Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla

Pizza tonno e cipolla, that is, pizza with tuna and onions, is one of my all-time favorite pizzas.

Unfortunately, it's a pizza that isn't too popular here in the U.S. Even though we're willing to put just about anything on our pizzas, some of them quite horrendous, tuna does not seem to be a topping people think of when writing their pizza menus.

So, of course, I decided to satisfy my cravings by making my own! I had also just bought a baking stone, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try it out. Well, it seems I needed a bit of practice with this new stone. Even though I had successfully made pizzas on my parents' baking stone, this time it took me not one, not even two, but three tries before I could declare myself successful in my pizza-making endeavor. The first time I tried, it was actually more an ingredient issue as I didn't realize my flour was not high-gluten; the pizza came out OK, but it was a bit more work and one side got a bit smushed when entering the oven.

The second time was, at least presentation-wise, a disaster. The pizza dough stuck horrendously to the peel, so much so that even with the help of a spatula I couldn't get it onto the stone. Eventually I had to transfer the gooey mess that had once been a lovely-looking pizza onto a baking sheet and bake it that way. The good news was it still tasted fantastic, but unfortunately not very photo-worthy.

Well, this time, I learned from my previous mistakes and now, an older and wiser pizzaiola, I present you with my method for making a pizza tonno e cipolla.

I used a slightly different dough recipe this time, partly due to necessity (i.e. lack of ingredients) and partly just to experiment. It came out just as good as my previous doughs, so I think either one is fine. I also added cherry tomatoes because that was the way my favorite lunch pizzeria in Milan did it, and I loved it.

For the dough:
150 g bread flour
50 g whole wheat flour (this is how I compensated for the fact that none of the grocery stores I visited had whole wheat bread flour. It's not nearly as hearty as using all whole wheat flour, but it's enough to add some oomph to the dough!)
About half a glass of water
Half a package of yeast
A small spoonful of sea salt
A small spoonful of sugar
A larger spoonful of olive oil

For the toppings:
A small cupful of tomato sauce (I just use canned tomatoes for pizzas)
About 100 g pizza mozzarella
1 small-to-medium yellow onion
About 100 g tuna
A handful of cherry tomatoes
Another spoonful of olive oil

A note about the tuna - using higher quality tuna really makes a difference here. I still remember the pizza tonno e cipolla I had at a pizzeria in the Navigli section of Milano where I'm sure they used fresh tuna because the taste was just amazing. Of course, it will still taste good with standard canned tuna, but I think it's worth it to try to get the best kind available. One brand I like is Ortiz, which comes preserved in brine in a glass bottle.

A couple of hours before you want to eat your pizza, prepare the dough. If you're using active dry yeast, activate it by adding it to a small cup of warm water, along with the sugar. Sift together the two flours and then add the sea salt. Form the flour into a sort of fountain, high on the sides and low in the middle. Pour the yeast mixture into the center and gradually blend in the flour from the sides, adding more flour from farther out as you go. Add in the oil and then the water, a bit at a time, blending until you get a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for several minutes until the dough becomes resistant, bouncing back when you press it down.

Form the dough into a ball, coat it lightly with oil and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a cloth or some such thing and leave it in a warm, non-drafty place. Do not put it in your oven, as this is the point where you should start preheating. Remember, to make a good pizza you want your oven to be hot hot hot!

If you own a baking stone, make sure the stone is in the oven before you start preheating. If you plan to bake your pizza on a baking sheet, do not put the sheet in the oven. In either case, heat the oven to about as hot as it will go, usually 500ºF or 250º C.

After about 45 minutes, start preparing your toppings. One of the reasons I think my second pizza stuck so much was that I took too long to put the toppings on. The quicker you are in topping your pizza, the less chance there is that it will stick to the peel, so make sure everything you need is perfectly ready before you roll out the dough.

Begin by peeling the onion and chopping it into half-rings. The first time I made this, a big question I had was whether the onions should be raw or pre-cooked before going onto the pizza. My internet research proved unhelpful as there seemed to be several people who swore by putting them on raw and several others who insisted they should be cooked. One person even described an elaborate method that involved marinating the onion in wine for a full day beforehand!

While I was not about to try the marinating method, I did decide to do an experiment in which I covered one half of the pizza with raw onions and one half with pre-sautéed onions. In my opinion, the sautéed onions tasted much better, so that is the recipe I'm giving here.

Onion Experiment

After you've chopped the onion, heat some olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion and let cook a few minutes until tender. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, stir a bit, and then remove the pan from heat to let the onion cool.

Chop up the mozzarella and tuna, and wash the cherry tomatoes and slice them into halves. Be sure to have your tomato sauce, oregano, and a spoonful of olive oil ready.

When the dough has doubled in size (after about an hour or an hour and a half), take it out and roll it out onto a well-floured surface. For those of you using baking stones, another trick you can use to keep the dough from sticking to the pizza peel is to start by rolling it out onto a different floured surface and then transfer it to the peel before you add toppings. I also sprinkled some semolina onto the peel, but I decided I didn't like the taste when the pizza was done, so I don't think I'll be doing that again soon.

When rolling out the pizza, it's good to keep it in the air a fair amount, tossing it gently and then spinning it a bit so it stretches evenly. When you get it pretty well tossed, you can also go around stretching out the edges to make it bigger and thinner. Remember that a true pizza should have a very thin crust!!

When the pizza is ready, test to make sure it's not sticking to the peel by lightly bouncing the peel up and down a few times and seeing if the pizza moves. If not, unstick it now before you add all the ingredients, after which it will become impossible. It's also important not to weight the pizza down with too many ingredients, though these ones are so good that it's hard for me to stick to that rule!!

Spoon on the tomato sauce, spreading it evenly across all but the very outer edge. Sprinkle the mozzarella over it, then the onions, tuna, and finally the cherry tomatoes. Try to place the cherry tomatoes facing up so that the skin doesn't burn.

Drizzle everything with olive oil and then sprinkle oregano over the top. Place the pizza into the oven, keeping the peel level and just bumping it slightly to get the pizza onto the stone (of course, if you're using a baking sheet you don't have to worry about any of this).

Let the pizza bake for about 8-10 minutes, remove from the oven, let cool just a bit and eat up!


nomasteryoda said...

Awesome pizza experience!
A friend was just over near Italy and had this kind of pizza, thus I searched google to find out what Tonno e Cipollo meant and located your site here. My recipe uses a stone too.. You can find my pizza recipe at


Zoe said...

I'm glad my recipe could help clarify that! Your pizza recipe also looks delicious - the pizza stone really does help, doesn't it? =)