Thursday, March 6, 2008

March 6: All Things Pizza

I don't think I know anybody who won't eat pizza. My best friend in high school, who had strange eating habits anyway, ate pizza more creatively than anybody I have ever seen. She would only eat thin crust pepperoni pizza with extra sauce, first of all. She would blot each piece, individually, with enormous amounts of paper towels, so that not a single visable speck of oil remained. Then she would peel off each piece of pepperoni and pile them on the side of her plate. Then she would eat the cheese with her hands, using torn-off pieces of it to scrape up the sauce. Then she would use her fingers to scrape off and eat the sauce. Then she would tear off bites of now totally denuded crust, dip them in more sauce, and eat them. Then she would eat the pepperoni. Watching all this was frustrating beyond all belief to me, for some reason.

When I was 16, I went to Finland, Russia and Estonia for two weeks. In St. Petersburg, a great-looking Russian photographer directed us to a tiny restaurant around the corner from our hotel. After living for a week on brown bread, farmer's cheese, some kind of cream-of-wheat-like porridge, and massive quantities of cabbage--I was too afraid to eat the mystery meat that all the restaurants served--my roommate and I were beside ourself to find a pizzaria, where they served us thin-crust cheese pizza with olives. It's a pizza I've never forgotten, because I ate it in Russia.

Pizza is great, and it's getting even greater for me as I become more proficient at making it at home and more creative when it comes to toppings. The Terrible Diet 2008 continues at Chez Kitchen, however, and pizza is hard to fit in there. To be honest, I feel like a hooker who's taken a pledge of chastity.

Unless. Unless I get really crazy with the toppings. Pizza, if you ask me, isn't meant to be wildly decadent; once upon a time it was good food eaten by poor people who had to stretch their food budget a long way. Italian piadina, for example, was a way to use up odds and ends of bread dough, greens, and meat that were getting close to spoiling.

I've heard of flatbread baked on hot stones, then topped with olive oil, parmesan cheese, arugula, and lightly dressed with vinegar. Sounds wonderful. Every veggie pizza on earth, as long as you don't go too crazy with cheese (a major challenge for me) is relatively healthy.

So, below is my favorite recipe for pizza crust, and below that is a list of my favorite pizza toppings that will probably not cause a stroke. When you bake pizza at home, you know exactly what's in it--you can eliminate what you don't want, leave in what you want more of, and stop paying your bad neighborhood chain whose name rhymes with Pizza Slut to provide you with bad food that is edible but not really enjoyable. This crust is easy, versatile, and great with just about every topping there is. It can be left thickish, rolled out thin, or wrapped around a topping or two for calzone. I've included the notes that America's Test Kitchen made about baking this, and a revision they made on their own recipe.

Please let me know in the comments what you like on your pizza. If you're nice to me, I might invite you over and cook something for you.

Pizza Dough

This dough can be used for any size pizza with thick or thin crust; simply adjust the cooking time to fit the pizza. Make sure you heat the oven to 500 degrees for thirty minutes before you start cooking. Your tiles or stone need at least that long to heat up; if they’re not properly heated, your pizza crust will be thin, blond, and limp. Once the dough for the crust has been topped, use a quick jerking action to slide it off the peel and onto the hot tiles or stone; make sure that the pizza lands far enough back so that its front edge does not hang off. For a cornmeal-flavored dough, substitute three-quarters cup of cornmeal for three-quarters cup of the bread flour. Editor's Note: This recipe was updated in 1997, when we found that adding more water resulted in a tastier pizza. This recipe contains a total of 1 3/4 cups water, while the original that appeared in the magazine in 1995 contains 1 1/2 cups.

1 3/4 cups water, divided, 1/2 cup warm, remaining at tap temperature
2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast (1 envelope)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing dough
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
vegetable oil (or cooking spray) for oiling bowl

1. Measure 1/4 cup of warm water into 2-cup measuring cup. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand until yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 cup warm water plus remaining 1 1/4 cups tap water and olive oil. Meanwhile, pulse flour and salt in workbowl of large food processor fitted with steel blade to combine. Add liquid ingredients (holding back a tablespoon or so) to flour and pulse together. If dough does not readily form into ball, stop machine, add remaining liquid, and continue to pulse until ball forms. Process until dough is smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds longer.

2. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead by hand with a few strokes to form smooth, round ball. Put dough into medium-large, oiled bowl, and cover with damp cloth. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

3. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and use chef’s knife or dough scraper to halve, quarter, or cut dough into eighths, depending on number and size of pizzas desired. Form each piece into ball and cover with damp cloth. Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape as desired. Brush dough very lightly with olive oil before topping and cooking.

4. Use the following guide to determine cooking time for pizza crust with topping but without cheese. All pizzas need to be cooked an additional two or three minutes after adding cheese, or until cheese is completely melted.

14-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 2) - 7 to 8 minutes
12-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 4) - 5 minutes
8-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 8)- 3 minutes.

12-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 2) - 9 to 10 minutes
8-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 4) - 5 minutes
6-inch pizzas (Master Recipe makes 8) - 4 minutes

My favorite combinations of toppings and sauces

Spicy garlic oil: Gently warm 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil over medium low heat. Stir in 10-12 cloves pressed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Simmer over low heat (should not sizzle or brown) for 4-5 minutes. Brush thickly on pizza dough, sprinkle with romano cheese. Refrigerate leftover oil (it's also delicious over pasta or brushed on chicken or pork in the last minute or so of grilling.)

White pizza: Mix 1/2 cup ricotta cheese with a handful of chopped fresh herbs (I like basil, rosemary, and thyme) and 2 cloves of pressed garlic and spread over pizza dough. Sprinkle with mozzerella, provolone, and fontina and bake.

Tomato sauce, Italian sausage & bell peppers, provolone cheese, a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Tomato sauce, proscuitto & capers, Italian fontina.

Olive oil, diced fresh tomatoes, pressed garlic, and small cubes of fresh mozzerella. Sprinkle with fresh basil, torn into small pieces, after baking.

Whole roasted garlic cloves smashed with olive oil and spread over pizza, cubes of sauteed eggplant, zucchini, and sliced mushrooms, fresh mozzerella.

Pesto sauce, quartered artichoke hearts, diced yellow tomatoes, parmesan cheese.

Thinly sliced, very ripe tomatoes, slivered red onions, very thinly sliced cold smoked salmon and capers (the dough can stand to be cooked for a few minutes before you put the toppings down on this pizza.)

Tomato sauce, crisp-fried bacon, onions, black olives, and mushrooms with mozzerella. Put the mozzerella over everything last so that the bacon doesn't burn in the heat of the oven.

Olive oil, spicy hard salami or sopresetta, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzerella.

Tomato sauce, leftover thinly-sliced grilled chicken breast, diced ripe tomatoes, smoked provolone or mozzerella.

Fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms, and slivered garlic sauteed in olive oil, crumbled feta cheese.

Thinly sliced ripe pears and crumbled bleu cheese. Throw a handful of toasted, chopped walnuts over the top before serving.

Olive oil, slivered red onion, fresh thyme, coarse sea salt, a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

My parents' favorite: tomato sauce, sliced pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and sliced green pimento-stuffed olives. Extra shredded mozzerella cheese. Nothing spicy, please; they are old and delicate.

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

I like pesto sauce, artichokes, mushrooms, and spinach. And you know how I love the history of food, so thanks.