Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Potato-rosemary pizza and an onion pizza with goat cheese in the background.
I honestly adore pizza, but not just any pizza. I need a crust with crisp and chew. Air pockets throughout the dough to build the perfect texture. Not too heavy on the toppings to sog down the pizza. As much as I love what is on top, to me the crust is paramount. If it is meh, the whole pizza is a let down. Needless to say I spent a long time with pizza crust recipes trying to find the one that satisfied. This one is consistently excellent. It is easy to work with and can be made without a mixer. It is glorious when you make it in advance and still great when you make it just ahead of the time when you need to use it. The secret is the wetness of the dough; it gives little resistance to the yeast to grow and fill pockets of air throughout the dough that create that perfect texture, so long as you don't destroy them. 

Whatever you do, don't get rid of them. Don't squish the dough, don't squeeze out the air, don't press it out, don't roll it out. Keep the air intact. I once was making pizza with someone near and dear who I will not be naming who began to roll out the dough with a rolling pin. I about died. I collected myself and asked that person to maybe not do that to the rest of the dough, pretty, pretty please (because I wanted pizza, not crackers- which are also good, but not what I had planned for dinner). Trust me on this one, you want the air for lightness, chewiness and crispness.

Another thing I believe in: you don't need a tomato sauce. I almost never make one. There are many excellent pizzas you can make without one. Most prepared sauces are flat and add no dimension and flavor to your pie.  Often what I do is make up a sauce and freeze what I am not using into ice cubes so I can defrost just enough for a Neapolitan style pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil. 

What I always do use is roasted garlic and olive oil, even if it is underneath another sauce. Roasted garlic addes depth and a subtle sweetness rather than the acidity of fresh garlic. Roasted garlic is cooking gold. I have no idea where to buy it, but it is so easy to make you should never need to. Directions include: take a scrap of foil and place several separated cloves of garlic in it, wad it up, throw it in a hot oven (like the one you are preheating to make pizza in) for 10-20 minutes, remove and squish out the goodness. Told you it was easy and it makes you pizza amazing. The reason to use the olive oil with the garlic is to spreadability and to create a nice lipid layer to prevent your crust from getting too moist from your toppings. A little bit goes a long way, and in case you worried about added fat, don't be. Olive oil is a good fat and you need those kinds. Feel bad about lard, big macs and twinkies, not olive oil.

Back to pizza. Another key element is a preheated pizza stone, but if you don't have one, don't despair. Just preheat a metal baking sheet or several unglazed tiles you can get for cheap from the hardware store. Then lower the oven rack to the second lowest setting and crank up the heat as high as you can, 550 degrees for me. I use a well floured pizza peel to slide my pie on the preheated stone. If you don't have a peel, let me tell you another trick I am also fond of: parchment paper. Make your pizza directly on the parchment and you set it in the oven on the parchment and when it is done it magically doesn't stick, and it is easy to make several pizzas ready to go this way if you are making several. 

Have I missed anything here? I don't know that I have ever been so thourough with directions prior to the recipe itself. Wow. I really love good pizza and know it is one of the greatest (often) meatless meals out there.

Here are a few of my favorite toppings:
  • Ricotta cheese spread over the dough like a thick sauce, then a grating of Parmesean cheese. During the last minute of baking top the pizza with spinach, lamb's quarters, arugula, baby chard or a mix of greens and allow to wilt, just barely. Salt and pepper and swoon.
  • Thinly sliced onions, a variety (especially shallots) is fantastic along with fontina cheese and/or goat cheese.
  • Boiled waxy potatoes (red, yukon gold or a Peruvian blue) thinly sliced and topped with chopped fresh rosemary with salt and pepper.
  • A combination of cheeses. Some great ones include: Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Pecorino, Mozzarella, Fontina, Ricotta and Provolone. 
  • The classic Margherita : tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella and finish with fresh basil
A recipe for my tomato sauce I keep in ice cubes:

Quick Pizza Sauce
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 t. dried or 1 T. fresh herbs (basil, oregano and marjoram)

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic. After 1 minute add the tomatoes herbs and simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

 Pizza Dough
Adapted from a recipe by chef Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco, in Phoenix, a pizza mecca- where I dream of visiting, but alas, have not yet. This yields enough for 2 9 inch pizzas or 1 14 inch.

2 (1/4-ounces) packages active dry yeast
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus additional for dusting (I often go half whole wheat)
2 cups warm water (105–115F), divided
2 teaspoons salt

Whisk together yeast, 2 tablespoons flour, and 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until mixture develops a creamy foam, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
Stir together salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups warm water and stir until smooth, then stir in 1 cup more flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough flour (up to 3/4 cup), a little at a time, to make dough just come away from side of bowl. (This dough may be wetter than other pizza doughs you have made.)
Knead dough on a lightly floured surface with floured hands, lightly reflouring work surface and your hands when dough becomes too sticky, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half and form into 2 balls, then generously dust balls all over with flour and put each in a medium bowl. Cover bowls with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

So, what is your favorite kind of pizza? Or make me jealous- have you been to Pizzaria Bianco?

1 comment:

  1. This looks amazing! Next time i make pizza I will be trying your recipe. Also, check out my recipe blog at www.newfoundmeals.blogspot.com


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