fresh and dried yeast.
My brother-in-law, who runs a pub-pizzeria, reckoned the secret was in using less yeast. That worked for thin, but didn’t fix the soggy in the middle and hard around the edges problem.
Recently, a neighbor who’d been a keen cook died of cancer. His widow had no use for his kitchen equipment, but I was delighted with it. Amongst the haul were some heavy aluminum pizza dishes, which I now decided to try out.
Being in rather a rush, plus they looked clean enough anyway, I thought I’d skip the advisable thorough scrub in hot soapy water, and just bung them in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes to kill any random bugs. That’d be sure to sterilize them, right? And in the meantime I could roll out the dough.
When I had ready my thin, pizza-sized discs of dough, I opened the oven door, whipped out the newly-sterilized aluminum trays, plonked them (with a sizzle) on the kitchen table, and dropped a pizza base on each one, while trying not to burn my fingers.
Each was quickly brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and dried rosemary, and put right back in the oven. There was no time to waste: I had a cold beer demanding attention.
And there you go. For the first time in more than 25 years, thin and crispy pizzas!
Not soggy, not hard around the edges, not even stuck to the pan, which I hadn’t bothered to grease.
Well, of course…. You have to put the pizza base directly onto a hot, hot surface, as happens in the traditional wood-fired stone pizza oven.
All those years I’d been putting my dough into a cold pan, and the result was soggy pizzas.
Having thought all this through, I realised that I had actually already known the secret all along. I’d just not realised it WAS the secret.
Cook shops here sell special stones to put in your oven. You just need to pre-heat them and slap your pizza dough on top to cook. I’d thought of giving it a try many times, but not bothered because I figured I had too many children to base my catering efforts on just one pizza stone.
Funny, isn’t it, how you can try and try to get something right, and never manage it. And then, one day, you try something different, maybe by accident, and bingo!
Which brings me to today’s tip on how to think Italian, like an Italian.
For almost as long as I’ve been making soggy pizza, I’ve been getting my Italian prepositions wrong. Especially “in”.
Surely this has been explained to me many times, but it never really seemed to have penetrated until recently, when I had one of those serendipitous pizza-base moments.
In lots and lots of instances, the use of “in” in Italian is the same as in English (in italiano, in inglese, for example).
So my brain had always insisted that, if it’s the same in English and Italian MOST of the time, it should be the same ALL of the time.
Which it clearly isn’t. Hence the confusion.
Check out these three examples, which I’ve copied from the helpful list of “in” uses on this page:
Restate in classe!
Cos’hai in mente?
Voglio andare in America!
The first and second show the classic “within”, “inside” use of in. This is “in” being used as a preposition of PLACE, indicating WHERE something is.
But the final example? Translated, we’d use “to”. “I want to go TO America!” Certainly not “in”.
So, “in” in Italian, is not just a preposition of place as in English, but also a preposition of MOVEMENT.
Could this be why Italians say “andare in bicicletta”, “andare in piedi”, “andare in macchina” and so on? (Go by bike, go on foot, go by car.)
Is it because of the idea of movement that the word “in” clearly has for them?
Think Italian, like an Italian.
Go in America.
In plane, or in ship, or even in bicycle, so long as you’re currently in Canada or Mexico.
But you proabably already knew that, right?
P.S. Starting tomorrow we’ll be running an occasional promotion on Italian lessons via Skype. Be sure to check your e-mails!