Chef Vincenzo Onnembo van nNea Pizza in Amsterdam making pizza on the Big Green Egg

Pizza from the Big Green Egg, delicious! But how exactly do you make the tastiest pizza? What are the do’s and don’ts and why? Here, Chef Vincenzo Onnembo of nNea Pizza in Amsterdam shares key tips and tricks for making a basic pizza dough and a fermented pizza dough, and he tells you more about homemade pizza sauce and toppings.

Vincenzo understands the art of pizza baking like no other. Born and raised Neapolitan, his pizzas have won quite a few awards and his restaurant has been in the top 50 best pizzerias in the world for years. The special thing about Vincenzo’s pizzas? The time the pizza dough is given to develop and the quality of the ingredients. Vincenzo: “For me, the dough is the hero of a pizza, but the other ingredients are also very important. The base should be airy and soft, with a nice bite.”

Chef Vincenzo Onnembo van nNea Pizza in Amsterdam making pizza on the Big Green Egg

Making your own pizza dough

Pizza dough contains just four ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. Less is more in this case, because if you know the tips and tricks you can make a great pizza dough based on this. “Besides a good percentage of type 00 flour, which is usually used for pizza dough, I also add wholemeal flour”, Vincenzo explains. “Type 00 has a very fine texture that you need for your pizza dough and the wholemeal flour makes for a richer dough. It does not matter whether you activate the dough mass with fresh or dry yeast, only the ratio is different. If a recipe specifies dry yeast, you can simply replace it with fresh yeast. Because fresh yeast contains water, it is less potent though, 3 grams of fresh yeast is equivalent to 1 gram of dry yeast.”

Controlled process

“You never add the salt at the same time as the yeast, it counteracts its action”, Vincenzo continues. “You knead the dough first and only then add the salt along with a splash of water kept separate. This is because salt attracts water and you don’t want the added salt to draw water from the dough. Then you run the risk of your dough falling apart. By the way, you don’t just add salt for flavour, it makes the dough firmer and salt also helps control the rising process. Recipes often state that you need lukewarm water, but this increases the chances of your dough failing. For basic pizza dough, I always use water with a temperature between 5 and 10 °C. As a result, the dough ferments before it will rise. As a result, the process does take longer, but is controlled. That benefits the flavour and texture of your dough.”

Chef Vincenzo Onnembo van nNea Pizza in Amsterdam making pizza on the Big Green Egg

Kneading pizza dough

Kneading the dough manually takes some skill. It is meant to activate gluten formation in the pizza dough. When doing so, let the dough roll across the work surface using light pressure from your palm. “It might be that after about 20 minutes of kneading manually, your dough is still not nice and smooth”, Vincenzo explains. “What you can then do is let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes, in a bowl covered with cling film,. Then knead it for a few more minutes and you will notice that the dough is smoother and more elastic. That is exactly the point, a nice pizza dough is supple and elastic and it does not stick. If you knead the dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook, your dough will take less time to knead properly. After about 15 minutes of kneading, the dough no longer sticks to the bowl and is ready.”

Fermenting and rising dough

Vincenzo: “During fermentation and rising of the dough, it is important to cover the bowl containing the dough airtight with cling film, never with a cloth. In this way, no oxygen can reach it and this process takes place in the dough’s own environment. The heat produced by the dough stays in this environment and is needed for the process to run smoothly. Once the dough is portioned and rolled up, place the dough balls in a sealable plastic container where size plays a crucial role. This is because it should not be too large, this will cause the dough to rise and the dough will retract. For six dough balls of about 250 grams each, use in a 30 x 40-centimetre container.”

The ultimate pizza dough

So much for the basics of making a pizza dough. If you want, you can take it a step further and make the ultimate pizza dough. In this process, you first create a preferment, based on flour, water and yeast, making your dough – and thus your base – even more flavourful and aromatic thanks to the prolonged fermentation process. You only need to mix and not knead the preferment ingredients and it is firmer than the final dough. Vincenzo: “An important detail when making the preferment is the temperature of the water you add. For this, I use the rule of 55. You take the number 55 as a starting point and subtract the temperature of the flour and the room temperature. The number that remains is the desired water temperature. This controls the temperature of your preferment and it comes out between 16 and 18°C.”

Chef Vincenzo Onnembo van nNea Pizza in Amsterdam making dough for a pizza

Rounding pizza dough

“Because the preferment is very firm, for this fermented dough you always use a stand mixer to knead the final dough. The kneading time is shorter because gluten has already developed during the fermentation process of the preferment. After this, portion and round the dough and then, as with the basic dough, allow the dough balls to rise in a plastic container. Rounding the dough can be done in several ways. The easiest method is using a spatula and one of your hands, turning the dough a bit at a time manually, while pushing the side of the dough under the dough ball with the spatula. This forms a nice ball and adds tension to the dough”, he continues.

Shaping the pizza base

After the final rise comes the shaping of the pizza base, or stretching of the dough ball. Vincenzo: “Always use a good amount of semola for this and not flour or semolina. Semola is made from a hard type of wheat which means it hardly sticks to the dough. Flour and semolina do stick and will burn during baking and cause a bitter taste. And you don’t want that! Stretch the pizza dough by stretching and pressing the ball into an equal base. Don’t just do this from the centre, the pizza base should be a uniform thickness. Take account that the top of the dough ball also has to become the top of the pizza base; this is because this is a bit drier than the base, which influences the way your pizza rises during baking and it is better for the sauce and the topping.

The secret behind the sauce

Now that you have the perfect dough base, it is important to properly top it with tomato sauce and topping. As a rule, brush the pizza base with about 100 grams of cold sauce. But what exactly is the secret behind a good sauce? “The sauce should not be too watery”, Vincenzo advises. “You can possibly strain this to remove excess moisture. Basically, you don’t boil the tomatoes for the sauce. In the pizza recipes for the Basic pizza and the Perfect pizza, as an exception, I did cook the tomatoes in the Big Green Egg to create extra flavour. Also, do not puree tomato sauce with a hand blender or in a blender. This breaks up the seeds, resulting in an orange sauce. If necessary, make it easy on yourself with a tin of peeled pomodori tomatoes that you crush or grind in a food mill. It’s easy, quick and you have the perfect sauce.”

Tips for the topping

For the topping as well, the ingredients should be cold and not too moist. “Among other things, also take into account the baking time of the ingredients you are topping the pizza with”, Vincenzo advises. “If an ingredient is cooked in 30 seconds while you bake the pizza for 5 minutes, then it is better to omit this ingredient. Always put fresh green herbs on the bottom to prevent them from burning and always grate cheese over the pizza after baking, as this too will burn. The heat of the pizza causes the cheese to melt instantly. If you want to top the pizza with Parma ham, for example, do this afterwards too. It is a waste to let an ingredient cook that has been carefully dried. Finally, don’t top the pizza with too many ingredients. Too much sauce and/or topping can make the pizza soggy. At nNea, guests can’t ask for an extra topping either, because then the pizza won’t be balanced. After all, I want to serve the best pizzas our guests have ever tasted!” concludes Vincenzo.


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