Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Friday Night Pizza

Both my proficiency and confidence as a cook has grown by making the same thing over and over, but never the same twice. Pasta is the best example… learning what goes together, how long to cook, how to be quick and efficient, how to use what’s in season and in the house at 6pm on a Wednesday.

Pizza is another dish that I make over and over, but never the same (although I do have some favorites).

We like pizza on Friday’s, when there are usually bits of this and that left around that go wonderfully on a pizza. I have written before about grilling pizza, and recently about the dough using natural starter I have been making… but never a blog on my everyday pizza. In part because I don’t really have a recipe, just a general technique. Which as I’m writing it down, seems long and convoluted, and I’m not even including making the dough. But don’t fear: if you are intimidated by making the dough, sliding the pie onto the stone, etc., let me tell you a secret: you can buy the dough, use a cookie sheet, and make wonderful pizza. Of course, it’s at the risk of getting hooked; next you’ll be keeping a pet named Blob in your refrigerator for natural dough, entertain making your own mozzarella, and fantasizing about a wood-burning pizza oven in your back-yard. But I digress. Let me start with the equipment, then the ingredients, then the process. I'll share some of our favorite combinations next time!

Oven (the only thing on the list not optional, although you can substitute the grill)
Pizza Stone (I use one I bought at one of those cookware parties… mine stays in the oven all the time, unless I really need the second rack)
Pizza Peels l (thing to slide the pizza onto and off the stone)
Cheese grater (optional)
Silicone Pastry Mat (optional… you can do on the counter if you like)
Rolling pin (maybe)
Knife and cutting board (ok, not is not optional)

Ingredients (for one pizza, serves 2):

Corn meal (just a teaspoon or two)
Pizza dough (about a pound, which is half of these recipes: sourdough or yeast, or a purchased ball from Trader Joes or your favorite upscale grocery) ... if your dough is refrigerated, bring up to room temperature (leave out for an hour or so) first.

Sub topping*:
Olive oil (a couple of teaspoons)
Garlic (a couple of cloves)
Chopped Basil (a good handful) or other herb like thyme or chives, chopped
Black pepper or red pepper flakes (not too many)
* a tomato based sauce is also an option here, but not one I typically use.

Main Cheese: about 4-5 ounces of one or a combination, sliced or grated
Fresh mozzarella (slice and put on paper towels to get some of the moisture out)
Whole milk mozzarella
Part-skim mozzarella (although avoid the rubbery ones)
Cheddar or Jack cheese

Toppings: (usually one meat and 3-4 vegetables):
Sausage (1 or 2 links of leftover sausage or cooked bulk sausage),
Leftover chicken, pork, beef
Salami, bacon (cooked until soft), prosciutto, etc
Onions, green onions, bell pepper, mushrooms (about a cup or so total, slice thin..)
Tomato (sliced thin, shake out seeds and juice) or squash
Fresh corn (cut from cob), or potato (sliced very thin)
Grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper
Caramelized onions
Baby spinach or arugula

Accessories (optional)
Nuts (walnuts or pine nuts), ¼ cup or so
Strong cheese (An ounce or so of goat, feta, gorgonzola, parmesan)

Wine (Bordeaux is good, as well as a red Italian or Italian style wine)


Turn the oven on, 475oF. The oven should heat a good 20 minutes, with the stone in it (hot oven + cold stone = broken stone). Get all the equipment and ingredients out.

Grate the cheese, mince the garlic, slice the vegetables, prep the meats and accessories. I usually assemble everything on a dinner plate (and one plateful is good for one pizza) The basil gets chopped very last so it doesn’t turn dark (I usually leave it on the cutting board and chop just before using).

Sprinkle some corn meal on the pizza peel.

To make the crust, dump the dough onto a floured matt (or board or counter top). Start pressing the dough with your fingers to spread into a circle. Turn it over, make sure the bottom has sufficient flour (after doing 20 times or so, you’ll understand what sufficient is). If the dough is fighting back, let it rest a little, and get the rolling pin out. Don’t get the middle too thin. Also important: don’t make the crust bigger than the peel.

Gently pick the dough up (I usually fold in half and lift, a little safer way is to roll over the rolling pin) and put on the peel. The dough should slide around.

(Note: if you don’t have a stone and a peel, or need to do this ahead of time, or if you just don’t need any more drama in your life, just put the formed dough on a lightly greased sheet pan)

Start building the pizza with a drizzle of olive oil, spread gently with a brush or your fingers. Add the garlic, pepper, and basil. Sprinkle with the main cheese. Add the toppings and accessories.

Put the spatula near the oven. The wine should be open, and a glass nearby. I know this seems like a lot... that's where doing it over and over helps, it really only takes about 20 minutes to get to this point with practice.

Put the pizza in the oven: It usually helps to pull out the rack with the stone. Put the peel near the back of the stone, tilt up, give it a little shake, and slide the pizza off the peel on the stone. Swear a little when it doesn’t come off. Grab the spatula and prod a bit (especially the bit that’s hanging off the peel). Push a little from each side from underneath. When it’s finally on the stone, push any toppings that are on stone the back on the pizza and quickly close the door. Have some wine. You deserve it!

The pizza will need to cook from 10 – 15 minutes, depending on how thick the dough is and how much toppings. To tell when ready: the crust should be brown on the edges and bottom, the cheese all bubbly, and toppings just starting to brown.

Pull out (use the peel… or if you are doing a second pizza and its already occupying the peel, just pull the pizza out with a pair of tongs onto a cutting board. Cut and eat!

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