Monday, November 15, 2010

PIZZA

So lately it's been Pizza Fridays around Casa I'll Eat You. And why get delivery when you can make your own?

I used to have a very good response to that. The homemade pizzas I remember from my youth were frankly a little disappointing (but this was before we really knew what we were doing). Besides, any decent pizza place has equipment and expertise beyond what is probably available to you at home. Ovens that get hotter, dough that stretches farther, shredded cheese that's even shreddier - how can you compete?

You compete by not competing. You embrace the pizza that you can make, because you can make it however you like, and without having to fight over toppings or tip the delivery man. And with a little practice, you will enjoy it just as much as that hot round disc that comes to your house in the cardboard box, or maybe even a bit more.

You start with the dough, and you start the night before. The recipe I use is adapted from the Silver Spoon, and it's easy to remember. This will make enough for two pizzas of a "personal" size, so dinner for two:

1 1/4 C flour
pinch salt
1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 C water

For the flour, I like to use maybe 2/3 bread flour, 1/3 all-purpose, and 1/3 whole wheat. Mix the dry stuff, add the water and then let it rock out on the dough hook for five minutes or so. You'll probably have to adjust the amounts of flour and water as you go in order to get a dough that holds together but isn't too wet and sticky. Form into two balls, put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Go to bed.

The next evening, take the dough out to get up to temperature. If your dough balls are not perfectly round, here's your chance to make things right - uneven dough balls mean uneven pizza crusts and the potential for heartbreaking catastrophic dough tears.

Get your oven real hot. Five hundred degrees is great; you can push it to 550 if your oven allows. And make sure you get a pizza stone ... it makes a big difference.

Forming the crust is the fun part. Relax and be gentle with the dough. Work on a well-floured surface, and spin the dough as you push out towards the edges to get it started. Then, do whatever you have to do to stretch it into the size and shape you want. Here it is on the peel all ready to be topped.


Now think about toppings. On this particular night, we did one white and one red. The white pizza features mozzarella, some grated Parmigiano Regianno, a touch of diced-up sopressata, arugula, and an egg. First the cheeses go on, and into the oven it goes. Here's a sneak peek complete with dramatic oven lighting.


After five minutes or so, I threw on the arugula, and then after a few more minutes, cracked the egg on top. Once the egg was set, out the pizza came.


This was tasty, but to be honest it was cooked a little too long, and the crust became a little crackery. Not having the wet sauce on the pizza contributes to its drying out as well. The egg is a great touch on this one, though as we know most things are better with an egg on them.


A more traditional peppers and onion pizza was the second. I don't sweat it too much about the sauce; it's something you can make batches of and freeze, or just whip out some tomato paste and water in a pinch. During the summer we made sauce from fresh tomatoes cooked down and run through a food mill.


A word about cheese, too: fresh mozzarella is great, but on pizza it can have its drawbacks. You may find yourself stuck with a pizza dotted with "islands" of cheese that has melted in place if you don't cut it up enough. For everyday pizzamaking, shredded mozzarella or whatever is fine.

Enjoy and experiment! We like making pizza when we have people over ... the only dilemma that comes up is how to hang out with your guests in the dining room while you're back and forth to the kitchen trying to stretch out the next crust. We already have two stones so we can do two at once, but any other suggestions? I may look into having a pizza oven built in the dining room ...

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