Seasonal Flavors: The Secret to Perfect Thin Pizza


By Denise Zito

We didn’t make pizza when I was young. Pizza was something you bought on the street corner. It was sold by the ‘slice’ and the slice was a five-by-five-inch piece of dough with sauce and cheese. Most of the pizza sold in my hometown was Neapolitan-style, i.e. thin crust. My Sicilian grandmother made thick crust pizza, but my relations didn’t use the word pizza, instead calling it wisteda. It was made from the last of the bread dough, and was topped with fresh tomato and Romano cheese topping. It was an afterthought, not a meal.

Here is the one cardinal rule of the Zito family when it comes to pizza. It was the only food item where oregano was sanctioned. I remember being at my aunt’s funeral in Chicago and going out to lunch with my dad and uncles. They questioned the waiter carefully to make sure this wasn’t some renegade outfit that put oregano in the pasta sauce. Those crazy descendants from mainland Italy would do that, but we whose parents came from Sicily can’t abide oregano with pasta; oregano goes on pizza.

So I haven’t had a lot of direct knowledge of pizza making. I’ve never really enjoyed the thick doughy Sicilian type crust and have tried various schemes for making the perfect thin crust pizza.

Pizza stones came into fashion about 15 years ago and I thought that was the answer to my dilemma. Nope; my crust was still too puffy, even after having been baked on a stone.

Then I learned that I was adding too much yeast. I cut way back on the yeast and that was a little better. I also learned that you allow the dough to rise in the refrigerator instead of a warm room temp, as for bread.

Finally, I have verified the holy grail of the perfect pizza dough, that crisp but chewy delight that I’ve been seeking. The stone, the very high oven temperature and the small amount of yeast are all important, but the real secret is the flour. I had heard about Italian ground ‘00’ flour but dismissed it as merely a marketing ploy. When I decided to give it a try, I sought it out in Charlottesville. Foods of All Nations didn’t have it and Whole Foods didn’t have it either! I ended up mail-ordering it from a market near my Godfather’s house in Pittsburgh that agreed to ship it to my house. (Labriola’s Italian Market, Murrysville, PA). Since then I discovered it is locally available at Mona Lisa Pasta in Charlottesville.

This 00 flour is more a finely ground and different wheat than our domestic all-purpose flour. The difference shows itself in stretchy pizza dough that cooks up crisp and tastes delicious.

Here’s the thing: to be really successful you need to cook like a European and use weight-based measurement instead of our American method that uses volume. Get yourself a scale and try it!

Thin-Crust Pizza Dough

  • 153 grams (1 cup) Antima Caputo Italian ‘00’ flour 
  • 153 gm (1 cup) all-purpose unbleached white flour
  • 8 gm salt (1 tsp)
  • 200 gm warm water (1 cup)
  • 2 gm yeast (½ tsp)
  • 4 gm olive oil (1 tsp)

Combine the flours and salt. Mix the water, oil and yeast together and then pour into the flour. Mix just until the dough forms, cover and let ‘rest’ for 15 minutes.

Knead dough for five minutes, divide in half. Put each piece of dough in a separate bowl, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450°F. If you have a pizza stone, allow the stone to preheat also.

Remove dough from refrigerator and knead on a floured board for five minutes. Form into a circle and gently stretch the dough, forming it into a 12-inch circle. Perhaps the most important part of this is making sure that the dough will slide around on the counter so that it can be scooped up with a cookie sheet and slid onto the hot stone. Keep adding flour to the board until the entire pie will slide around on the counter.

Top with some olive oil and then your choice: sliced tomatoes and a cup of grated Romano cheese; sauteed spinach and anchovies; pesto and steamed broccoli; Gorgonzola and sautéed mushrooms; or, for you conventional types: tomato sauce/oregano/mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until the topping is bubbly and the crust is brown.