Pizza: You Can Do It

Yes, one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life is buy a pizza stone. It's my version of Olympic gold; I got into pizza making out of curiosity, on a whim, to escape some challenging circumstances in life that might otherwise have made lesser beings give up forever, but I saw it as a chance to overcome my setbacks, and it turned into a reason to be, a chance to show the world that I could be number one at something.

Not really. Anyone can do it.

Actually,  I didn't even buy the pizza stone for myself. That would be too easy for a cook like me, who would rather crack a giant chunk of stone off of a mountain and heat it over an open fire pit I dug on my own, then grind the wheat for the dough and catch the pepperoni in the forest. Buying a pizza stone for myself would have been so self-indulgent, so weak. So. . . normal.

But it was a great gift for the architect, because I have turned him into the true pizza expert around here. Making pizza is incredibly easy when you have a stone and a peel, which are worth the investment because homemade pizza is also a very cheap meal, as long as you don't like lobster and caviar pizza. And to paraphrase my friend Mark Bittman once you start putting too much kooky stuff  on it, it's no longer pizza.

Anyway, let me share with you here the easiest and most triumphant pizza dough recipe in all of the Olympic Village. I don't have a giant mixer, with a dough hook (as I've complained about  a million times, probably); I mix it by hand, and not to punish myself. It's just really easy. I got the recipe from Simple Italian Snacks, a book you should own if you like, um, simple Italian snacks. And what crazy person doesn't? As the chef/author Jason Denton points out, this is a nonobsessive dough--"no eye on the clock, and no theories on rise times." Also, he suggests using a pizza pan OR a stone, so don't think you have to use a stone like we do. But they are cool.

Before I got this book, I would make an uncooked sauce of canned Italian tomatoes (San Marzano, as we all know, are best), with a bit of chopped garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was delicious, but before we got the hot idea of buying a peel to get the pie in and out of the oven, it was a way-too-wet sauce, which made it almost impossible to transfer and thus marred the joy of pizza-making.

We now use the cooked sauce from Simple Italian Snacks, too. It's wonderful. I make the dough. The architect assembles and supervises the pie baking. But all you need to do after you spread out the dough is give it a thin layer of sauce and top with your favorites: pepperoni, torn basil, slices of mozzarella, drizzle of olive oil, red onion, olives, arugula, mushrooms--whatever.

Pizza Dough, from Simple Italian Snacks
The book claims it makes 2 12-inch pizzas; we always end up with 3

1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (about 105 degrees)
1 tablespoon of salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour.

  1. In the large bowl of a standing mixer (I do this in regular mixing bowl, and do all the mixing by hand. You can too), combine the yeast with the warm water. Add salt and olive oil and stir to combine.
  2. Using the paddle attachment (or a human arm and a big spoon, like I do), slowly add half the flour to the yeast mixture. When they are well combined, add the rest of the flour. With the mixer now set to medium and refitted with a dough hook if you have one (hahahahah!), continue mixing until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Mix for 2 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable. Turn it out ont a lightly floured board and knead it gently with your hands for a few minutes. (This part, contrary to popular belief, is not difficult but in fact fun and makes you feel very impressed with yourself, and a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder).
  3. Shape  the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl. (I oil the ball of dough, too). Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the dough rise for 30 to 40 minutes, while you clean up and prepare toppings. The risen dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap (not too tightly; it expands and will pop through the plastic) and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. (I actually think this dough works better after it has been in the refrigerator for a day.)
  4. Turn out the dough onto a floured board, then cut it into half (as I mentioned, we make three generous pizzas with this amount of dough, so you can freeze one ball for later). Press and stretch the dough to form rounds, or 12 x 6 rectangles if you are using cookie sheets.

    Note from me, on putting the pie together: if you are using a pizza stone, place it it the oven at 500 degrees for at least a half hour. Put it on the middle rack. We made our last pizza this way: layer of sauce (recipe to come) slices of pepperoni, thin slices of buffalo mozzarella (don't use crappy cheese; get the good stuff), torn basil, drizzle of oil. Don't overload your pie; this is not a lasagna you're making. The architect brushed a little olive oil on the exposed ring of crust, then slid it into oven at 450 or 500 degrees. You want to take it out when the crust browns. Keep an eye on it.
    Assemble your pizza on a floured peel, or on a floured rimless baking sheet. You need something to slide it onto the stone (or your preheated pans or cookie sheet). 

    Simple Red Sauce, from Simple Italian Snacks
    Makes enough for 3 pizzas

    3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 additional tablespoons
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (I used 3; we love garlic)
    1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

    Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Using kitchen shears or a knife, cut the whole tomatoes into small pieces. Add salt and pepper and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about a third, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Re-season with salt and pepper to taste, and refresh by stirring in a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

    As the Barefoot Contessa might say, how easy is that?

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