Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two of my favorite things...

Pizza and Peroni.

In a comment directed to my last post, Wiredogs asked me what I would do for Valentine's Day and I half-jokingly said "calzones with ham and ricotta."

I may have inherited Polish genes and can make a mean pirogi but I sincerely believe that I must have been Italian in a previous life.

The folder of printed recipes in my file cabinet marked "pasta" is four inches thick.

Give me a pizza or plate of lasagna and I'll follow you around like a dog.

Under the Tuscan Sun (the book not the insipid movie they made as an adaptation of the book) is one of my favorites - I'm currently listening to it on CD and alternate between great admiration for the author and a terrible loathing brought on by an all-consuming envy. I want to renovate an old villa in Tuscany and grow my own olives too! Not fair, not fair, not fair! Wah!

When we lived closer to civilization, there were any number of decent places to get a pizza but living out in the hinterland, as we do, the options are slim and disappointing - Hungry Howie's, Pizza Hut, Domino's or do-it-yourself. So I do it myself.

I've probably wasted days of my life searching the internet high and low for the best pizza recipe from Chicago-style deep dish to my favorite ones with a New York-style crust - one of the first recipes I found sometime in the late 1980's from a Usenet newsgroup and luckily printed out (can't find it anymore) is one called John's Ultimate New York-Style Pizza and it is still the best - slightly adapted.

John's Ultimate New York-Style Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast

4 to 4 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour

scant teaspoon of salt

You can do this by hand but I use my old reliable Kenwood stand mixer that looks like an outboard motor.

Dissolve the yeast in the mixing bowl and let it bloom (get frothy) for about 10 minutes or more depending on the weather.

Add half the flour, then the salt and the other half of the flour, beating in between. I use the the paddle attachment first then switch to the dough hook once the dough starts coming together.

Knead the dough with the dough hook for a good 10 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of flour if the dough is too loose (turn the speed down for this or you will end up dusting the entire kitchen).

You don't want the dough to be stiff, it should be soft and pliant and not too sticky.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat the dough, and cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap.

You can make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator and take it out to rise (takes longer) or put the bowl on top of the stove while you preheat the oven to 475.

Dust your counter with flour and roll the dough out to approximately the size of your pan.
Oil pan with olive oil and dust with fine corn meal or semolina flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

This recipe makes enough dough for a 16 or 18-inch pizza plus a second 12-inch pie.

I've tried pizza stones, tiles in the oven as hot as it could go but so far, my best result is a slower oven and baking the pizza twice, once in the pan with cheese and sauce and then again out of the pan, directly on the rack with the toppings and more cheese once the crust is firm enough.

There are some really obsessive compulsive pizza chefs out there who claim that you can't make good dough without weighing the flour and meticulously measuring the hydration, etc.

This has not been my experience. In fact, I think pizza dough can be pretty forgiving.

Last night, after I had the dough in the bowl to rise and on top of the stove, I preheated the oven to 350 and went out to the barn to feed the horses. An hour later, when I got back in and started rolling out the dough, I forgot to turn the oven up in preparation of baking the pizza. Consequently, the first round of baking took longer than the 10 minutes I thought it would. That's when I realized my mistake. I turned the oven up to 475 for its second round in the oven with no detectable negative effects.
A couple of tips for making a good pizza. First, less is more. It's really tempting to load your pizza with sauce and toppings and cheese. Too much sauce and you get soggy pizza. Too much cheese and it can be an oily mess. Too many topping s and it can be disastrous when you try and finish the pizza out of the pan directly on the oven rack.

It's a little unorthodox, but I line the dough with rounds of provolone and smooth the sauce on top of that before adding the first sprinkling of mozzarella. For this pizza (18 inches) I used an 8 ounce package of provolone and about 8 ounces of whole milk mozzarella.

I diced the pepperoni so that we got some in every bite. The big pieces may look prettier, but have a tendency to rip half the cheese off your pizza slice when to you try and eat them.

The sauce I used was some excellent marina I had in the freezer. Emily made it with fresh plum tomatoes and it is perfect. You can also use the marinara for pasta or lasagna - any recipe that calls for tomato sauce.

Her sauce is time consuming to make so you can use your own recipe for sauce. I have also had very acceptable results using canned spaghetti sauce (garlic and herb) in a pinch.

Emily's Marinara


5 lbs. plum tomatoes (or 3 to 4 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes)

2 large onions

1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly minced garlic

1 12 oz. can tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

1 to 2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 handful fresh rosemary OR 1 tablespoon dry1

handful fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dry

2 to 4 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano

OR 1 tablespoon dry

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning


To prepare the tomatoes, scratch the skin of each lightly with a very sharp knife, and boil a few at a time in some salted water for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the skin begins to peel away from the scratch.

Immediately after boiling, place the tomatoes in an ice bath to prevent further cooking. After all the tomatoes have been submerged in the bath, core them and peel them.

Put them aside.

Next, dice the onion and saute in the olive oil for ten minutes or so, or until they are soft and translucent, then mix in the tomato paste and garlic and cook another couple minutes.

Add the tomatoes. Cook them over medium heat for about fifteen to twenty minutes, or until they are easily crushed by a spoon and have released a good amount of liquid. Then add the rest of the ingredients-- the wine, the herbs and the spices. Let this cook for a little while longer and then carefully puree everything until smooth. (use a hand blender or puree in batches in a blender)

Return the sauce to the pot and simmer for at least two hours, or as long as you like, until the tomatoes have mellowed a little and all of the flavors of the spices are incorporated. This sauce is especially good with meatballs or on chicken/sausage parm sandwiches.


Emily said...

Very well done!

You are getting better and better at taking pictures.

Jill said...

Yes, well, food is great. It usually cooperates and doesn't move around too much :)

Ryan Kelly said...

Except when it doesn't.