How to make proper Italian pizza in the back gardens of Sussex

Our weekly recipe slot this morning isn't so much a recipe as a method: how to make real Italian pizza at home, with bubbling golden dough, perfectly soft and smoky.

A couple of years ago, a van began to appear every Tuesday night, half a mile or so from my house. On its side was written the word Vaporetto.

The name was slightly odd, since it didn’t look anything like a Venetian waterbus — instead it was a tasteful dark green, and about the size of a small minibus. I didn’t pay it much attention, until its fame started to grow: have you tried the pizzas from Vaporetto? became the word on the street in this little corner of West Sussex.

Vaporetto, you see, had nothing to do with transporting tourists along the Grand Canal: it was just used as a cool-sounding name by a young Italian entrepreneur setting up a mobile business selling proper Italian-style pizza. We followed the herd and gave it a go, and it was truly delicious — the treat being all the more welcome in the lockdown months earlier this year.

The only problem with being able to get a proper Neapolitan pizza is that other pizzas pale by comparison, particularly the frozen ones that you pop in the oven. It turns out, though, that it’s not the pizza that was at fault, but the oven itself.

Assuming you don’t mind making your own dough — surprisingly easy for anyone who learned to bake their own bread back in April — or buying the (highly recommended) Jus-Rol sourdough, the key isn’t so much in your technique or your toppings, but in how hot you cook your pizza. Your oven at home probably reaches 230˚, but unless you can get it to at least 400˚ you’ll never quite activate the dough properly. This fact I only learned at the end of the summer, when I borrowed a Ventura Ibrido pizza oven from Home Pizza Ovens. This German-built oven is a lovely looking thing, reminiscent of an old steam engine with its lofty chimney, and it sat proudly on our outside table in the last decent weather days of the year.

Using it took a bit of fiddling to get things right, to be sure. There were some false starts getting the fire blazing hot enough (you wouldn’t believe the difference in output between getting it to 320˚ and waiting patiently for it to hit the magic 400-450˚ zone) and a bit of a learning curve on loading and unloading a pizza from the stone. But once you’ve got it sussed, it’s astonishing: in the space of a couple of minutes the dough blows up like a time-lapse video of a mushroom growing, and you’re feasting on a proper, honest-to-goodness Italian pizza. The kids even paid it the ultimate compliment: it wasn’t just as good as the ones from Vaporetto, it was even better. (I think they were buttering me up to try and get seconds. But still.)

Does it come recommended? Well, at just over £300 that depends on how often you’d use it. It runs off wood or gas, and while it’s far more fun running it with wood, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a faff; and a fault on our test unit meant that it struggled to get up to cooking temperature when using gas. Think of it like a barbecue: many of us end up spending this sort of money on one and end up using it half a dozen times a year, so why not the same with a pizza oven? After all, £300 is probably only a dozen family trips down the road to the Vaporetto van.
The Ventura Ibrido pizza oven costs £305 from homepizzaovens.co.uk