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Friday, September 7, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Rockin' the Pizza!

I'm having a hard time coming up with superlatives for pizza. I mean, it's pizza! Everybody likes pizza. I've seen vegans eat pizza with no cheese. I've seen gluten-free pizza with veggie crust. I've seen pork sausage swimming in a puddle of grease, using bell pepper rings as life preservers. I've seen it all. And, there is that famous quote that I once heard in a movie, "Sex is like pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good." (Tootled around google and could not find a reliable source for this quote. If you can remember, let me know.)

I can honestly say that I've eaten some of the best pizza of my life out of my own oven. Remember Butternut Squash Pizza? I'm looking forward to that specialty this Fall. One of the reasons homemade pizza rocks so hard is that you can make it just how you like it best. Your thickness of crust. Your favorite toppings. Your favorite cheeses. It's all you baby!

Here are some tips to make your homemade pizza especially good:

1. Make your own crust and use good extra virgin olive oil - My crust recipe is a basic one that won't fail you. If you like a thin crust, it is essential to let the dough rise at least once and then reform it and let it rest before stretching. The resting period should be about 10 minutes. More details in the recipe below.

2. Use a VERY HOT oven. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and let it remain at that heat for about 10 minutes before you start to bake. Get to know your oven. My oven has a convection setting, but I find that the traditional bake setting works best for pizza. In my oven, this means that the heat comes from the bottom rather than circulating with the convection fan. The bottom of the crust gets nice and crusty this way. I use well seasoned, thin cookie sheets to bake and place the pizza in the top third of my oven. If you are talented enough to use a peel and pizza stone, go for it!

3. Use very flavorful cheese - I like Trader Joe's Quattro Formaggi. This is a cheese blend that includes mozzarella, asiago, provolone and Parmesan. Using strong flavored cheeses makes a huge difference from using plain mozzarella. Now, if you want to use a good fresh moz, I approve. Fresh mozzarella is sweet and creamy and totally different from the mozzarella used by most pizza places. I'm just saying, your pizza will only be as good as your cheese. Use a cheese that you would eat by itself and one that will compliment your other toppings. Another tip - cheese is the glue for your pizza, so use some below and some above your toppings.

4. Use great toppings that are not too wet - I used fresh, sliced tomatoes on the pizza you see in these pictures. The tomatoes I used are an heirloom variety that are very meaty, plus a few sungold cherry tomatoes. If the tomatoes had been super juicy, I would have cut them in half and squeezed some of the juice and seeds out before slicing. I don't like my pizza to resemble a blow-up pool filled with grease or tomato juice.

5. Divide the dough so that each person get their own pizza - Mr. Dwayne's pizza was meat sauce (Mixmaster Bill's Special Sauce!) with lots of cooked sweet Italian sausage and lots of cheese. Mine had tomatoes, garlic, sliced green onions, fresh basil, some of that sweet Italian sausage and cheese. Vive la difference!

I know that pizza doesn't need a hard sell, but I hope that you will try making pizza with your family. It really is worth the effort.

Late Summer, Thursday Night Pizza, Susan Style

Basic Dough:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Stir together the warm water, sugar and yeast. Set aside until bubbly. Place the flour and salt in a large bowl or in your Mixmaster with the dough hook attached. Add the water mixture and stir to combine. Knead until smooth and silky. (5 minutes by machine or 10 minutes by hand.) Add 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and work it into the dough. Pour the other 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large bowl. Remove the dough and form it into a ball so that the outside is smooth. Roll it around in the bowl of olive oil making sure you end up with the smooth side up. Cover with a lid, plate or plastic wrap and a towel. Allow to raise in a warm place until doubled in size.

(Alternately, you can place this bowl in the fridge and use the dough another night. If it gets too big, just press the air out gently and reform the ball until you are ready to use it. Bring it out of the fridge to come closer to room temp about an hour before you plan to bake.)

Divide the dough and form each segment into a ball. Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes before shaping the pizza.

This dough will make two medium pizzas with a medium crust. You can use the whole batch for a large pizza with a thicker dough. Each pizza will bake for about 15 minutes in the preheated 500 degree oven. You'll want to check sooner until you get to know your oven.

For my toppings:

2 handfuls flavorful cheese

1 handful cooked sweet Italian sausage

1 large tomato, cored and sliced thin
a few cherry tomatoes, cut in half
a handful of fresh basil leaves
a handful of sliced green onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Toss all together. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the salt to draw out some of the moisture.

Oil your baking pan and gently stretch the dough to almost fill the pan. Sprinkle with some cooked sweet Italian sausage and a big handful of cheese. Remove the veggie mixture from the juices and place them on the pizza. Cover with another small handful of cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust is brown and crusty. Carefully remove to a wrack and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice.

This was so darn good!

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