11 May 2009

slinging hash: pizza

Homemade pizza is having a moment. I spotted it last month, in the New York Times Magazine, and a few days later on Michael Ruhlman's blog, not to mention in this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Although I go through phases, I've been making pizza for dinner about once a week for many years. I like playing with yeast; there was a time, many years ago, when I used to cultivate wild yeast spores in my kitchen for my amusement.

Making pizza does not require special equipment (Really!). You do not need a pizza stone. A pizza peel and cutting wheel are useful if you are going to do this a lot, but a cookie sheet makes a fine substitute for a peel, and a chef's knife, or pair of kitchen shears will cut slices adequately. You do not need to master fancy technique for stretching the dough; no spinning and flipping required!

While it may sound counter intuitive, I find pizza to be a quick meal that requires little advance preparation. I used to start the dough in the late afternoon, after my kids got home from school, and since pizza dough only needs one rising, it would be ready by 5.00 for topping and baking. I have since streamlined the preparation even further, after I learned on The Kitchn that while the dough's flavor may benefit from rising, it is not necessary! (I find the difference in flavor indiscernable.)

Perhaps pizza's biggest appeal, though, is that it is a rare dinner that exceeds my two out of three guideline, sort of. While everyone in my family likes a Neapolitan pie, everyone also has their personal topping preference, and someone is usually apt to complain if I don't make it their way. My sons like it plain, in the Roman style, with olive oil and salt. My daughter likes it with thinly sliced potatoes, rosemary, and a grating of Romano cheese. David and I like all of the above, but we also like it topped with olive oil and zatar, or caramelized onions and feta or goat cheese, or our current favorite, sauteed broccoli rabe and gorgonzola.

For a while, I made things a real pain in the ass for myself, by making many individual pies, with customized toppings for everyone. Why did I ever get into this habit? To amuse my children, who enjoy rolling and topping their own pies. That's just what every mother wants to do in the thick of dinner preparation, yes?

A few weeks ago, I said fuck it, and began streamlining things. Now I make two larger pies, two toppings. One that everyone (aka the kids) will like, and one for David and myself.

I did this last night, for Mother's Day. We'd gone out to dinner with my mother Saturday night, so were eating at home. That was a present to myself; a dinner that no one would complain about. But yet...

I decided on a Neapolitan pie, because I had some sauce already made, and one with broccoli rabe, because I also had that cooked in the fridge. Sarah came into the kitchen and asked what kind of pies we were having, and when she found out there would be no potato pizza, she had a minor episode of righteous indignation because I NEVER MAKE THE KIND THAT SHE LIKES.

(I made it last week.)

There is a parlor game I play with friends sometimes; informally called, What Puts You on the Couch? In it, we try to imagine which of the many, many mistakes we make as parents will be the ones that send our kids into therapy. If this is what eventually puts Sarah on the couch, that her mother made more of her BROTHER'S favorite pizzas, and not enough of her favorite potato pizza, I will consider it evidence that I did a pretty good job.

Homemade pizza dough
(adapted from The Kitchn)

This makes enough for four approximately twelve inch pies; the dough keeps well, in a sealed ziploc bag for up to a week.
*Lately I've been making the crust with a combination of all-purpose, and white whole wheat flour, in an approximate 2:1 ratio.

1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon of active-dry yeast
4 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour*
1 tsp salt

30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, heat the water until barely lukewarm. (I do this in short 30-second bursts in the microwave.) If you used a measuring cup, transfer water to a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over, and let stand a few minutes to allow the yeast to dissolve. It will take on a creamy appearance.

Add the salt, and then flour one cup at a time, until you have a wet, ragged dough.

Turn this dough out onto a well-floured counter or cutting board (I like to use a large silpat mat for this), and knead in flour a bit at a time until the dough forms a smooth, cohesive ball. Go slowly, as if you add too much flour, the dough will be hard to roll.

Tear off about a quarter of the dough, and place on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper about 12-inches wide. (At this point, I place the parchment on top of my pizza peel.) Lightly flour the top of the dough, and press it out to a flat disc. Working from the center, roll out until it's about a quarter inch thick.

Lightly coat the now rolled dough with a sprinkling of olive oil and salt, and top as you wish. Slide the pizza, still on parchment paper, into the pre-heated oven and bake approximately ten minutes. I try to remember to rotate the dough about halfway through at which point, I slide it off of the parchment paper to finish cooking.

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