Friday, October 23, 2009

Regular Saturday Night Thing

It started out as a Friday night thing. Harry and I would pick up a frozen pizza while grocery shopping together and eat it for a late-ish dinner when we got home. Eventually a bag of Doritos became the traditional first course, since we were usually starving by the time we got home. Those days of grocery shopping together are long gone and other events have claimed Friday nights, so pizza is now our Regular Saturday Night Thing. Unless we aren’t going to be home at all on Saturday night, which is (possibly pathetically) rare, we’re having pizza.

Now, however, the pizza is always homemade. It has been for at least eight (probably closer to nine) years, and over those years, I learned to make the crust dough in a bread machine, wore out the bread machine and began using a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, learned a few more tricks, developed a consistently good sauce recipe, and learned to properly (more or less) use a pizza stone in the oven and a wooden peel for transferring the dough to the stone. I have even made fresh mozzarella for my pizzas (I recommend getting your information, ingredients and other products for making cheese at New England Cheesemaking Supply.) I figure I have made and eaten my share of nearly 400 pizzas.

I have the best success with the pizza dough if I let it rise in the refrigerator at least eight hours (overnight), then let it come to room temperature for a few hours before baking time. I usually stretch it out by hand, but if it’s a bit stubborn, I’ve been known to roll it into submission with a rolling pin. I prefer the rustic sort of lumpiness that results from hand-stretching, however, and this results in a crust of a sort of medium thickness (although it is also good as a deep-dish crust, especially in a cast-iron skillet.) And, no, I can’t toss it and twirl it or do any other fancy tricks like the guy in the Visa Debit commercial.

I bake my crust twice, for a little while before topping, then when the whole pizza is assembled. It gets nice and crisp on the outside, but is still a little chewy in the middle. Sliding a pizza crust off a peel and onto a stone in the oven was a skill I had to develop, but I can’t even remember when it was difficult. The key seems to be having plenty of cornmeal on the peel so the dough doesn’t stick. If you are sans stone and/or peel, you cold press the crust into a pan instead. Some of my best pizza memories are of square slices cut from the big pizzas my mom made in sheet pans.

I wouldn’t dare tell you how to top your pizza, but I’m particularly partial to pepperoni (I use turkey pepperoni, which is significantly less greasy), crumbled Italian sausage and black olives with Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese shaved on top of it all after baking. I also like bell peppers, spinach and feta cheese, caramelized onions and kalamata olives, and Mexican-style ingredients like salsa, refried beans, seasoned ground beef, and Monterey Jack cheese. Harry insists that if God had meant for anchovies to be on pizzas, he would have made them round and flat. And for those of you (and there are a few people I love to whom this applies) who like pineapple on your pizza, I only hope I can find it in my heart to forgive you.

Pizza Any Way You Like It

1 recipe Pizza Crust Dough, at room temperature
1 recipe Pizza Sauce
any cheese and pizza toppings you love (even if it must be pineapple)

1. Punch down the dough and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Stretch or roll the dough into a 10-12-inch (approximately) circle (approximately), and place it on a wooden peel (or a pan) dusted with cornmeal. (If the dough really resists stretching, let it stand, covered for another 5 minutes or so and try again.) Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

2. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. (If you do not have a pizza stone, simply preheat the oven. You will probably bake the pizza on a pan.)

3. When the oven is preheated, carefully slide the unbaked crust from the peel onto the stone. Bake at 450 F for 5-8 minutes, or until the crust begins to puff up and no longer appears doughy. It may even be beginning to brown in places.

4. Remove the partially baked crust from the oven and spread the prepared Pizza Sauce on the top. Top the sauce “as desired.” (I like to put on a thin layer of cheese, then toppings such as meat and vegetables, then another thin layer of cheese that doesn’t completely cover the toppings.)

5. Return the pizza to the oven and bake about 8-10 minutes or until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted. (I like to leave it in long enough to brown the cheese a little.)

6. Remove the pizza from the oven and place it onto a cutting surface. Let it stand at least 3 minutes, or the cheese will ooze everywhere when you cut it. Slice and serve.

I cut my pizza into 8 triangles, which is about 4 servings. Really, most Americans will probably eat more pizza than that. You be the judge.

Wrap up leftover pizza in aluminum foil and refrigerate. The best way to reheat it is in the oven or toaster oven, where it can get crisp again.

Pizza Crust Dough Recipe
I use a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook. You could probably mix and knead this dough by hand, but it would take much longer than your average loaf of bread. You could exchange some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose, or add some dried herbs to the dough.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm water (about 100 F, it should feel warm, but not scalding to the touch)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add 2 cups flour, olive oil and salt and mix with the dough hook on low speed. When a wet dough forms, add a little more flour. Increase the mixing speed (just one notch) and knead the dough until it is firm and stretchy, about 10 minutes, adding as much of the remaining flour as you need to keep the dough from being wet and sticky.

3. Grease a medium-sized bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Form the finished dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Spray or grease the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a towel and place it in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the refrigerator at least 12 hours. (If you don’t have that kind of time, you could let the dough rise at room temperature at least an hour before using. It will probably be less easy to handle, and have a less complex flavor)

Makes enough for one 10-12-inch pizza

Pizza Sauce Recipe
The red wine adds a nice depth of flavor to this sauce. I usually only use it if I happen to have and opened bottle in the refrigerator. You could use fresh herbs in place of the dried ones if they are available.

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt, divided
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons red wine (optional)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed (a mortar and pestle works well for this. That’s Harry’s job)

1. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more.

2. Add the red wine if using, and cook 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients, including the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. (The sauce is thick, so it may spatter.). Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes enough for one 10-12 inch pizza. You could make the sauce ahead of time. Just cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

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