Feb 292008

“Ugh! I hate Italian pizza! It’s so gross! It’s not even Italian, it was invented in New York! Let me eat the pizza at Boston’s, it’s so good!”

Wait for it….


Yep. That was my head exploding.

It exploded not for just one, but three very good reasons.

Hating Italian pizza is impossible. The ingredients are so fresh and the results so simple that it’s quite simply easier to divide by zero than to hate it.
I’m not a food anthropologist, but I’m gonna call shenanigans on pizza originating in New York. The research I’ve done shows that it in fact came from Naples. It’s funny how a place can do such great things (invent pizza) and such monumentally stupid things (like stop collecting all the garbage so it piles up to third story windows). But I digress.
Boston’s pizza (god, I feel dirty typing in that URL for that link) is disgusting. You all know that I get pissed about paying good money for bad food, and not much makes me angrier than having to go there and pay the bill. In fact, the first time I ever went there (my bosses love it so we go there all the time for working lunches, much to my chagrin) I was sitting across from someone who had just read a few of my thoughts on restaurants and he could tell on the look on my face that I was livid about paying seventeen bucks for a shitty meal that I could have made one hundred and twenty times better by just lifting a finger and giving a shit about the food I was preparing. Anyway, their pizza is even worse than that first meal – a salmon caesar salad – that I had: the cheese was laid on way too thick and rubbery as only really bad American-made mozzarella can be, the crust suffered from being stuffed with ten times as much yeast as it needed to rise which made it utterly bland and sour, and the basil – this was supposedly pizza Margherita – was DRIED. DRIED, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK???

*steps aside to breathe for a moment…. long deep breaths….*

Ok, I apologize for that “Oh FUDGE!” moment there. I just get sent into spasms of anger when I think about that place. Let’s get back to my happy place, and for me right now, that happy place is homemade pizza, even if, no matter how hard you try, it’s not quite like the Italians make it.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

For some reason I don’t make pizza as much as I should. There’s really no reason not to – I have a wealth of dough recipes whose prep times vary from 24 hours to 90 minutes. My pantry is always stocked with the requisite ingredients for the crust and toppings. I even have two 8-inch pizza stones, perfect for a cozy binge-free pizza night. But for some reason, I just… don’t.

Well, I had been craving good pizza for a couple of weeks and last Friday it became wholly apparent that that night was the night. The stars were aligned – the grocery stores were hemorrhaging fresh (FRESH! Not DRIED!) basil, I had plenty of fresh mozzarella in my fridge, and I had made a batch of marinara the night before. All I had to do was find a dough recipe.

So I called up my Mom. When I talk to him on the weekends, it’s not uncommon for my Dad to give me a rundown of the pizza my Mom made the previous Friday and for him to gush about how her pizza gets better every single week. No dice on the recipe from the Mom front though – she was really busy with some elderly relatives, no big deal, it’s not like she’s the sole source of pizza dough ever (though I still want her recipe!). So at one point, needing to get my current events fix, I brought up NPR and lo and behold, on their rotating blurbs about featured stories, was a Kitchen Window ad, whose topic just so happened to be pizza. It was like the skies had parted and I was sitting in my own little personal ray of sunlight. I was fated to make pizza that night. The gods had willed it to be so.

So when I got home, I got to work on my pizza. After the dough was done rising, I attempted to get the dough nice and thin, but the thing about kneading is that it make dough very elastic. Every time I stretched out the dough it just shrank right back up. I eventually adopted the mannerisms of a, well, special Italian, trying to toss this tiny disc of dough up into the air, catch it on one finger, and let gravity do the work. It certainly worked better than counter-top stretching, but clearly, my method needs work if I am to continue to aspire to Italian-standard thinness.

Thicker-crust-than-desired aside, this pizza was marvelous! I loved the warm, garlicky, basily sweetness of the sauce, topped with just a bit of mozzarella a plenty of fresh torn basil, all atop a crispy, grain-flavored crust. That pizza was not long for this world, and though I expect that it would have made a mean cold pizza breakfast, it never got the opportunity to prove itself. But even though I loved the process, the experience, and the taste so much, I think the best thing that came out of it was the inspiration to try again with a myriad of toppings. That’s one of the best things about pizza – almost anything is a choice candidate to grace your pie, so you’re only limited by your imagination.

