Is there a person in the world who does not like pizza?
Is there anything about pizza to actually dislike?
I grew up in the New York metro area, and you won’t go five minutes without passing a pizza parlor around here. And for the most part, it’s good. Really good. You may think that Italy would be the place to go for the best pizza in the world, but I would argue that New York will serve you a pie that rivals anything in Napoli.
Still, there’s something really special about homemade pizza. And when I say ‘homemade’, I don’t mean buying a Boboli, a jar of sauce, and a bag of pre-shredded mozzarella. I don’t say there’s anything wrong about that; it’s probably cheaper and healthier than Domino’s, and in my opinion, tastes about the same.
I just like to really commit to the word ‘homemade‘ as opposed to ‘store-bought and home-assembled.”
C’mon. You know you want to try it. Go ahead. Read the recipe. Don’t be scared.
First, you start the dough so you can make the sauce while it is rising.
In a large bowl, mix the following:
- one envelope of active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water (90-105 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Let that sit for about 5-10 minutes until it gets foamy on top.
In the meantime, mix the dry ingredients in a different bowl. I use a mixture of flours to include more whole grains, and also to create a more interesting complex flavor. Here are my flour proportions, but feel free to fiddle to suit your tastes, as long as it adds up to four cups:
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup oat flour (just put 1 cup of rolled oats into a food processor = presto! Oat flour)
- 1 cup white flour (I’ve also used spelt here, which works fine.)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt
(Yesterday for the first time, I tried substituting half a cup of the wheat flour with quinoa flour and it came out quite yummy.)
At this point, it’s probably going to save some hassle if you prepare for kneading the dough. Have a clean area on a counter ready, as well as some extra flour in a small bowl or measuring cup and some olive oil. I use a thin coating of oil on my hands to keep the dough from sticking too much.
Slowly add the flour mixture to the water and yeast, mixing the flour in well as you add more. I like to use my fingers here – it’s easier than cleaning off a wooden spoon, and it’s more fun. I recommend no rings at this point!
Now that all the flour is in the bowl and forming a dough, it’s time to dump it out on floured counter. Start folding and kneading, using more flour or oil on the hands as is necessary to form a nice smooth ball. This should take about 5 minutes or so. Coat the clean bowl with olive oil and put the dough in it, rolling it in the oil so that it’s completely coated. The oil will keep it from
sticking too much to the bowl as it rises, and it will be much easier to handle when it’s ready to roll out.
Cover the dough with a towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free place. Some recipes say that it can be refrigerated overnight at this point, which is fine if you want to make the dough the night before. I’ve not done this myself, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done!
The dough should be let to rise for at least an hour, but it can be left for more. If you’re going to leave it for more than a couple of hours, however, it’s probably better off in the fridge.
While the dough is rising, I start the sauce.
In a large saucepan, I put in chopped onions and garlic with olive oil. I also add herbs at this stage: oregano, basil, parsley, maybe some thyme, salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are translucent.
Now here’s a little trick for layering and building flavor that I stole from a recipe for French onion soup. Add about 1/4 cup of broth (I use vegetable), spread out the onions evenly, and let the liquid cook down until the broth is almost stuck to the bottom. Add another 1/4 cup, scrape off the bottom of the pan, mix it all once or twice, and then spread evenly again. Do this 2-3 more times – use your judgement.
Now, since we’re making a red sauce, I like to alternate vegetable broth and red wine. Contrary to many people who use red wine that’s been open for too long, I prefer to use red wine that I’m willing to drink. In fact, you should, um, check the quality of the wine…yeah, the quality…by pouring some in a separate glass and taking small but frequent sips. Continue
drinking checking the quality while the sauce cooks.
When you’re satisfied with the state of the onion mixture, add about half of the tomato sauce, scrape off the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing is stuck, and to incorporate the onions and herbs. Add the rest of the tomato sauce and the paste.
Let the sauce simmer on low for about 15 minutes or so before tasting it. This will give a chance for the flavors to infuse through the tomato and you’ll be better able to judge what you need to do to tweak. I usually find that I need to add a little salt and maybe some more oregano, but it all depends on how you like your sauce. I don’t like mine particularly sweet, so I am generous with the herbs and spices.
Don’t be afraid to tweak. If you’re not sure, add just a small amount. You can always add more if you want. And if you accidentally add too much salt, you can correct for that by adding a bit more red wine or broth to dilute the saltiness (which means, you also might need a bit more tomato paste to correct for consistency.)
Let the sauce cook for a little while, tasting it occasionally until it suits you. Make sure the heat is turned low enough to simmer without too much bubbling. When sauce bubbles too vigorously, it will not only burn on the bottom, but it will also splatter and burn your hands. This is doubleplusungood. Avoid this.
My sauce cooks for maybe 20-30 minutes. I usually take this time to clean up thing things I don’t need anymore and get ready for the pizza assembly stage. I grate cheese, chop toppings, clear a space for rolling, and start heating the oven (about 450°F/230°C) and pizza stone.
There’s also a little bit more, um, quality testing of the wine. Very important to make sure it’s still good.
When the dough has doubled its size and the sauce is cooked, it’s time to get rolling!
Punch the dough to deflate it, pour it out onto a floured surface, and knead it a few times, just to make sure it’s all nice and smooth. Here’s the tricky part. I used to work at an Italian restaurant, and when it was slow, I would go into the kitchen and hang out with Miguel, the pizza guy (you thought actual Italians are in the kitchen at Italian restaurants? That’s become the exception.) He taught me a few tricks, but they are difficult to explain. Here’s a video to show how to shape the dough. She uses her hands but I’ve often resorted to using a rolling pin.
When the dough is shaped the way you want it, place it on the pizza peel that has some cornmeal sprinkled on it (to make it easier to slide the dough onto the stone.) Now top it with anything you want. I like lots of sauce and fresh garlic sprinkled on. Then goes lots of veggies, some goat cheese or ricotta, a little bit of fresh mozzarella, and some asiago sprinkled on top. The one in the picture below has onions, asparagus, fresh tomato, and I think some mushrooms were under the cheese.
Slowly slide the pizza onto the stone and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes, checking it regularly since every oven is a bit different. The crust is thin and the stone is very hot, so it won’t take long to cook, and you don’t want the crust to be too hard. If you’re unsure, just press your finger on the edge of the dough and if it bounces back readily, it’s pretty much done.
If you’re doing another pizza, there’s enough time to get the dough rolled and topped just as the first one is finished. If you don’t have a second peel, then you can use an egg/pancake tuner thingy (I believe that’s the technical term) to lift the pizza off the stone and slide it onto a large plate or cookie sheet. It’s quite easy to maneuver once it’s cooked and the crust is rigid.
Slice it up! If you’re a New Yorker, you then add a little oregano, hot red pepper flakes, grated parmesan or garlic powder, or any combination of these things. I usually put a bit of sea salt, some pepper flakes, and a dash of garlic powder. Pour some (more) wine or some beer, and enjoy!
What’s your favorite thing to cook?