Monday, January 7, 2008

Meatless Main Dish Monday: Pizza Margherita

My best friend is a vegetarian, although I'm not sure you can call it that. She had beef stew for dinner last night, and the last time we visited her in Kentucky, her husband fed us all burgers from the grill. I'm not sure what to call her: a carnivore in training? A whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like-eating-atarian?

Oh well. I come here to feed Kimberly, not to poke her. We were talking the other about how many "vegetarian" entrees are nothing but side dishes, and how at family gatherings she subsists on corn on the cob and bread. There are wonderful vegetarian main dishes out there, many of them coming from cultures where poor people make delicious food with what they have access to. Just ask the Italians or the Mexicans.

So, I pledge to you, my three-or-four readers, meat-free Mondays, and real food, not a side dish that you just eat more of.

I like pizza. I mean, I like making it, not ordering it--although there's something to be said for that as well. But I have a bread machine, a food processor, and a stand mixer, all of which have the capability of making up pizza dough with a minimum of effort on my part. There's a grocery store around the corner. I have an oven. Nothing's stopping me from making it myself. It's as healthy as you want it to be, or not. You can pretty much do whatever you want with it. In the summer, I love to make it on the grill. Invite friends over and they can make their own from a variety of toppings that you prepare. Serve it at a casual cocktail party as part of a small buffet of highly portable nibbles, or to your kids and their friends for a birthday party or sleepover.

This is a classic, named after an Italian queen. The authentic version of this involves an 800-degree oven, two days of proofing dough, and a pizza expert. It's really "just" plain old cheese pizza. Just? People are still eating it, like, a thousand years later is all I'm saying.

Oh, and: I don't use a pizza stone. They're heavy, impossible to clean, and eat up cupboard space. I know, it's sacrelige. Oh well. If you have one, use it. If you don't, a pizza pan or a sheet pan will be just fine. My pizza pans have a perforated bottom. It encourages browning.

From Cook's Illustrated again. Makes 2 12-inch pizzas.

Pizza Margherita
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup water, room temperature
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface and peel
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons sugar

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Table salt
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, patted dry if packed in brine, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. In liquid measuring cup, whisk yeast into water to dissolve. In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly add liquid through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If after 1 minute dough is sticky and clings to blade, add 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and continue processing. If dough appears dry and crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and process until dough forms ball.) Divide dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls (see photo 1, below). Place on floured counter or baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

2. FOR THE TOPPING: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three 1-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids. Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic (if using), 1 tablespoon basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl.

3. TO SHAPE AND COOK THE PIZZAS: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer balls to well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk (photo 2). Using flattened palms, gently stretch disk into 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving disk quarter turns (photos 3 and 4). Lightly flour pizza peel; lift edges of dough round to brush off any excess flour, then transfer dough to peel. Spread thin layer of tomato topping (about 1/2 cup) over dough with rubber spatula, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Slide onto stone and bake until crust begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove pizza from oven with peel, close oven door, and top pizza with half of cheese chunks, spaced evenly apart. Return pizza to stone and continue cooking until cheese is just melted, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to cutting board; sprinkle with half of remaining basil, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and pinch salt. Slice and serve immediately. Repeat step 3 to shape, top, and bake second pizza.

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