Ah yes. Pizza. Everyone’s favorite food, one of my least favorites. At least it was, until a couple of years ago, when I discovered the joys of homemade pizza at my friend Tom’s place. Gone was the greasy Real CheeseTM processed cheese food product, the sugar sauce, and the bland, soggy crust. Instead, I found crispy, crackly, olive-oily crust and endless topping possibilities—garlicky spinach and feta cheese, olive tapenade, caramelized onion and goat cheese… and the list goes on. I had to try this myself, so I got a pizza stone and pizza began to make regular appearances on my table. Then my pizza stone cracked. Boo. I continued to use it occasionally for a while, just setting the two halves next to each other in the oven and hoping for the best. Not exactly elegant, but it worked. And then: my sister gave me a Mario Batali enameled cast iron pizza pan for my birthday.
Joy of joys! Tonight Henning and I gave it a go and I couldn’t be happier with it. It is easily moved to and from the oven, which makes transferring the pizza to and from it a breeze. It makes a perfectly crispy crust, as good as if not better than my old stone did. And this puppy won’t break. Reading up on the internets about how to use the pan, I came across an LA Times article featuring a delicious-sounding pizza recipe: arugula, chevre, walnuts, all drizzled with walnut oil. This was one of the pizzas I made tonight, though I swapped out the chevre for goat brie and added caramelized onions. It was divine. Absolutely the best pizza I’ve made.
In addition to a few more typical pizzas, I also made one that Henning hated, but I thought was wonderful. I slathered some fig jam over the crust, then topped it with prosciutto and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. I’ll admit that this pizza is not for the faint of heart, but if you like strong flavors, stinky cheese, and salty-sweet, then this is the pizza for you. Be careful when you bite in to this one, though, because the fig jam stays bubbly hot for quite a while after the pizza comes out of the oven.
Pizza is the perfect thing to serve at a casual gathering of friends. Just make lots and lots of dough, and have various toppings prepped when everyone arrives. The pizzas bake up quickly, and it’s fun to have your guests help you stretch the dough and throw it in the air (or on the floor, as Henning did tonight). You can stand around the kitchen, drinking wine, and baking the pizzas together. That’s amore.
adapted from Epicurious
1 cup wrist-temperature water
1 package (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 generous tablespoon of olive oil (plus extra for the bowl)
3 cups unbleached white flour (1/4 cup may be wholewheat or rye)
extra flour for kneading
toppings of your choosing (see ideas below)
Place the water in a medium-large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Let it stand 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to bubble. Stir in 1 cup of flour, the salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Beat for several minutes with a wooden spoon.
Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. The dough will be soft but should not be sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead for several minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. This will take about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough, and return it to the floured surface. (This is the point at which you can freeze the dough for future use.)
Divide the dough into two or three equal parts, knead each piece for a few minutes, then let the balls of dough rest, covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap, for 30 minutes. (This allows the gluten to relax, so the dough will easily stretch into shape.)
Preheat oven to 450°F. For a crispy crust, it’s best if you have a baking stone or pizza pan, but you can use a large baking sheet instead.
Sprinkle a pizza peel or upside down baking sheet with cornmeal. In the air or on a floured board or countertop, stretch one ball of dough into a circle. Work the circle thinner by holding the dough by one edge of the circle and letting gravity stretch it. Keep the circular shape by working your way around the edge of the circle. When dough is thin enough to your liking, put it on the peel or baking sheet. Add toppings.
Bake for six minutes, or until the crust is brown and the toppings are hot. The first time you make pizza, check on it regularly to be sure that it is cooking evenly and not burning.
Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Of course, they’re best right out of the oven; the crust is crispiest that way.
One dough recipe makes enough for three ten-to-twelve inch pizzas.
Pizza is extremely flexible. You can pretty much put anything on it, so feel free to get creative. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but really, go wild with it!
- Arugula, goat cheese, walnuts, caramelized onions, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of walnut oil
- Green olive tapenade and curls of parmesan cheese
- Sliced heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese, a drizzle of good olive oil, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, and top with fresh basil when it comes out of the oven
- Fig jam, prosciutto, and crumbled gorgonzola cheese
- Thin slices of grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, and feta cheese