Tuesday, November 2, 2010

That's Amore!

Who doesn't love pizza? Anyone?

When I was a kid of about eleven or twelve years old, my girlfriend and I would ride our bicycles into town on Saturday afternoon to buy a pepperoni pizza at the little pizzeria. We didn't do this often because we didn't often have enough cash to spend at a restaurant. It was my first solo restaurant experience. Well, that and the ice cream joint where we would buy a plate of french fries to share with malts on the side. That wasn't quite as expensive.

The only other pizza I remember eating as a child was home-made pizza that started with an Appian Way box from the store. The Appian Way pizza box was about the size of a Kraft Mac and Cheese box. Inside it had a little envelope of flour mixture that you would add water to, a tiny can of tomato sauce, a little envelope of herbs and spices (oregano and basil) and....uh...that's it.

So we would mix up the flour and water and make a pizza dough, spread on the sauce, sprinkle on the herbs and add our toppings for the most AMAZING pizza experience in the world. Yes. It usually took several boxes of Appian Way to make dinner for the family.

The pepperoni pizza at the pizza joint in town was surprisingly different. I'm still a sucker for pepperoni pizza. Though I love all kinds of pizza, I can never turn down pepperoni.

Flash forward in time to eating Domino's  (two for one!) with my boyfriend on the couch. He ate one and a half and I had the rest. Then pizza and beer nights with friends at the local restaurant with my husband. Then kids come along and there are a few experiences at the kind of place that gives out tokens surrounded by a lot of bells and whistles and flashing lights. Then poverty dictated pizza nights were homemade but no longer from an Appian Way box. I had to puzzle out how to make homemade pizza. Since I am a slow learner, it took years.

Just like with pie, I made a lot of lousy pizza before I made good pizza. Soggy, saggy crust was common. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get a well-baked crust. Forget about "thin and crispy." It was not going to happen. The toppings would be sizzling, the cheese bubbly brown and the crust would be....soft and saggy. Even doughy in the middle.

Pizza is a good meal for a crowd. Ordering good pizza for a crowd from a pizza joint these days can get very expensive. So poverty and economy again dictates that we make our own. It's probably the most messy meal we can make but it pays off in the end. I have shared with you before how we make our grilled pizza and it's a great method in the summer.

This is how we make pizza during the rainy season (nine months of the year...).

I am still using Mario Batali's pizza dough recipe.
I respect Mario Batali's authority on this subject. Despite the fact that Seth has worked in good pizza restaurants and told me their doughy secrets (eggs), I'm sticking with Mario.
Here's his dough recipe:

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix these ingredients in a mixer bowl. Then add:
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup room temperature white wine
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Mix and then knead in the bowl or by hand for five minutes adding flour as necessary. The dough will be slightly sticky. Let rise for one hour.

After rising I divide the dough in half and pat out a circle on a floured surface. You can pat the dough out to the desired size, letting the gluten in the dough rest for a few minutes when it stops stretching and then patting some more. Or, you can use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. If the dough wants to snap back to a smaller size, let it rest so the gluten can stretch out and then roll again. Keep it loose on the surface with flour.

When it is stretched to the desired size, transfer it to a lightly oiled pizza pan.

If the dough tears during transfer, just patch up the holes. It will be fine.

Spread on the sauce! This is my Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce from the garden. The flavor punch makes all the difference. Use your favorite pasta sauce.

To minimize the mess that assembling five pizzas makes, I get my mise en place ready. Tonight's toppings are pepperoni (but of course!), salami, calamata olives, feta cheese, mozzarella, caramelized onions, chicken and artichokes. Oh, the potential!

Now here is the key (no longer secret) to a well-baked, yea, even crispy crust:
A pizza stone.
I don't have a brick pizza oven (yet!) so the next best thing is a pizza stone. I know this isn't necessarily news to everyone, but hey, like I said, I'm a slow learner. Yes, my pizza stone is broken, but it still works. I lay the stone on the floor of the oven from where the heat radiates and turn the oven on very hot - 450 degrees. I use the convection feature in my oven so that the circulating heat will cook the top of the pizza while the crust is baking. It is important to give the oven plenty of time to get very hot and the pizza stone to be also very hot. We want the pizza to cook quickly and thoroughly.

The assembled pizza goes directly onto the hot stone on the bottom of the oven. 
Bake for about 12 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Oh yeah.

This is just the appetizer.

I bake just one pizza at a time always on the stone so that it gets all the heat advantage. The army just has to be patient for it's meal.
It's great how the pizza will just slide right off the pan. Just like in the pizza restaurant! (In the old days I had to scrape a lot of pizzas off the pan so I celebrate this.)

Carmelized onion, chicken, feta cheese and artichokes. 
Almost as good as pepperoni.


  1. My crusts never are as crisp as I would like! So,
    1. Can I make the dough without wine? and 2. looks like a pizza stone will be on my Christmas list!

  2. Thanks for the dough recipe. I'm on my second pizza stone. Nothing like homemade pizza.

  3. Jules- you absolutely can leave out the wine. Just add an equal amount of warm water. The wine is supposed to give the dough a bit of acidity. I don't think you'll notice a difference.

    Yes, some pizza stones seem to break easily. It doesn't pay to get a cheap one I think. I'm going to pony up for a good one sometime.


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