And if you still think the pizza from Boston’s is better than this, well, do us both a favor and don’t ever talk to me about food. Unless, of course, you like watching my head explode.

Not totally authentic Italian, but still really bloody good pizza
Nikon D50

Pizza Margherita, take due
Dough recipe from Julie O’Hara via NPR’s Kitchen Window
Makes two 14-inch pizzas or eight 7-inch individual pizzas

If you think that you will ever make pizza, even just once, get a pizza peel! The fifteen bucks you spend on it will be far less than the toll the heartbreak of peel-less disaster!!! Plus you can use it for regular breads too. I was amazed at how much easier the pizza experience was when I had this indispensable kitchen tool.
I quartered the dough recipe so that I could make two 7-inch pizzas. You could also wrap any unused dough tightly in foil and in a freezer bag and freeze for up to three months. Bring the dough to room temperature again before attempting to handle it.
For the dough:

1 1/4 cups lukewarm (105-115 degrees F) water
1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) OR 1 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for work surface
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt (such as kosher or sea salt)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Sprinkling of cornmeal or semolina flour

For everything else:

About two cups of marinara sauce
1/2 – 1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), depending on how cheesy you like your pizza
About 1 ounce of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
If you’re using instant yeast, skip to step two. If you’re using active dry yeast, pour the water into a small bowl and gently stir in the yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes in a non-drafty place.
Meanwhile, add the flours and salt to a food processor, stand mixer, or large bowl and combine (pulse if using a food processor). Add the olive oil, honey and yeast mixture (or yeast and water, if you’re using instant). Mix or process until the dough comes together, forming a ball. The dough should be sticky but not wet. If it feels wet, add some flour 1 tablespoon at a time
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead with lightly floured hands and form into a ball. Place the ball of dough in a large bowl seam side down, cover with plastic wrap, a wet towel, or a lid, and let it sit in a warm, non-drafty place until the dough roughly doubles in bulk and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger, about 1 hour.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead or about 30 seconds. Divide the dough into two (or eight, if you’re making individual pizzas) equal balls. Let them rise for the second time on a cutting board, covered with a kitchen towel, for an hour and a half. When 30 minutes have elapsed, put your pizza stones in a cold oven and preheat to 500 degrees. When the dough tests ready as before, begin shaping the dough into flat rounds by rolling it out with a pin or by stretching the dough with your hands or by tossing it into the air, catching it in the middle with your fingertips or knuckles, and letting gravity stretch the dough out.
Once the dough has attained the desired thickness and diameter, sprinkle some cornmeal on a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet, but this course of action is far less recommended. Just get a peel) and place the dough on the peel. Lightly brush the crust with olive oil and top with the marinara. Pinch off pieces of flattened cheese from the ball of mozzarella and arrange them on the pizza.
With rapid jerking motions, slide the pizza from the peel onto the prepared stone. Bake for about ten minutes or until the crust and cheese begin to brown. When there is about 1 minute of baking time left, open the oven and add the basil to the pizza. When the pizza is done, remove it from the stone with the peel, slice, and serve.

  3 Responses to “Pizza Margherita, take due

  1. Wow. I just got supremely hungry for real food. I don’t know why, but for some reason the dining hall food on this Korean air base just doesn’t cut it (I have subsisted off of corn, peas, and horribly bland mashed potatoes – not to mention the bagged lunches of white bread, ham/turkey (which I don’t eat anyway), iceberg lettuce and carrots – oh with the nutritious addition of a Snickers bar and bag of chips to top it off).
    Save me?
    Until then I will not read this blog any further for fear that I will die of want.

  2. Oh Melissa, I feel your pain. I remember what it was like last year! It really really sucks that you can’t go off base and have good Korean food, which would be about 1800 bazillion times better than the American “food” that’s available. Are the bagged lunches that you’re talking about the Jimmy Deans? If they are I am truly sorry.
    Good luck surviving over there, and if you want to give a girly beer-and-homemade-pizza night when you get back into town just let me know 🙂

  3. that looks so, so, so, so good! the pictures are gorgeous and you put that other restaurant to shame (we don’t have it in NY, but I know the type you mean)!

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