ABOVE: My homemade pizza, it’s all about the crust. [Sadly, I ran out of fresh mozzarella]
All this talk about pizza is making me hungry.
For a while now I’ve been making pizza at home, experimenting with dough recipes and technique and slowly, slowly getting better with each pie.
Napoletana-style pies are the way to go. I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon, pizza is an important staple of the LBC diet. And contrary to what some Frank Pepe fans might espouse, you don’t need a century-old brick oven fired to 800-degrees to make a decent pie. Technically a Napoletana pie should be fired in 45-90 seconds, but there is no way you are going to get a cooking time this rapid in a 550-degree gas oven at home even with a pizza stone, but that’s OK.
Crank that sucker as high as you can with a pizza stone on the floor of the oven and make sure to let it reach full operating temperature by waiting a good 15-30 minutes after the oven tells you it’s preheated. You are going to need all the help you can get.
THE SAUCE: This is the easy part. Grab a 28-ounce can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes from the grocery store, strain and crush by hand. Throw those in a sauce pan with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Go ahead and throw in a little garlic and oregano or fresh basil if you want. Its not an exact science. Cook that down a little but not too much. You are done.
THE DOUGH: Now this is where generations of pizzaioli are going to differ. Often vehemently. And with exagerated hand gestures.
You have three basic ingredients here [four if you count salt]: water, flour and yeast. But it’s not as simple as it may seem.
First, there are differences in the ingredients.
Do you use all-purpose, bread flour, or something more specialized like Italian tipo 00 [doppio zero], which is ground extremely fine and has a higher percentage of gluten?
Are you using dry instant yeast or fresh yeast? Where in the hell do you get fresh yeast anyway?
Some hard-core aficionados will go so far as to say that the mineral makeup of the tap water has huge consequences on the resulting pie, which is why many claim the best pizza in the country comes from New York.
HERE IS WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING: This is a dough recipe adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana pizza dough recipe. The amounts are the same, but the technique is not as involved.
4 1/2 cups all-purpose or tipo 00 flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups cold water
Cornmeal for dusting
Mix together the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of your mixer with a large spoon. Mix in the oil and water.
Attach the paddle and mix on the slowest speed for a couple of minutes, then switch to the dough hook [again on the slowest speed] and knead, bringing the total time to no more than ten minutes. The dough should pull from the sides of the bowl and become smooth and glossy. A little flour or water may need to be added to achieve the correct consistency.
On a lightly floured work surface, turn the dough out and divide into 4-6 sections and roll into balls. Place then in oiled bowls and cover in plastic wrap. Let these sit out on the counter and rise for 3-5 hours; they will at least double in size.
After they have risen, punch the dough down and throw them in the fridge, covered, overnight. You can keep these in the fridge for a couple of days, or even freeze the dough ahead of time.
The next day, when you are ready to make your pie and the oven is pre-heating, pull the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up.
NOW YOU ARE READY TO MAKE YOUR PIE: Dust a cutting board with cornmeal and stretch the dough out to the appropriate size for your pizza. You can stretch or toss it, but generally try to avoid rolling it out [though I've been known to resort to this method].
Lightly oil the dough and conservatively sauce the pie. The biggest mistake people make when making pizza is to over-sauce the pie. Don’t go crazy.
The same goes with the cheese: less is more. I prefer fresh mozzarella, but don’t want to spend the extra money on buffalo mozzarella unless I can get it at Costco, where it is sold for a reasonable price.
Add some fresh basil and maybe a little garlic, and you are ready to throw this pizza margherita in the oven. The toppings are limitless, so use your imagination. I like making white pies as well. [Check out Jim Lahey's pizza bianca]
INTO THE OVEN: Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone, if you did not dust it with enough cornmeal, it’s going to stick and you are going to have a mess [trust me, I've done this]. Properly dusted, the pie will slide off beautifully and you are pretty much done, admire your creation for a half second then shut the oven door. Check the pie in about 5 minutes – it’s going to take between 7 and 10 minutes total. Pull the pie out of the oven when the crust is golden brown and the cheese is starting to brown a little.
That’s pretty much it.