1.17.2015

Homemade Pizza: A Safer Slice

Last summer, we attended a reunion for employees of a history museum where Mark worked in the Dark Ages (the 1970s and 1980s). I tagged along for the ride, but did not attend the reunion itself. (Me and 300 historians is not a good mix...)

The night before the reunion we gathered with a few friends for dinner in Marylou and Steve's beautiful garden at their home in Woodstock, Connecticut. Aside from them and the two of us, we were joined by our cousin Cathy and her partner Heather, plus several of their old friends and colleagues from the museum.

Marylou, being smart and knowing that the next two days would be stressful and full of activities (she was one of the event organizers), decided to order pizzas for dinner and serve them with a nice salad.

As a guest, being served pizza strikes fear to my heart. Literally, into my heart. Yep, it's that old garlic allergy of mine coming back to bite. Pizza in the United States almost always has garlic, although I know there are exceptions and I seek them at every turn.

But, in lil' old Woodstock, we weren't sure we could find pizza safe for me to eat.

When we decided that I would join him for the trip, Mark suggested to Marylou that I could make the pizzas, thus ensuring an allium-free dinner for me. Aside from topping lavash or flatbreads with tomatoes, cheese, and basil (or whatever we had on hand), I had little experience in pizza making. But, hey - I love a challenge and immediately started looking for crust recipes.

Knowing I would bake in an unfamiliar kitchen, I did my test run using ingredients I knew could be found anywhere, and limited myself to the most basic batterie de cuisine imaginable. As in, no pizza stone. Just cookie sheets.

I confirmed that out hosts had a food processor, so I began my search for a crust dough made in the processor. One from Wolfgang Puck surfaced, and I had heard good things about it from other bloggers, so that is what I used.

For the topping, I went basic with a Margherita pizza - probably my favorite. It is so classic, simple, and uses just a few ingredients - San Marzano tomatoes (when available), salt, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves.

For the test baking before the trip, I bought fresh mozzarella thinking that it would be the best option. My first tactical error. It wasn't. It was chewy - and not in a good way. So I checked in with my two friends who work in pizza parlors and was told by both that they use a dry mozzarella, as it melts beautifully at the high temperatures. The good news is a dry mozzarella will be much easier to find in a small town!

I had to assume that Marylou and Steve didn't have a pizza peel, so I tested the recipe using a large smooth wooden cutting board. It basically worked, although I made sure it was well floured, otherwise it wouldn't slide easily into the pan. Also, once the dough is on the board/peel I found I must work quickly, as the moisture from the dough will rapidly cause it to stick to the board.


The pan. One thing I have read about over and over is that you need to slide your pizza onto a preheated pan (or stone) to achieve a nice, crispy crust. When using a rimmed baking sheet, this isn't easily accomplished, so in the end, I didnt slide from my improvised peel; I spread the dough directly into the cold rimmed pan before adding its toppings.

While pizza dough is sturdy, it still can easily absorb liquids, so don't top your pizza until you are ready to pop it in the oven. This will help to keep your pizza from getting soggy.

Another way to get a nice crisp crust is the set the pizza in the top of the oven - about 4 inches from the top (with heat coming from below; dont broil it!).

Finally, when making something like this from scratch, your end results will always be better when you use the highest quality ingredients available: flour, yeast (makes sure it hasn't expired!!), tomatoes, olive oil, cheese and fresh basil.

The good news? It was easy - the garden party was a huge success, and the guests raved about the pizzas! Making so many pizzas was fun, and I am eternally grateful to Heather for being in the kitchen with me and keeping me laughing!

This dough is so easy to make but I ended up testing and re-testing, only to combine several techniques with this set of ingredients. It is best when the dough is made several days ahead and then refrigerated. It rolls/stretches easier, and I ended up with a thinner, crispier crust. The nice thing about making it several days ahead is that you can come home from work, and have pizza within minutes  giving you time enough to watch a movie (we chose Moonstruck) while you eat your pizza.

Sorry about the cell phone shot - I didn't have my dSLR at hand!
So grab a slice, fire up the DVD player, pop the cork on a nice Italian wine, kick back, and enjoy!

Buon appetito!

~ David

Pizza Margherita

Dough
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
3 to 2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt

Toppings
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, drained 
     (juices reserved for another use)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoons salt
1 pound dry mozzarella cheese, sliced into 16 slices
30-40 fresh basil leaves

Mix together the water, olive oil, yeast, and honey in a small bowl or measuring cup. Place 3 cups flour and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once or twice. Then, with the machine running, pour in the yeast mixture. Process until the dough forms a ball on the blades. If it doesnt form a ball, add more flour up to 1/2  cup until it does. Remove the dough from the processor and knead it on a lightly floured surface for a couple of minutes, adding flour as necessary, until it is smooth and elastic.

Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, rounded side down first, then flip it so the rounded side is up. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes (you can leave it for up to an hour). The film of oil and plastic wrap trap moisture, keeping the dough from drying out, so it remains elastic and can rise. When it is ready the dough will stretch as it is gently pulled.

Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Shape each ball by gently pulling down the sides of the dough and tucking each pull under the bottom of the ball, working round and round the ball 4 or 5 times. Then, on a smooth, lightly floured surface, roll the ball around under your palm until the ball feels smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Put the balls on a large plate, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and leave them to rest/proof in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 days. Go about your business and dream of slices of pizza...

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After days of anticipation, when it's finally time to make the pizzas, place the rack in your oven at the second highest level - about 4 to 5 inches from the top. Place a pizza stone on the rack and preheat the oven to 500°F for about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, press out the dough. Place one ball of dough on a lightly floured surface. While turning the dough, press down on its center with the heel of your hand, gradually spreading it out to a circle 12- to 14-inches. With your fingers, form a slightly thicker raised rim around edge of the circle. (You can also use a rolling pin.) Transfer dough to a pizza peel that has been liberally dusted with cornmeal or semolina flour. If you dont have a pizza stone preheating, you can transfer the crust to a rimmed baking sheet at this point.

Purée the San Marzano tomatoes with the oil and salt. Spread 1/2 cup puréed tomatoes over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Top with a quarter of the basil leaves and four cheese slices (per pizza). Season with salt.

Slide your cookie sheet into a preheated over, OR slide the pizza from the peel onto the pre-heated stone. Bake until the cheese topping is bubbling and the rim of the crust is deep golden brown, about 8-9 minutes.

Use the pizza peel to slide the pizza from the stone to a cutting board. Use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to cut the pizza into slices and serve immediately.

Makes 4 small pizzas (10 to 12-inches), each serving 2.



32 comments:

  1. As I read this I am in the buenos aires airport waiting for a flight. Pizza in BA is very different from this charred thin crust beauty. Despite the Italian influence on all the food here pizza here is thick, cheeses and doughy. It's more like a grilled cheese sandwich

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    1. Glad you are coming back, Greg - I am looking forward to reading more of your adventures today! To me, even some of the pizzas in Italy are disappointing... after all, we grow up liking what we know. I grew up with Brooklyn-style pizza. Thin and crisp - almost burnt - with a light topping.

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  2. Looks delicious, David.... mouth is watering... and I love all the photos of the garden party too!

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    1. Thanks, Liz - Marylou and Steve have one of the loveliest gardens in New England!

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  3. Dear David, there is absolutely nothing better than homemade Pizza - your dough looks picture perfect and so does the allium-free topping - what a nice gesture to be making pizza in an unfamiliar kitchen.
    Love all the happy, summery pictures.
    Euch ein schönes Wochenende und liebe Grüsse,
    Andrea

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    1. Thanks, dear Andrea! As nice as the gesture might have been, it was all for self-preservation! :) I think there are many in the Northern Hemisphere that will be looking at these summery photos and dreaming of the months ahead.

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  4. I love the simplicity of the ingredients in this. Beautiful.

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    1. You know me, Valentia - sometimes simplest is best!

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  5. David, I just love your writing. You tell a story - with pictures! - that accompany your great recipes. You are a class act in the world of bloggers.

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    1. Connie - your wonderful and kind comment made my day! Hope all is well with you!

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  6. Tell me about the wine you paired with it. I'm imaging a balmy summer night and a crisp rosé, but now that it's deepest heart of winter up north, what would you suggest?

    I'm going to do some research and see how to translate this to GF. I've been mighty disappointed in our options for pizza crust commercially (except the ones shipped by my father to us from Venice, CA). Cheers!

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    1. You are perceptive, Gaelen! We did, indeed, have a crisp Provençal rosé the night of the garden party! But, when I made more batches recently to photograph, we drank a Piemontese Barolo one night, and a Sicilian Aglianco another. The reds would be perfect for you in Rochester these cold nights! Good luck on the pizza dough. One of my GF friends did a smashed potato base for her pizza and seemed very happy with it. It isn't pizza dough, for sure, but it sounds great! http://cookingontheweekends.com/2014/12/smashed-potato-pizza-crust/

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  7. David, looks like you had dinner in a beautiful garden setting. The pizza looks amazing, love the simplicity of the ingredients you used.

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    1. Thanks, Cheri! I love dining outdoors whether in New England or in Tucson!

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  8. Your mention of expired of expired yeast reminds me of an episode of bread-making in our household. A lesson of reading labels that was quickly learned! It looks like the pizza was received well, by all. And wouldn't you just love a wood-fired pizza oven? If only we had the space ...

