Dry-fried pizza (left) just tops the deep-fried version (right) on taste. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
He's right, up to a point. Unless you are willing, able or barmy enough to shell out upwards of two-and-a-half grand for a wood-burning oven, you don't have a hope in hell of generating the semi-nuclear heat (400C-plus) needed to cook a pizza in 90 seconds flat. Sure, you can achieve a vague approximation, but it's never going to be quite the same. So are we meant to shrug our shoulders and shuffle off to the nearest pizzeria?
Not at all, says Mascoli. "As far back as the fourth century, when very few people had their own ovens, you'd take your homemade dough to the local baker, or fry it at home instead. The original fried dough was something more like focaccia, but when pizza came along, the notion of frying dough was already embedded in our culinary psyche. It's how we Neapolitans have made pizza at home for generations."
This ancient approach is now being picked up by modern pizza obsessives in the UK. Pizza Pilgrims - AKA brothers Thom and James Elliot - learned their trade by travelling around Italy, and then touted the results from a three-wheeled van-cum-pizza oven in London before opening a pizzeria in Soho (a second one near Carnaby Street opens on Thursday). They feature a pan pizza - fried without oil - in their cookbook, and very decent it is too. Mascoli's own book, Artisan Pizza, also has a recipe for pan pizza, though he maintains deep-frying is the traditional approach (as does Jamie Oliver). Deep-fried pizza may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but, by god, it tastes good. Perhaps those much-maligned Scottish chippies have been on to something all along.
Felicity Cloake puts fried pizza to the test:
How to make your own pizza dough
Basic pizza dough (based on Mascoli's recipe)
A pizza dough is simple to make, but needs to be started the day before you plan to eat it. For a margherita, you'll also need mozzarella, basil and a tomato sauce (reduce a tin of chopped tomatoes for about 40 minutes with a little seasoning and a tiny pinch of sugar, until the right consistency).
500g strong flour (ideally '00' flour)
¼ tsp dry yeast
500ml warm (18C) water
325g strong flour
Small pinch dry yeast
30ml olive oil
3 tsp salt
Make the dough base by putting the flour and yeast in a large bowl, stir in the water, set aside somewhere warm for an hour, then refrigerate for at least 12-24 hours (and up to 48).
The following day, knead the base by hand with the flour, dry yeast, oil and salt, and leave, covered, for an hour. Divide into portions - 100g balls are ideal - place in a large tray, cover and leave for an hour or two.
On a well-floured surface and with floured hands, take a dough ball, push your fingers into the centre and slowly push out to a circle, leaving about a 1cm crust around the edge. Now you need to stretch the centre. Don't use a rolling pin as it removes the air. Lay the dough, crust side down, on top of your fists, moving them up and round, turning the dough from the centre so it stretches to a consistent thinness and retains its crust (PizzaPilgrims.co.uk has a useful video showing this technique). It takes practice so don't worry if your first attempt looks a bit rough - it merely reinforces its artisan credentials. Next, choose your frying method.
Pizza Pilgrims' dry-fried pizza
(The brothers add parmesan - the full recipe is on their website)
Heat the grill to its highest setting, and a frying pan (preferably non-stick), without oil, until it's screaming hot. Put the pizza base on top, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce (which needn't be hot) across it, leaving a couple of centimetres round the edge for the crust. Add a pinch of parmesan, the basil and mozzarella, in that order, then drizzle with olive oil. Once the base of the pizza has browned (1-2 minutes), put the pan on the highest shelf under the grill. Once the crust has taken on some colour (again, about 1-2 minutes), the pizza is ready to go.
Felicity's verdict: This clever dry-fry method takes about 10 minutes, start to finish - far more environmentally friendly, and cheaper, than most oven-baked pizza recipes with their stones and endless preheating. A better result than most too - it looked and tasted like an authentic Neapolitan pizza, with a charred crust puffing up nicely around a lovely chewy base. 4/5
Mascoli's deep-fried pizza
Heat a decent amount of olive oil to 170C in a large frying pan or deep-fryer before you stretch your dough. Fry each pizza for two minutes, spooning the hot oil over the top as it is cooking. It will puff up a little at the edges, making a neat crater in the centre for the sauce. It's done when just turning golden (if it goes brown, you have overcooked it). Lift out, drain on kitchen towel, top with hot sauce, cheese and torn basil, and serve.
Felicity's verdict: This is one pizza that shouldn't be too fashionably thin or you'll end up with a poppadom - I settled on a smaller, thicker base which puffed up alarmingly on contact with the hot oil, though once flipped, it settled back down. The end result looked a bit like a yorkshire pudding, but tasted surprisingly light, with a good chewy crust and a rich olive-oil flavour. That said, this method is slightly more hassle (and more expensive, with a pan full of olive oil), and I missed the gorgeous charred flavour of the frying pan method. 3.5/5
Deep-frying the dough. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian