Good pizza is sooooo good.
I say this having come from pizza-centric people: the good people of Chicago. The Chicago-style pizza boasts a deep dish knife-and-fork-required slice oozing with cheese and a 1/2-inch thick crust. So dense and heavy it’s difficult to eat more than one slice, two is pushing a limit. Baked in a cast iron pan in a hot oven. A recent visit took me to the Art of Pizza (no website). I still think about that pizza today– so good I actually ate 2.5 slices and had to be rolled out. I cannot describe- or remember, what was best– the crust, the cheese or the sauce. My friends tell me Chicagoans are now pushing a thin crust pizza and dare I say it, but Chicago, don’t be crazy! Stick to the love of the dish!
I am blessed to now live amongst another pizza-centric people: the good people of New York City. A thin, often foldable crust slice. The better ones emerge from a piping hot coal oven slightly blackened on the edges. Easy to eat on-the-go as the NYC lifestyle demands. I like taking people to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, licking the plate clean, and walking the pie off over the Brooklyn Bridge. The pies can be as fancy as you like and you can mix and match toppings. But really, unless I end up in a national chain I’ve never had a horrible NY slice (I can’t always say the same for deep dish).
(But seriously, what are those chains putting in there?!)
Both cities are proud of their pizza and I am proud to have lived in both pizza-meccas. Sometimes California, with their “aternative” pizzas surface, but that’s hogwash! Sushi pizza? Pineapple pizza? Nay! But in this whole debate, dare I suggest I make a mean pie that competes with the best of them? (And for the record let’s just say no one beats a true Naples pizza where the great dish originated!)
I have no brick oven and no pizza stone– I make my pizza on a good old sheet pan. The secret, I have learned, is all in the crust (okay, it’s also in the toppings, but really, it starts in the crust). (And I bet if I added a brick or coal oven to the mix, or even a stone I could really be a contender).
Anyone can do it and if you don’t live near a pizza metropolis it is well worth it. Even if you do live near a pizza metropolis try making your own sometime! It cooks in about 15 minutes so once you apply your toppings it’s a super quick meal. You can be as creative or basic as you want and it’s fun for young children to get involved because who doesn’t love pizza?
Growing up, I remember a rare occasion when my brothers and I made our own pizza. As you would think, living amongst pizza-people, my family was more likely to purchase a good pie rather than make one. But when a company introduced a pre-cooked focaccia-looking sponge that rhymes with “Moboli” and they called dough, my family took to making pizza. (Actually, I can only remember purchasing “Moboli” once– perhaps we realized then you don’t mess with crust.
Here is another secret: forget tomato sauce. Really, forget it. I know you see it all the time scooped up and smeared with the back of a spoon, but forget it. Instead, reach for tomato paste. I recommend a 100% paste with no salt, seasonings or preservatives added. A thin layer of paste does wonders (and you can still spread it with the back of a spoon if you desire). The concentrated natural sugars bake in nicely to the dough and even tend to caramelize if exposed just right.
As for the toppings, that’s up to you. If you keep the crust thin, try not to pile them up too heavy. The above pie has tomato paste, anchovies, artichoke hearts, bitter spring greens (mixed from the garden), pesto (frozen from the garden last year) and fresh mozzarella (from the Italian deli around the corner– they make their own!). A few days later the pizza hankering returned and we had a bitter green, fresh chives, pepperoni and mozzarella pie. Before that it was olives and bitter greens. (Notice the bitter green theme? The garden grows crazy.)
To make pizza-making as small a chore as possible the trick is to make a lot of dough. Double or triple the recipe then divide the results into balls, each ball enough for one full pie. Sprinkle with a little flour then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. If you want pizza, remove the dough about 3 hours before starting your pie. Voila, pizza in under 30 minutes!
If you really cannot make the dough do NOT buy that “Moboli” stuff! Instead, head to your local pizza shop and ask to buy a ball of dough (they usually sell it for $2-3 a ball). If you do this, DO mix in some fresh herbs, and maybe some hot pepper flakes then roll out and continue.
This recipe is vaguely adapted from Peter Reinhart.
Herbed Pizza (Dough)
Makes enough for 3 pies. Prep time= 15 minutes. Inactive time= 2.75 hours. Cook time= 0 minutes.
2-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2-1/4 cups all-purpose white flour
2 tablespoons herbs (fresh is best, whatever you like: rosemary, thyme, oregano are all good) OR 1 tablespoon dried
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4 cups warm water
Use an electric mixer with a dough hook (or knead by hand). Mix flours, herbs, salt and yeast to combine. Add olive oil and water and knead/mix for 8 minutes. Dough should form a ball and no longer stick to the sides of your bowl. Dust with more flour, cover and let sit undisturbed for 2 hours. Punch down and let rise another 45 minutes. Divide the dough into three equal portions, dust with flour and wrap portions you will not be using in plastic wrap and freeze.
Sprinkle a work surface with cornmeal, dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out your dough to desired thickness. I recommend about 1/4 inch. At this point, begin heating your oven between 450-500 F. Transfer dough to a sheet pan and add toppings. Bake 12-15 minutes, until crust (and cheese if applied) are golden.
Tips: if you’re making a pizza with a non-cured meat (like sausage or chicken) make sure to cook the meat first. Same goes for fresh mushrooms, bell peppers or onions! I also like some hot pepper flakes sprinkled on top of the tomato paste.
Recommended toppings to mix and match: Anchovies, olives, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, fresh greens (some people like to cook these first slightly, I like how they crisp up at the edges), prosciutto, lamb sausage, pesto, chicken, chorizo, ramps, garlic slices, fresh herbs, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, bacon, shrimp, mussels, clams, asparagus, eggplant, etc.
Don’t forget to mix and match the dairy too: yogurt, lebne, mozarella, goat cheese, blue cheese, etc.
As mentioned, once you have the frozen dough, just thaw and continue as usual. It’s fun to have pizza dough on hand “in case of emergency” and friends are amazed when you suggest you whip up a quick pie. You can also use the dough to make focaccia, or even crackers if desired. Just alter the topping and roll out width depending on what you make!