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March 16, 2012 / beeandtrumpet

Perfecting Pizza, an Everyday Affair

Nighttime In the Kitchen: NY Style Pizza

Sunday is a day I often spend cooking, prepping stuff for the rest of the week.  It is the very rare time that I can be found alone in the house, and I am probably there listening to 19th Century novels on librivox.org and doing something that involves yeast, a long stay in the oven, or a very large shelf-stable something-or-other that will serve as my lunch for most of the week, and of course, six frazzled projects at once.  This week I set out to make a quiona salad making the rounds on pinterest (providing a vehicle to some ready avocados in the process), have a third go at a Heidi Swanson salad – this time using the prescribed squash, and use up a batch of tomato sauce accidentally thawed in a moment of meal-planning confusion.   I split the documenting of the day into a handful of seperate posts in hopes of saving you a splitting headache. This week’s soundtrack was Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South.

Ambitions being what they were, I set my pizza dough to proof first, then cooked the grains, prepped the squash – roasted whist assembling salad and prepping other bits – pared the roasted squash, ate lunch, assembled the Swanson salad, then set to on the pizza.  Somewhere in the middle I put my kid down for a nap (upon his return from the Daddy led Transit Museum tour).  I slice the olives; he ‘makes’ his own pizza. We have supper late, and by the time we get around to it on a Sunday, pizza is about all I can manage.

Oh and, FYI, the squash salad was terrible with this pizza – I hadn’t even considered that – don’t do it!

8 O'Clock: Plan of Attack

I take my pizza dough cues from the long out-of-print Ken Haedrich’s Country Baking; an excellent home baker’s handbook from a fellow New Hampshire-ite. I found it in a deep, trashy bin, in the South Boston Goodwill Store a million years ago. Judging from the family photograph on the back of the dust jacket, Haedrich (unlike your’s truly) is a member of one of those beyond-reproach, clean-living, puritanical New England religious communes most people don’t realize still exist.  But apparently that doesn’t negatively impact his baking.   If I were to run into him (in Petersborough or whatever), I would congratulate him on being way ahead of the curve when it came to whole grains, homey methods and ease of preparation.  Oh, and his super-great scones, too.

Pizza Dough Recipe

(And Other Thoughts on Dough Handling, Oven Temperature, and Equipment)

Materials

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 rounded tbsp active dry yeast (or 1 packet)

3 cups (approximate) unbleached all-purpose flour (This New Englander says “King Arthur, please!”)

3/4 cup white whole wheat (see note on all-purpose)

1/3 (minus 1 tbsp) stone ground yellow cornmeal (not too coarse!)

1 tbsp vital gluten flour

1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt

2 tbsp olive oil

Method

In the bowl of your trusty stand-mixer stir the yeast into the water, and set aside for 5 minutes to dissolve before proceeding.

Beat in 1 1/2 cups of the all-purp flour, the wheat flour, cornmeal and gluten.  Beat vigorously with rubber spatula or wooden spoon for 1 minute, then cover the bowl and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 10 minutes or so.

After the rest, attach to the mixer, fitted with the dough hook, and run at low speed to stir in the salt and olive oil. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft kneadable dough.  Increase speed to medium, and allow to ‘knead’ vigorously for about 8 minutes.

Remove  the dough from the mixer, form into a simple ball, and allow it to rest briefly on a board whilst you wash, dry and oil the mixer bowl.  Return the dough to the bowl, rolling gently to oil the entire surface, then cover the bowl, and set aside in that warm draft-less spot for an hour (or whatever) until doubled in size.

Proceed.

I use this recipe to make three pizzas of about 10-12″ each.

Things I have learned:

To make pizza you need a HOT oven.  500 degrees or more.  Keep the door closed!

If you don’t have a pizza stone, use your largest cast iron pan (4 pizzas, at least, from this recipe) preheated.

If you don’t have either, your cooked.  Go get one.

It is really, really hard to handle dressed raw, or hot, pizzas without a peel.

Never use a rolling pin on any bread dough, it will ruin the crumb (the internal air bubble structure), and you will not be happy with the result.  Do not use the rolling pin!

A warm, well proofed, well-developed dough will stretch pretty easily in your warm hands; form a disk, flatten it on the board with your fingers, pick it up and rotate it around in your hands pulling at the ‘crust’ border.  You might not want to try to spin-throw it yet, but streching it over your paired fists isn’t a bad idea.  Flatten, pull, spin, stretch, repeat.  If it seems it might be too thin, you are getting there.

