In the Kitchen
Explosion of flavours: how to balance flavours on your pizza
By Natanael Gammarota
How to balance your ingredients and win over customers
By Natanael Gammarota
My ideal pizza is beautiful – full of colour with a generous amount of ingredients. I take it in my hand and slowly bring it to my mouth, smelling the aroma of freshly baked bread coming from the oven. My tongue touches the dough base and I feel that touch of salt that the dough brings in and of itself. My teeth bite into it easily and I feel the crunchiness and softness of the ingredients. The portion will separate easily without pulling. When chewing the first piece, I feel the sweet taste of the sauce wrapping my palate and the mozzarella creating the sensation of fusion. All ingredients come together to create an explosion of flavours in my mouth.
To be able to excel in the world of pizza, attract new customers and make your product consistent, your product needs to be of such high quality that your customers fall in love with their first bite. When the client tells you “You ruined the way I eat pizza!” it means you are on the right track. It means you gave your customers an experience so good that they don’t want to eat any other pizza besides the one you offer.
How do we give our customers one of the most pleasant experiences of life when they eat our pizza? We do it by offering a pizza full of love and balanced ingredients.
When you create recipes for your pizzas, divide the ingredients into three categories: basic ingredients, main ingredients and signature ingredients.
1. BASIC INGREDIENTS
The first category consists of the basic ingredients that determine the flavour of the pizza. These are sauces, dairies and fats. The sauce you choose has to leave a sweet taste in your mouth, like, for example, the sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes. No matter what the sauce is, it can be tomato, pesto, white sauce, barbecue, etc. The important thing is to make sure the sauce isn’t too acidic, but has closer to a sweeter flavour. It is not easy to use acidic ingredients in pizza, but if you do, you must know how to contrast them with sweet ingredients. Otherwise, you alter the taste that a pizza should have.
Unless you choose them as a main ingredient, dairy products should have an unsalted flavour. They should not overwhelm the taste of the pizza. Rather they should accentuate the main ingredient you are going to place on your pizza. Just think about the mozzarella fior di latte. It is such a perfect dairy product in Italian pizzas that when used for the classic quattro formaggi (four-cheese pizza) it is able to highlight the mixture of other cheeses such as Parmesan and fontina, and give the gorgonzola (the main ingredient) a unique flavour.
The fat can be a liquid substance such as olive oil or a thicker substance such as cream or mayonnaise. It can be mixed directly into the sauce or crust or drizzled on top as a garnish before or after cooking to give that touch of shine to the pizza. When choosing fats, keep in mind the taste of extra virgin olive oil: strong with a fruity aroma. In short, if you can eat it alone with bread, then it is the perfect fat to put on a pizza.
To help you select these three basic ingredients that determine the taste of your pizza, remember the taste of the margherita pizza. The margherita is the most famous pizza in the world and it is not a coincidence that it serves as the base of many pizzas. Its ingredients are San Marzano tomato sauce, fior di latte or buffalo mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil.
Although different sauces, dairy products and fats are used, the basic flavour of the pizza should mirror the margherita for these reasons: the acidity of its tomato sauce does not bother the stomach, its dairy accentuates the other ingredients and its fat brings brightness and flavour.
The quantity of the basic ingredients you need to apply is balanced with the weight of the pizza dough you are using and the diameter of the disc that you want to obtain. For example, if I have a dough ball of eight ounces, the balanced diameter that I can get to put the basic ingredients on without problems is 12-13 inches. Otherwise, if I extend the diameter of the pizza, the disc would get thin, and I would have to use fewer ingredients. Looking at this another way, the heavier the ingredients are, the more dough you should use to support the weight.
If the pizza is round, the sauce should not be layered evenly but should leave small spirals throughout. If the pizza is square, it should have vertical lines giving space for the other ingredients. In the case of a pizza that doesn’t have cheese, you have to distribute the tomato sauce evenly so the dough doesn’t burn. Even when someone asks for extra sauce, the sauce should be added with a balanced measure on the base and the other ingredients on top. Extra sauce should go on top of everything. A good tip for applying the basic ingredients is to use a measuring scoop.
Once you have an idea of how you are going to apply the basic ingredients – sauce, dairy and fats – it’s time to focus on the main ingredient.
2. THE MAIN INGREDIENT
Pizza is like a white canvas that an artist wants to paint. In this canvas you are free to put on everything you want and give space to your creativity. The important thing is your love for the ingredients and your ability to use them with balance.
You must respect your main ingredient. Know its origin, how it is preserved, how it is cooked, how it is presented and which is the best ingredient to pair it with. The main ingredient should be placed in an organized way with the goal that the person eating it should get the same amount when the slice is cut as when the piece is bitten. The other toppings are the sides. They fill each empty space, they increase the volume and they improve the presentation of the pizza. Remember to be generous with your main ingredient.
3. THE SIGNATURE INGREDIENT
The third category is the signature ingredient. This is the final touch of your dish. It is like the signature on your work of art: it must be small but full of value. Potential signature ingredients include pink salt, truffle, special chili sauce, balsamic glaze, coconut flakes, Parmesan cheese, special oils and aromatic spices.
What is your signature ingredient? I currently work at Liberty Kitchen, where our signature ingredient is the Grana Padano cheese. The signature ingredient in Napoli, the place where pizza was born, is the extra virgin olive oil applied in the shape of the letter P creating the pizzaiolo’s signature. My personal signature is the one and only lemon zest. With it I could take to another level the most classic pizza in North America, the pepperoni pizza. Its ingredients are tomato sauce, fior di latte, salame toscano or Spanish chorizo, parsley, garlic and lemon zest. I’m sure if you try it, you won’t eat pepperoni pizza anywhere else! •
Nathanael Gammarota, known as Natalino, is a Contemporary Master Pizza Chef from Italy. He is trained in all styles of pizza, including pizza acrobatics. He is currently kitchen manager and part of the Liberty Kitchen’s opening team and trainers in South Surrey, B.C., the new branch that Browns Restaurant Group has launched focused on pizza and pasta. He travels often for private caterings, cooking classes and pizza business consulting mostly in Canada, California and Italy.