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‘Hail, pizza!’

September 27, 2006

Pizza

Pizza

Pizza. Everybody loves it. Everybody eats it. And while delivery is good, and restaurants are better, homemade pizza is the best. Home cooks everywhere — from the savant pie-dough-maker to the lowly Boboli ready-made crust buyer — have experienced the thrill of concocting some magical pie masterpiece out of that doughy blank canvas. Hail, pizza!

Unlike myself, who errs more toward the Boboli side of homemade pizza, my husband (of course) makes his own pizza dough. Don’t kid yourself. There’s a difference — and his is better. And for novice breadmakers, once you get over the goosebumps that may rise from having to tangle with active yeast (those little beasties), you’ll find this a rewarding dough-making exercise. Your stomach will thank you, and you may never call Dominos again.

And don’t forget the toppings. I’m a traditionalist myself (think DaVinci), when my husband lets me handle the pizza topping portion of the show. My masterpieces include the usual suspects of sauce, cheese, meat, veg. But my husband, wisely, rips away my paintbrush before I’ve overdone it. Too many toppings equals soggy, greasy pizza. So be a beautiful minimalist, and chow down on that gorgeous still life: Pizza.


Backgrounder…

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Pizza is very much in vogue this past week in the blogosphere. Many of our peers have take on the same topic, and most with much more gusto and gourmet flair than us. I was even hesitant to post.

I wanted, however, to give you one more demonstration of my cooking as jazz metaphor. Pizza is likely the most varied and versatile delivery system for flavor I can imagine. In fact, I’m not sure I even need to imagine, since pizza has become a food staple everywhere. Beginning with the first pizzerias around the turn of the past century to Wolfgang Puck making it a gourmet staple at Spago in the early ’80s to today, where a pizza stone in your oven is a sign of whether you are a true cook, pizza is ubiquitous. There are a tremendous number of resources on this topic and by more trained hands than me.

And yet, there are ways that pizzas work — and there are ways that pizzas fail. It isn’t necessarily about the combination of flavors, because you see such “rules” broken all the time. Instead, what matters is a basic understanding of what you are working with.

This recipe, for example, uses a Neapolitan dough — which creates a thin, bread-like and less chewy crust — so it takes well to being rolled and then cooked quickly. Therefore, you don’t want to load it down like some Pappa-Domino-Caesar creation. You want to keep it light. A little olive oil, a little cheese, a little sauce, a little fresh basil and you have yourself a great pizza in and out of the oven in 9 minutes. If you add too much sauce (whether barbecue, tomato, or pesto), you’ll lose that crispness. If you add too much meat or cheese, you’ll end up with up with a small grease pool that Capt. Hazelwood might feel bad about after he sobered up. (Exxon Valdez joke. Yes, it’s probably a bit dated… but I think still a classic).

Really, once you have some basic ideas on how to control your pizza masterpiece, combinations are as many and as varied as what you like (and what ingredients you have on hand).

Finally, there is a special piece of equipment I recommend — a pizza stone. This amounts to a $20 to $40 investment in a large, unglazed tile. This piece is important because it allows the crust to become crisp and properly cooked. Place it on the bottom floor of your oven (or rack, if you have electric) and allow it to preheat up. It’s really a small investment when you consider that it will have a tremendous return on many other baked goods later.

Neapolitan Dough

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cup water (hot from tap)

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Directions

Making the dough:

1. In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and yeast.

2. In a stand mixer, add about half the water using the paddle attachment. Once the dough starts to come together, switch to the dough hook, and slowly add the rest of the water. You should have a softer dough that comes away from the bowl cleanly.

3. On medium-high speed, allow the dough hook to knead the dough for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and have a nice sheen.

4. Coat the dough lightly with olive oil and place in a bowl. Cover. You have two options now. First, you may leave it out for at least 90 minutes, during which time it should double in size. Second, you could cover it and refrigerate it overnight, where it will begin to rise very slowly. Remove from fridge about 1 hour before cooking.

Rolling the dough:

There are a number of great ways to manipulate the dough into a pizza shape. There are some traditional ways that have you stretch and turn the dough, and some intrepid pizza makers even toss the dough. However, I’m not always convinced that this is the best way, especially given that I am working with a dough that is thin and meant to be cooked thin. I simply roll it out with a rolling pin.

5. Preheat the oven to 500F. Make sure your pizza stone is in place.

6. Dust a cutting board or peel (a piece of wood with a handle used to deliver pizzas to and from the oven) with cornmeal. The cornmeal keeps the dough from sticking and helps it to slide in and out of the oven easily.

7. Place about 1/3 of the dough on the board and dust with flour. Roll until you have about a 12-inch piece of dough.

8. Coat it with desired toppings and sauce, and slide it into the oven.

(NOTE: The dough may stick to the board, so you can slide a long, thin spatula under it to loosen it. Also, sliding should be more of a jiggling off motion. If you tip the board too much, you’ll end up with your pizza folded on itself. My technique is to use my wrist and stab quickly back and forth as the pizza dances off the end.)

9. Cook pizza between 9 and 11 min. or until the sides start to turn brown and the bottom is dark brown.

10. Let rest for about 3 to 4 minutes before cutting. Serve. Enjoy.

What’s on our pizza?

MHC’s spicy red sauce

buffalo mozzarella

fresh grated parmesan

fresh chopped basil

minced garlic

diced onion

slices of bell pepper

spicy Italian sausage

olive oil

salt

Some other great blogs doing pizza recently:

Chubby Hubby with Truffle Pizza

Stephen Cooks with Eggplant and Late Summer Tomato Pizza

101 Cookbooks with White Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

4 comments

  1. I am really in awe of the photos here. I am finding out that taking photos as you are preparing food can be a hindrance. Yours are great!


  2. I’m making pizza tomorrow for some friends (a nice bread from our medical and law school schedules!). I’ll be using my dad’s “famous” recipe. I’m planning on putting onion, pepper, mushrooms (pizza MUST have mushrooms), chicken, tomato, and mozzarella. yummy!


  3. wow this is looking amazing! i’m so hungry right now:)!


  4. Yes, indeed, homemade pizza IS the best. And you’re right, too much sauce will really mess things up. I’m no longer allowed to dress our pizzas because I will put on too many things. My only job is to make the dough. (I put in a little whole wheat flour to mimic hand milled flour. I urge you guys to try this – it adds just that right amount of nuttiness to the flavour of the crust.)

    I like that you cut the mozzarella in big chunks. We’ll have to try that next time we make pizza.

    -Elizabeth

    P.S. We too use a stone in the winter but have you made your pizza on the barbecue?



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