Do not skimp on the cornmeal.  Throw it on everything; the stone, the cast iron, the peel, whatever.  Think of it as the dowels the Egyptians used to roll enormous hewn stones around the desert.  The (hot or cold) pizza will slide easily from one surface to the next rolled about on a bed of cornmeal ‘marbles’.   Ever wonder how Michelangelo moved the Piéta around?  Now you know.

Remember that New York Style Pizza is great.  Dough.  Sauce. Cheese.  Maybe a little mushroom, onion, olive; keep it simple.  Asparagus, caramelized onion and homemade ricotta is great, but it won’t make up for dull, stiff dough.  Perfect your technique before you get all crazy.  Practice, practice…  it won’t get you where playing the piano might, but playing the piano mightily might not get you anywhere either.  Your children will be happy to have you ‘practice ‘ pizza indefinitely, not so the violin.

Do not ‘over dress’ a pizza.  Go light, plenty of cheese is fine, but too much is too much.  Too many toppings will make the pizza soggy.  If the topping releases a lot of water when cooking (like, say, mushrooms or eggplant), cook off the water first (roasting in your preheating oven is an excellent idea).  Wet pizza isn’t great pizza.

Use ‘regular’ cheese for a ‘regular’ pizza.  Save the fresh motz for something special.

My Sauce is Crazy

My ‘Red Sauce’ is an all-purpose sauce.  Totally unconventional, it isn’t ‘right’, but I use it for pizza, lasagna, random pasta dishes, seitan and/or eggplant parmigiana, dipping sauce, whatever.  It is sure to shock the San-Marzano-pizza-purist, but it is a nice melding of my influences, and I secretly hope it will teach my kid to like vegetables.  If it doesn’t, at least he is getting something other than tomatoes in his tomato sauce.

Materials

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped fine

1/2 a large fennel bulb, chopped fine

2-3 medium-to-small carrots, grated

2-3 heaping tbsp minced garlic, jarred is fine (see what motherhood has reduced me to?)

a handful of rosemary and/or thyme, chopped fine (optional)

crushed red pepper (sort of optional)

2 35 oz cans whole plum tomatoes

Plently of Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

Balsamic vinegar

Parmigiano rind(s), (optional)

Method

In a large, heavy pot (a dutch oven is excellent), over medium heat cook the onion, fennel and carrot, stirring frequently, until very soft, but not brown – about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic (and herbs if using), cook a few minutes more, until fragrant.

Add a little handful of salt (about a tsp), a generous grinding of pepper, crushed red pepper (if you don’t have small children), then deglaze with a generous splash of balsamic.  If you’ve got a parmigiano rind about, throw it in.

As soon as the vinegar cooks off, pour in your tomatoes with juice and all.  Simmer gently, partially covered for at (the very) least the better part of an hour.  Taste.  Season.

Temporarily remove the parm rind, and blitz the whole mess into a pizza-topping-friendly puree with your handy stick-blender.  If it is not smooth enough for your taste, throw the rind back in and cook another hour.   Counter-intuitive, but if you think it needs sugar, add another splash of balsamic and cook 15 minutes more.  Adjust salt & pepper.

At this point it might be done. It also might be so thick you have to add pasta water to eat it on pasta, that is ok.  It’s good.  Don’t eat the soggy, old, rind… at least, I don’t think so…

This makes a stupid amount of sauce.  Freeze some.

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. lanceblair / Mar 17 2012 3:13 am

    Thank you! I enjoyed reading all of that, especially the “Things I have learned” section. There are few things worse than bad pizza and few things better than good, carefully made pizza – you’ve steered me onto the correct path.

  2. ivalleria / Mar 17 2012 11:58 pm

    OMG you are hilarious. Why are all your cookbooks written by insane people? That is fking funny. One of my favorite aspects to this post is the tomato sauce thawed in a moment of meal-planning confusion. We have all been there! Also, I would try your crazy sauce if only my child ate tomato sauce… which she will not.

    And: Michelangelo moved the Pieta around on cornmeal…who knew?.

  3. threefresheggs / Mar 18 2012 12:13 am

    Well, dear, all of my cookbooks are written by crazy people because they are freakin’ *vegetarian* cookbooks. That and, all the ones that aren’t crazy-vego, were probably dragged out of that dirty bin in Southie.

    And: Crap. Does it read that way? I quit.

    • threefresheggs / Mar 18 2012 12:15 am

      Also, my child ONLY eats red sauce on pizza.

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