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    1. Yeah, John - the space issue is a big problem her, too. I guess we can both live vicariously through others...

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  9. Absolutely my favorite crust recipe no matter how many others I try. I also use it for Focaccia & Calzoni.

    Just like you were surprised that I don't like ginger in sweets, I didn't remember that you were allergic to garlic. That must have made things a little difficult in Italia.

    I don't like coffee at all. And I really hate it when people say, "Just try it, it doesn't taste like coffee." Really? It always tastes like coffee. I do make coffee for John every morning and I think it smells great but I don't like the way it tastes at all.

    I'm sure everyone loved your version of pizza SO much better than anything that could be purchased. How thoughtful of you & how fun!

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    1. So good to know I have company in not liking coffee. I, too, like the way it smells - but when it gets close to my mouth I just can't do it.

      Surprisingly, I eat very well in Italy because garlic is used much less than in the U.S. Some regions use more than others, but (unlike the U.S.) garlic isn't in every dish. It is much harder to eat out in NOLA!

      And I do have you to thank, as you were the first person to recommend Puck's recipe to me. Have you tried refrigerating it for a couple of days? Amazing!

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  10. Great pizza David and you are very brave to go into an unknown kitchen and make it for a whole crowd of people. I would have murdered Mr LG if he had done that to me :) I haven't ever thought to use honey in a pizza dough before I would be very interested to know if there is any difference in taste. I see from your comment above that I have found another like minded person - I don't like coffee either :) Hope you both had a great New Year xx

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    1. Karen - people find it so odd that I, as a foodie, dislike coffee. I am sure you get that all the time, as people think of cake and coffee like they think of Fred and Ginger. Now I know that there are at least three of us who don't like the stuff!

      I was actually a bit relieved to be in a strange kitchen for the event, happily stretching pizza dough. I don't think I could have added to a conversation of friends who have known one another for more than 40 years! Cheers to you and Mr LG!

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  11. Pizza perfection! I've been eating up a storm in Portland and Seattle the past 5 days and need to cut back drastically, but if I had this pizza in front of me right now, it wouldn't last 5 minutes! Gorgeous!!

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    1. Thanks, Christina - I look forward to hearing about your culinary travels in the Pacific Northwest!

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  12. Love that you set out to make pizza rather than find a pizza place in Woodstock that could make you a garlic-free pizza! This looks amazing and makes me miss eating wheat...

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    1. I, too, would miss wheat a lot - I feel for you, Nicole! When people react in horror at my garlic allergy ("I could NEVER live without garlic!"), I tell them that it is a lot better than a gluten or dairy allergy, for sure. And heaven forbid that there is a wine allergy! And, probably like you, I would much rather make something than find a mediocre version out!

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  13. "As a guest, being served pizza strikes fear to my heart." Hahaha, I just about died when I read that because that's how I feel too! Not because of the garlic thing in my case but because it's always some nasty, fast food pizza place and its just not good. I shudder when I have an invite to dinner and it's bloody pizza!! Yes. it's happened to me, people have invited us over for ordered pizza :|
    I guess I shouldn't complain, it's not all about the food....
    Your pizza looks awesome, great job!! And in someone else's kitchen too!
    I don't know if you've ever tried this, but quite often I make pizza in my cast iron skillet. Get it hot on the stove top, throw in your dough, top with your toppings and cheese, let it cook on the stove a little till the bottom gets crusty and then broil for a few minutes. Perfect pizza, especially does well with a deep pan pizza type. My kids love home-made pizza more than store bought. Just use your dough recipe and a cast iron pan if you have one, You'll love how easy it is.

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    1. Nazneen - you made ME laugh when I read your comment. Luckily, our friends pretty much know I am a foodie (read: snob) and always make wonderful food when we come over!

      I love your cast iron skillet idea! It makes me wonder if you could use a cast iron griddle as a pizza stone. I will definitely give it a try!

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    2. I definitely want to try this method!

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    3. Let me know what you think, Fiona.

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  14. I have not budged from the house all day, nor from the neighborhood for three days. I am making this tomorrow and perhaps I can get to the Golden Harvest when the dough is ready to roll!

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    1. Don't forget to give your dough ample time in the fridge, Susan! Hope you can get out today - no fun being housebound!

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  15. The only pizza dough I ever made, not frequently, is from Wolfang P. too! What a challenge with new guests David, that was awesome. Here we have what is called 'pizza mozzarella' because the 'good and expensive' one is not good as a topping, too bland. They look fantastic!

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    1. I love the concept of Pizza Mozzarella! WP's is a great recipe and, with a little refrigeration, even better!

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