Friday, June 14, 2013

In Praise of Pizza

Before the weather gets too hot to turn on the oven, do yourself a favor and make pizza. I live in a town that is teeming with run-of-the-mill pizza joints. Yet we somehow still are compelled to serve this so-so pizza at every kid's birthday party, school event, and team function. When I can, I buck the trend and make it at home, and then I always wonder why I ever bother to eat the usual fare. 

Pizza dough has only a few ingredients, and can be made ahead. Putting the pies together isn't much work either. I don't use a pizza stone. I don't bother with tossing my pie in the air or even a rolling pin. I simply use my hands to shape the dough directly onto the Silpat or parchment paper that it will be baked on. And while choosing toppings can be both participatory and creative, I'm going to admit that the one downside to make-your-own-pizza night is that your kitchen may resemble a war zone afterwards. But for my kids, the pride of ownership that comes with the act of making their own creation is pure gold. 

In terms of what goes on top, the sky is the limit. Sometimes I am haphazard, and pull out any leftover bits of meat, cheese, sauce and veggies and throw them on the dough. If you want to be more purposeful, there are some killer combinations out there. More than once, I've attempted to recreate a pie I've had at Za, my vote for the best pizzeria in my neck of the woods. I'm still trying to perfect a copy of their chorizo, mustard, and dill pickle creation. I've used butternut squash, fontina and arugula; strawberry, pesto, and mozzarella; or my latest creation below, onion confit, gruyere, apple and smoked turkey.

My dough recipe feeds four, with some leftover to make dough knots sprinkled with parmesan. I use a stand mixer, but you can make it all by hand if you want to work your arms. I've given instructions for the oven, but another great option is to grill your pizza (that solves the hot oven problem in the summer). This lesson from The Kitchn is a great resource to get started. 

Pizza Dough
makes about 2 pounds of dough

1 1/2 c. lukewarm water
3 t. yeast
pinch of sugar
2 c. white flour
2 c. white whole wheat flour, or whole wheat flour
1 T. salt
3 T. olive oil

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place yeast, water, and sugar. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until the water starts to bubble and you can smell the activated yeast.

Place the white flour, white whole wheat flour, and salt in a small bowl. Have some extra flour nearby for kneading.

Add olive oil and 2 cups of the flour mixture to the bowl. Using the paddle, stir on medium speed until mixed. The dough should still be shaggy at this point. Switch to the dough hook, add another 1 1/2 cups of flour, and mix again until the dough should start to come together. If it's still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides. Continue to mix, using the dough hook, on high speed, about five minutes. Stay near the machine, as it tends to jump around when it's working this hard! 

Turn the dough onto a clean work surface. Knead by hand for about a minute, adding additional flour if needed so it isn't sticky. Stop kneading when the dough is smooth and elastic, and springs back when you poke it with your finger.

Line the mixer bowl with a small amount of olive oil, and place the dough ball in it. Spread a small amount of oil on top. Cover with a towel and let rest in a warm place until doubled in volume, usually about an hour.

(You can make the dough the night before you need it, and place it in the fridge overnight. It will still need to finish the rise in a warm room, so take it out of the fridge as soon as you get home, and let it rise while you get everything else together.  I often put the dough on top of or near my stove while it's preheating to cook the pizzas.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In the bowl, punch the dough down and turn onto a clean surface. Divide into 4 to 8 pieces with a bench scraper. Place a silicon sheet or parchment on a baking sheet, and place a piece of dough on top. Using your fingers, start pushing the dough from the middle until it is your desired thickness. Brush the top with oil and top with your toppings.

Bake until crust is browned, about 10-12 minutes.  

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