Since of late great pizza near us is harder to come by than an honest politician, we have been experimenting with pizza at home. For our first trial, in January, we had a new pizza stone and armed with the NY Times dough recipe, we invited our neighbors over and prepared the dough two days in advance. With the pressure of onlookers, I had trouble working with the dough so the pies were shaped like the state of Maine (or maybe Germany). Not pretty. We ate them with gusto and declared the crust worthy and the traditional pizza ingredient choices excellent.
Sorry, no pictures. I was too engrossed in the process and probably swilling wine
After-the-fact, I discovered my 48-hour-refrigerator-rise dough was supposed to be “proofed” for a couple of hours at room temp to make the dough workable. Duh!
Proofed dough – relaxed and ready for pounding and stretching.
Moving on, we tried again. Ric wanted pizza for his birthday in March, so I made the dough two days in advance and dutifully took it out to proof about 2 hours early. It was far easier to work with. I found a delightful video on YouTube about proofing, pounding, and stretching and I followed the steps easily enough. Not quite round, but not an irregular mess either. I slid the dough onto the pizza peel, which was dusted with flour as the video recommended. Ugh! The flour did not work! The pizza stuck miserably to the peel. (In January, I had used cornmeal with good success in the sliding-off-the-peel department.) We ended up folding the pizza calzone-style and dumped it unceremoniously onto parchment to bake. This was a sausage/roasted red pepper/sundried tomato combo with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Tasty, but ugly and too much flour on the crust due to the mishandling.
Shaping the pizza. So far, so good.
Stretching is the hard part. No need for flipping it in the air. Do it carefully on the knuckles.
Now on the pizza peel, we add the toppings: tomato sauce, sausage, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Here’s where I got into trouble. The pizza would not slide off the peel onto the nice 450-degree stone.
We resorted to folding it ala calzone-style and flopping it onto parchment, then onto a baking sheet.
We did eat it, troopers that we are.
Pizza #2 came out better: smoked salmon, gorgonzola, and rocket with mozzarella, no tomato. I used cornmeal on the pizza peel which allowed it to slide nicely, although I still need to work on getting the dough even. The center was thin, the edges a bit too Neapolitan (thick) for me, and far from round. The crust did not brown well, as we only cranked the oven to 4500 Fahrenheit to avoid smoke detectors blaring.
Pizza number two with smoked salmon and gorgonzola. The peel is treated with cornmeal and slid easily onto the stone.
Finished product. Not exactly round, and a bit pale. The oven needs to be hotter, but my it was tasty!
Committed to trying again, I followed the advice of my Norwegian blogger friend Krumkaker and made pizza a taglio.
Success! Sound the trumpets!
As promised by Krumkaker, the dough was easy to work with. I did watch Gabriel Bonci’s video over-and-over to get my technique down and it paid off. I did not overwork the dough and there were air bubbles in my crust as desired. This is a bready type of pizza, with a base similar to the pizze one gets in a bakery in Rome: a focaccia-like base that is often simply spread with crushed tomatoes. Or as true pizza a taglio, it can be topped with any toppings one desires.
The Bonci-style dough I learned from Krumkaker is much softer, or morbido, and easy to work with.
Fits perfectly in my well-oiled baking sheet.
For our toppings, we had broccolo languishing in the freezer and used some spicy, American-style Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano, along with Pomi brand Italian crushed tomatoes and a bit of oregano. We learned a long time ago you do not need to cook a sauce. Simple is best.
Adding cheese. I had already baked the crust with the tomato sauce on it for 5 minutes. See how happy I am with the outcome so far?
And now the tasty bits: broccolo, aka Romanesco, spicy sausage, a little grated pecorino.
A little side-story on the broccolo. Our favorite pasta is orecchiette con salsiccia e broccolo. Orecchiette are the little-ear pasta and you would know broccolo as Romanesco. The salsiccia is, of course, Italian sausage, and there are also a few anchovies, some white wine, and fennel. Simply delish! We have only seen Romanesco once since we’ve lived on the Oregon coast and that was a tired-looking head at Fred Meyer in Newport. We asked at our local small-town store, Kenny’s Beachside, and the produce manager said he’d see if he could get it and let me know. He brought in a dozen (I suppose a case full) and I felt obligated to buy two though I only needed one. At $7.99 a head (triple what I would pay in Rome!) I was not about to waste any, so I used one for the pasta then separate the florets on the second head, parboiled, and froze them. Voila! We had some available for the pizza.
We dared to crank the oven up to 4800 Fahrenheit and baked the crust with only the tomato on it for five minutes, then another 12-15 minutes once we’d added the toppings. The base of the crust was firm and slightly chewy. I was not thrilled with the broccolo texture as it got mushy from freezing and baking. It would probably have been better baked raw on the pizza for 15 minutes at that temperature. All-in-all, a satisfying pizza evening with enough leftover for breakfast.
Next time we will try sausage with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes along with fresh mozzarella and the tomato base. I also want to try the thin-crust variety I struggled with in my first efforts now that I understand proofing and the importance of cornmeal. And that I can get the oven a bit hotter without setting off alarms. Neither type will replace our local favorites at Hearth & Table or The Café on Hawk Creek, but it will be fun to master the skills.
Pizza making does make rather a mess of the kitchen. Organizing one’s mise en place is essential, as is a trusty clean-up partner.