Potato pizza: flippin marvellous

When Darren Bradley started making pizzas he couldn’t get them to taste as good as those he ate in Italy . . . until he built an outdoor woodfired oven


My wife Karen and I got married in Florence, and we’ve travelled all over Italy, but we always return to Umbria as it’s off the beaten track and not as touristy as Tuscany. There’s nowhere like Italy for pizzas – most pizza restaurants in Ireland don’t come remotely close to Italian pizza, except maybe La Cucina in Limerick.

Before I had my own pizza oven I would only ever eat pizza in Italy. I find most pizzas here are greasy, cheese-laden, with thick chewy crust and far too many toppings. I did cook pizza at home in my domestic oven, but it was never as good as I had eaten in Italy. So I had a mid-life crisis and instead of buying a convertible, I built an outdoor wood-fired oven.

I downloaded the plans for my Neapolitan oven from a website called fornobravo.com. I got a builder to help build it from the plans. We started with concrete block work, poured a concrete base, then built a dome and oven floor using fire bricks and fireproof cement. It was insulated with a fireproof membrane and more cement and then we faced it off with reclaimed red brick and some Donegal stone and then a tiled roof.

The pizza oven is a very social thing – it can take up to two hours to get to the right temperature so there’s no point lighting it and cooking one or two pizzas which is why we invite friends, family and neighbours around for pizza. The oven gets up to about 500 degrees Celsius, depending on outside temperature and the type of wood. I use seasoned hardwood when possible.

My inspiration for my potato pizza comes from a little village in Umbria called San Terenziano. In the local bakery they have big slabs of pizza that you can buy by the slice – red onion, sea salt, olive oil, potato and rosemary. Carbs on carbs shouldn’t really work but with the crispy base and soft potato, sea salt and rosemary flavour, it’s a favourite with a lot of people.

The ingredients are fairly simple: Italian “00” flour which I buy in bulk from Little Italy in Dublin, fresh yeast from my local supermarket’s bakery counter (dried yeast will do fine). Then either olive oil or rapeseed oil. I use Broighter Gold rapeseed oil which I get directly from the the farm only 10 minutes from my office in Derry. Rapeseed oil gives the dough a rich yellow colour and great flavour.

Bradley’s tips for perfect pizza

  • Use flat plastic storage boxes with air- tight lids to let the dough rise or else cover dough balls with a damp tea towel. You can also make the dough the day before and put them in food bags to rise in the fridge overnight.
  • When shaping the dough, try to keep as much air as possible in the dough so if possible don’t use a rolling pin, stretch the dough by hand to form a circle.
  • Keep toppings and tomato sauce (I use passata) to a minimum so they don’t soak in to the base and make it soggy.
  • Turn your oven up as high as it will go, some new ovens have a pizza setting, or I’ve also heard of the cleaning setting being used.
  • Use a pizza stone if you can get one and heat it on the top shelf of the oven so that the base cooks from below when pizza is placed on it. Alternatively, use an upside down baking tray or even a fireproof tile.
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