Australia’s first pizzeria opened its doors in 1957 in Adelaide under the moniker Lucia’s Pizza Bar. The venue fast developed a reputation for its Margherita, and it wasn’t long before pizza bars mushroomed around the country.

Pizza is deceptively simple (flour, water, salt, toppings), but there’s no hiding when it comes to putting out a quality product. Cucina Porto Chef Martino Pulito and Bacaro Owner Pasquale Trimboli talk to Hospitality about the importance of sourcing high-quality ingredients, wood-fired versus gas ovens and why going overboard is never the answer.

Bacaro make pizza using a dough recipe that’s been around for 25 years. An essential component is the starter, which has been bubbling away for 23 years and counting. The Canberra pizza bar, which is connected to sister venue Italian and Sons, is a family run operation that sticks to tradition as much as possible.

“Our philosophy on pizza and anything we’re putting though the kitchen is that it’s all about the ingredients and the quality,” says Pasquale Trimboli. “Pizza is just basic components; it’s how you put them together and that’s where the difference is.”

Bacaro’s dough is made from flour, water, yeast, salt and sometimes olive oil — it sounds simple, but there’s more to it. “The flour needs to be 00 bread flour with low gluten and very low yeast,” says Trimboli. “The flour itself changes the whole product.”

The team work with Caputo blue flour from Naples, which is a 00 wheat product known for its hydration capacity and workability. The dough undergoes a triple proving process which sees the product proved for 12 hours before it’s knocked back and rested for six hours. The dough is then cut and shaped into balls and left to rise again.

Pasquale Trimboli

Thanks to the use of a starter, Bacaro’s dough requires minimal yeast, resulting in a lighter and more digestible product. “With a starter, you get oxidisation where it’s like a sourdough effectively,” says Trimboli. “You’re using less yeast in the dough itself, but you’re also developing a wetter dough, which means it becomes harder to handle; but professionals are used to it.”

Cucina Porto recently opened its doors in The Star Sydney, with Puglia-born chef Martino Pulito heading up the kitchen. The concept is very much anchored by Pulito’s upbringing in Southern Italy, and pizza naturally found its way onto the menu. Pulito has worked alongside a pizzaiolo with 20-plus years of experience to develop the offering, which starts with freshly made dough.

“The recipe is super simple; it’s just water, flour and yeast,” says Pulito. The team made the decision to forgo using a starter and instead turn to dry yeast. “We don’t use a starter because it’s not easy to control and manage everyday, but we leave the dough to prove for 48 hours before we use it,” says Pulito.

Cucina Porto use type 0 or type 1 bread flour from Naples, which Pulito says is incomparable to flours made in Australia. “The flour we use is made from the finest durum in Italy and it’s grown in volcanic soil; the Mediterranean sea breeze also plays a part,” says the chef. “It’s super elastic and you get a nice crust when you cook it. The flour has been imported from Italy and it can be wet because it comes on a plane, so you need to use your knowledge to work out how much water to use. Australian flour doesn’t taste the same.”

Less is more is one of the key mantras when building quality pizzas. And while we’ve seen the sector long dominated by monster levels of toppings, it doesn’t make a great eating experience when everything goes sliding the second you pick up a slice. Same goes for sauces: simplicity wins. Just like in Italy, red and white sauces are the go in Australia, but there are a plethora of variations which often deviate from original recipes.

Bacaro and Cucina Porto both follow tradition when it comes to their sauce offerings. The majority of pizzas at Cucina Porto feature a red base, which is made from blitzed, seasoned San Marzano tomatoes, with the white base created from julienned fior di latte and mozzarella.

It’s a similar story at Bacaro: “We only use two — the tomato-based sauce, which is high-quality San Marzano tomatoes from Naples blended with salt, basil and olive oil,” says Trimboli. “There’s no cooking involved. The other is a white base, which is olive oil with buffalo mozzarella — there’s no trickery to this sort of stuff.”

Pizza menus across the board often include the classics such as the Margherita, diavola and capricciosa, but the notion of seasonality is not to be skipped on, and neither is the importance of working with quality ingredients. Pulito has struck a balance between highlighting seasonal ingredients and rotating flavour combinations to determine which options resonate with diners.

“I use the best gorgonzola from the kitchen on the quattro formaggi pizza and you can really see the quality of the product,” says the chef. “It’s asparagus season, so we have used a Monte Rosso from Adelaide with fior di latte which works really well.”

Martino Pulito

Bacaro isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, and that’s part of the beauty of the offering. “It’s a question of less is more and it’s not dollar-driven; it’s purely flavour profile,” says Trimboli. “We try and limit it to two to three ingredients and you can’t really bulk it up with toppings because you’ll never cook through what’s on the base. You need to be aware that you can’t overweigh the dough; it’s a fine balance.”

The top sellers at Bacaro are the puttanesca with anchovy, caper and olive and salami and chilli, which highlights salami made to the venue’s specifications by a producer in Bowral. “We don’t change it up too often, but we do take advantage of seasonal produce like zucchini flowers or figs,” says Trimboli. “It’s great because the Australian public has taken to it, and there are a lot of good pizzerias slowly educating the general public as to what a pizza should be.”

The wood-fired versus gas oven debate continues to run hot, but Trimboli and Pulito agree fire achieves the best results. However, a wood-fired oven is not always a possibility for some venues due to restrictions and building codes. Pulito has fond memories of his uncle’s pizzeria in Italy which saw olive and oak wood powering the oven; however Cucina Porto was unable to install a wood-fired oven due to regulations.

“The wood-fired oven is the best option of course; in Italy most ovens are wood-fired, especially where I come from in Puglia,” says the chef. “The wood gives more flavour to the pizza because it’s like you’re smoking the pizza and the temperature is more controllable.”

The team use a gas pizza oven instead, and have been breaking in the new piece of equipment since opening. “The oven has a chamber that can reach more than 400 degrees Celsius, but it’s too much for cooking the pizza, so we control it at around 300 degrees,” says Pulito. “We had to test the dough for days and adjust the water content because it’s a new oven, but it keeps getting better because the stone is always warm now.”

Bacaro power their wood-fired oven using ironbark, which is endemic to eastern Australia. “It does flavour it up a little bit and it gives a more consistent heat,” says Trimboli. “You have to keep feeding it wood and it’s a lot more temperamental; it’s pretty much an art when you break it down.”

There are no temperature gauges either, with the team relying on their experience and instincts. “You just need to have your hand at the mouth of the oven and know where it’s too hot or not,” says Trimboli. “You need to have that passion and attention to detail if you want to be at the top of your game.”

Sitting down for a pizza is typically a shared experience, and pizza bars exude an evergreen charm. Trimboli weighs in on what makes these venues special: “A good pizza bar first and foremost offers a good pizza, a good selection of beer, an interesting wine list and has the ability to have that honest and hospitable side,” he
says. “Almost that Italian abundance — you’re not skimping.”