Pizza. Probably one of the Italy's most important culinary contributions to American cuisine. Pizza started to come ashore just after World War II, after GIs returned from Europe. There’s been no looking back since. In the last few years, we North Americans have really upped our pizza game, employing the best ingredients, exotic toppings, and great crust. There’s always the crust divide: Thick or thin? How do you cut the pie? Squares or triangles? I say, let the battle begin, because nothing could be tastier.
I always start with the crust. I’m not a huge deep dish fan (although if presented with it, it will certainly get devoured), but fall somewhere in between. I feel the crust should be a vehicle for holding the rest of the pizza, but if your crust is inferior, so will be your pie. I will give you a King Arthur Flour (KAF) recipe later, and the link to their website, www.kingarthurflour.com. There are many recipes out there, but adding herbs, cheese, and some extra olive oil to the mix makes much tastier dough. It’s almost impossible to have too much flavor. Did I mention garlic? Never can have too much of that either.
As for your toppings, the sky is literally the limit. If you happen to go to Italy, even Florence, you will note that the local Il Bar (il bar is like a café, but also serves coffees and alcoholic drinks, but is not quite a bar in our sense) serves many, many versions of pizza, with toppings that at the time I never saw on a pizza over here. Like eggplant? Pickled, roasted or just plain strips? Now we see that here, and we’ve expanded our list of selections to match the Italians. Pizza started in Napoli, or Naples, but spread throughout most of Italy. Many Italians used to say, maybe fairly, maybe not, that the further north you went, the less it resembled pizza. I thought the Florentines did a decent job. One would hate to ask what they thought of ours. Let’s not go there, but dive directly into a hot, crusty pie, with tomato on the crust, gooey cheese, and anything that tickles your fancy, even anchovies (which I don’t think are so bad, but some can’t stand them). A dressing of good olive oil, herbs, veggies......
KAF’s The Crust:
· 2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
· 7/8 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water*
· 2 tablespoons olive oil
· 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.
That’s it. To this mix, I would add maybe ¼ cup grated Parmesan, and a teaspoon of mixed Italian herbs (or whichever ones you like). Note that I usually use the bread machine on the dough cycle (but sometimes do it by hand). Here’s their method:
1) If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it, with a pinch of sugar, in 2 tablespoons of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.
2) Combine the dissolved yeast (or the instant yeast) with the remainder of the ingredients. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, smooth dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take 4 to 5 minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. Don't over-knead the dough; it should hold together, but can still look fairly rough on the surface.
3) To make pizza up to 24 hours later, skip to step 5.
4) To make pizza now: Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow it to rise till it's very puffy. This will take about an hour using instant yeast, or 90 minutes using active dry. If it takes longer, that's OK; just give it some extra time.
5) To make pizza later: Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes at room temperature. Refrigerate the dough for 4 hours (or for up to 24 hours); it will rise slowly as it chills. This step allows you more schedule flexibility; it also develops the crust's flavor. About 2 to 3 hours before you want to serve pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator.
If you go to KAF’s website, you will see directions for all kinds of things to do with the dough for rectangular, whatever. I will leave the shape and size up to you. There are also quite a few other pizza crust recipes there, including one for sourdough. Now for the fun part: The construction.
I take about half the recipe for each pie. If the dough has rested a while, it will be easier to use, but if you can’t wait, keep calm and carry on. Also, you can add their dough conditioner or about 3 tbl dry milk to help with the “snap back.” Use a floured board or other surface, and roll the dough out to fit your pan, in this case a 12” pizza pan. Rolling pins really make getting the dough a uniform thickness much easier. You may want to put a little cornmeal on your lightly greased pan before you place the dough in. You are now ready for your toppings.
This is the truly creative part, aside from shaping your dough. I really prefer my pizza with a tomato sauce layer, but some leave it out entirely. It’s all a matter of taste. You can use 2-3 tbl. per pie of canned or homemade sauce. Sometimes I have little frozen containers of leftover sauce I’ve made, and they come in quite handy. The next thing, as you see in the photo, is sliced mushrooms, julienned sundried tomatoes, finely sliced onion, and sliced black olives. You can put whatever you like on your pizzas: Ham, thinly sliced tomatoes, finely minced garlic, seafood like shrimp (or the aforementioned but much maligned anchovy), peppers, pineapple, feta, like I said, the sky is the limit. I have heard of using sweet potato, but don’t think I’d go that far. All of the measurements here are strictly to your liking. Put on as much, or as little, as you think you would like. But don’t overdo it, a 3” pie isn’t going to bake through completely! Then layer on LOTS of mozzarella, a good 2-3 cups of shredded. Per pie. Sprinkle on top some garlic powder, Italian herbs, and drizzle with olive oil. Voila! You are now ready for the oven. There are various ways to bake your pizza, but right now we’ll go for the simplest. The home oven with basic pizza pans. Heat your oven to about 425 F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, but keep a good eye on the process. What you want is a nicely browned crust, melted slightly browned cheese, and is sort of bubbly. If the cheese is white or just melted, bake a couple more minutes. Once your pizza is baked, let it cool for 2 minutes, to set up a little. Then the best part: Enjoy!
You can check out what Sheryl is up to at Gold & Treasure Coast SlowFood, www.SlowFoodGTC.org.