Born in Naples and now a hit around the world for its superior flavour and health benefits, sourdough pizzas are also making a mark in India. This World Pizza Day, Slurrp caught up with Italian chef Massimo Verzini from Si Nonna’s to understand what makes this dough tick and how to make it at home.
Every pizza lover in the world knows and loves one thing that makes this Italian-origin dish simply outstanding—while the pizza might have been born in the Mediterranean, the flavours you can explore with it are truly global and the possibilities are unlimited. In a world of foodies that is constantly looking for the next big deal and the boldest flavours out there, a slice of pizza can hold everything from the simplest combo of tomato, basil and mozzarella to the bougiest of toppings like caviar or blue cheese. But the one thing that forms the foundation of a good pizza is always the dough.
Yes, you might want to explore gluten-free and plant-based pizza bases made of everything from cauliflowers to millet flours, but when it comes to the perfect carrier of pizza flavours, nothing beats the good old blend of flour, water and yeast. And of course, experts today will tell you that the best pizza bases in the world that pair with incredible toppings from around the world, ranging from pepperoni to paneer tikka, is a sourdough base.
This World Pizza Day 2024, let’s take a closer look at the world of sourdough pizzas and learn how to ace it at home with tips from an expert too.
Understanding The Sourdough Pizza Revolution
While you might think that the sourdough pizza revolution only started during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns when people started making their own sourdough starters at home, the fact is that the history of sourdough pizza is much more colourful. Chef Massimo Verzini, Head Chef at Mumbai’s Si Nonna’s, explains that sourdough has its origins in the Italian region of Naples. “Naples is famed for its sourdough bread and pizzas,” he explains. “Families in the region take great pride in their family sourdough recipes, and of course the well nurtured sourdough starter.”
Chef Verzini also explains that there are a number of unique features that make a sourdough stand out, both in the form of a pizza base and a bread. “There are a number of unique features of a sourdough base pizza, some of our aspects are the health benefits, the unique sourdough flavour which packs an umami hit and of course that light and aerated texture of the dough that you only get with a good quality sourdough starter,” he explains.
What’s more, he says that a sourdough pizza is more likely to be healthier for those worried that flour-based pizzas are unhealthy. “Sourdough is widely known for being rich in nutrients, particularly zinc, iron and other antioxidants which can often be more difficult for the body to absorb,” Chef Verzini says. “Teamed with the presence of naturally occurring lactic acid in the sourdough, the pizza base is much easier for the body to digest – no more pizza bloat!”
Making Your Own Sourdough Pizza: Tips & Mistakes To Know
When it comes to making your own sourdough at home, Chef Verzini says the starter plays the most important role. The starter he uses at Si Nonna’s comes from a mother dough dating back to the 18th century and shared by the Galliano family of Naples. And while not everyone can access such a mother dough, Chef Verzini says you can still strive for the best by keeping some basics in mind.
“Much like a plant, the starter for sourdough must be nurtured in order to keep all of its incredible properties and all-important leavening capabilities,” he explains. “We feed our starter equal parts water and flour, allowing it to only get better with age – think of it like a vintage wine or fine cheese!” So what are the key tips that you need to keep in mind while making sourdough at home? Here are Chef Verzini’s top tips.
1. Be Patient: “Patience truly is a virtue when making sourdough bread at home. We can definitely empathise with the desire for freshly baked sourdough bread as soon as possible, but being patient has the best rewards in this case.” he says.
2. Don’t Add Commercial Yeast: “There is always a temptation to add commercial yeast to hasten the process but the right fermentation process, allows the breakdown of the sugar and protein and, when consumed, allows other important nutrients like zinc , iron to be absorbed much more easily by the gut,” he says. “Further the fermentation allows insulin to be released over a longer period (due to the breakdown of sugar) which does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels.”
3. Let The Starter Bloom: Chef Verzini says it is always worth it to give your sourdough starter the time to bloom. “The starter, once mixed with high quality flour to make the pizza dough, needs to be fermented for a period of 36/48 hours to allow all the true benefits of the sourdough to shine. The longer you leave your starter to mature and ferment the more likely you will be rewarded with that perfect bake,” he says.
4. Let The Dough Ferment: “Fermentation makes sourdough into a natural probiotic, hence, sourdough exemplifies the saying - “good things come to those who wait”,” he says.
5. Speedy Baking: “Patience is key in the preparation process, however high speed is our preferred method of cooking our sourdough pizza base,” he explains. “This may be a little tricky to replicate at home, but we cook our pizzas on a super high heat in our vesuvian ovens – 400 degrees for 90 seconds to be exact! In order to replicate this at home, pre-heat your oven to a high heat to ensure you achieve that desired crisp crust.”
Once you are done acing the perfect pizza base with your sourdough, you might wonder what sauces and toppings work best. Here, Chef Verzini says that the way to go is to keep it simple. “We might be biased, but we think that a sourdough pizza base is the most adaptable base,” he explains. “Whether you’re in the mood for a traditional tomato sauce base and the simplicity of creamy buffalo mozzarella, or if you’re feeling a bit adventurous and want the bold flavours of an earthy mushroom cream and punchy truffle oil – a sourdough pizza base can handle it all. And let’s not forget about the crust… We love to dunk these airy bites into our homemade dips for that extra flavour hit.”