Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who wants pizza?

One of [The Man I Love]'s favorite dinners is homemade pizza. It's also one of the easiest.

My method, in fact, also helps tidy up the fridge. The end of an onion; the last mushrooms in the box; those cheese ends; the last bit of bell pepper, some bits of ham or salami - all these bits and pieces contribute to interesting and delicious combinations.

Of course, I have to acknowledge that we have tools that make it easy - a Cuisinart food processor, a pizza stone for the oven, and a wooden pizza peel that helps transfer the unbaked pizza onto the stone.

First the dough. I use the recipe in Marcella Hazan's book "Classic Italian Cooking", but honestly, I haven't cracked the book in decades - I have the recipe memorized, and have made my own simplifications.

1 1/2 cup flour
1 packet (or 1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup hot water

Put the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, salt) in the bowl of the food processor. Add the olive oil to the hot water. Start the motor and pour the water in while the dough is mixing. The dough will come together in a ball - let the motor run it around the bowl a few seconds to knead it.

If you don't have a food processor, put the liquid in a bowl, add the yeast and let it dissolve, then add in the flour and salt in stages, mixing them in fully.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand a few minutes. If you're doing it by hand, kneed several minutes. Then gather it into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover it, and let it rise. The recipe says cover with a damp towel, but I use a Tupperware bowl and snap the cover on to keep the dough moist. If your kitchen isn't warm, you can put the bowl in the oven with the oven light on (DON'T turn on the oven!)

This recipe makes one largish pizza, or you could make two "personal" size pizzas. I often double it, to make three medium pizzas so we can have some creative fun with a variety of toppings.

The dough should rise for about two hours. In the last half hour, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. TAKE THE BOWL OF DOUGH OUT FIRST! If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven when you start the preheat.

A pizza stone is a great thing to have. In addition to pizza, you can bake loaves of bread directly on it. Mine is round, and was sold in a kitchenware store years ago, but you can also use a large clay quarry tile, which is probably a lot cheaper. Never wash a pizza stone - brush it clean with a scrubby sponge, or if it gets really grotty, use a wire brush. Don't immerse it in water.

You'll know the dough has risen enough if you poke it in the center and the impression of your finger remains. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and start patting it into a round with your hands.

I wish I could tell you how to spin a pizza around in the air above your head. But I can't because I don't know how to do that myself. I've tried it, and each time I barely manage to keep it off the floor. Perhaps I will ask my neighbor, a talented cook, to teach me someday.

Instead, once I've stretched it on the board, I pick it up by the rim and hold it vertically, letting it stretch with its own weight. I move my grip around the circumference so it stretches evenly. This method isn't very showy, but it works.

The amount of water in the dough makes a difference in how easy the dough is to work. If you make it often enough, you get a sense of how much to use. Too little water makes it stodgy and rubbery under your hands; too much water makes it sticky.

If you can't get the hang of shaping it by hand, you can even use a rolling pin to shape it.

A pizza peel is like a flat wooden paddle. Sprinkle the peel with corn meal, and put the round of dough directly onto it.

If you don't have a peel, you can use a large cookie sheet. You can oil it, or you can line it with parchment or use a Silpat sheet. The difference here is that a peel is used to transfer the pizza into the oven directly onto the stone. You can bake the pizza directly on the cookie sheet in the oven. (I've never tried using a cookie sheet or a cutting board to transfer the pizza to a stone, but I suppose it could work.)

One thing I've learned to beware of with my homemade pizzas - don't let the toppings get too wet. If you use sauce, don't overload it. If you use wet toppings like fresh tomatoes, let them drain before putting them on. Too much wet stuff will dribble off the dough, and make it hard to slide the unbaked pizza off the peel, and also to lift the finished product off the stone.

Sprinkle the toppings on after you've put the dough on the peel. I like to brush a garlic-infused olive oil lightly on the surface. It's up to you whether you want to put toppings on first and cheese on last, or the other way around.

You can get creative with toppings. I like a classic combo like fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, but I've also enjoyed pizzas made with shredded leftover chicken breast, barbecue sauce, and smoked gouda cheese. A pie with caramelized onions, chopped pecans, and a mixture of mozzarella and roquefort cheese is rich and tasty. A plain pie with onions, anchovies and parmesan is also nice.

The pizza at the top of this post is made with mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, and shredded swiss chard that was first sauted in garlic olive oil.

This one has pepperoni, onions, and sliced marinated artichoke hearts:

We like to use fresh whole milk mozzarella, but even the cheap rubbery part-skim-milk supermarket mozzarella makes a good pizza. If I have odds and ends of cheese in the fridge, I like to shred a mix of them for interesting flavor. Soft cheeses like goat cheese melt with a different texture, and crumbly cheeses like feta or blue are also tasty.

Sprinkle some corn meal on the pizza stone, then slide the pizza from the peel to the stone. It seems scarey at first, but it's easy to get the hang of it.

Let the pizza bake for about 12 minutes.

When it's done, you can use the peel to take it off, but I use a different method, since by that time there's usually another pizza being built on the peel.

I slide the oven rack out, hold a cutting board next to the stone, and use my broad chef's knife to nudge the baked pizza right onto the board. Easy!

Give homemade pizza a try! Take a look in the fridge and see what's there, and get creative.


Life with Kaishon said...

I always love your fun combinations! : ) I can almost smell the yummy pizza! Scrumptious!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Who wants pizza?


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I wish I could tell you how to spin a pizza around in the air above your head. But I can't because I don't know how to do that myself.

Most experienced pizzaoli don't do that- it's "showboating", and doesn't really work well to stretch the dough.

smalltownmom said...

Fabulous! Pizza peel. I never knew what to call it!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

HA! Guess what I had made for dinner today? What you say about toppings and wetness and tomato sauce is totally key---CAREFUL!

yogurt said...

I'm so impressed - homemade pizza crust. Yum. I'm going to try your recipe one of these days.

Jason, as himself said...

I had dinner a while ago. But now I am STARVING again! And I love how you just clean out the fridge right onto the pizza and it turns out so...gourmet.

cactus petunia said...

Mmmm. Now I know what I'll make for dinner!