There’s Something About Pizza

Pizza topped with kale, Field Roast Italian Sausage, feta and mozzarella

My brother is a devotee of Barnaby’spizza in South Bend, Indiana. So much so, he has spent some time trying to replicate their flaky crust. More recently, he is on a neo-Neopolitan crust kick. Karen, my friend and college roommate dissects and eats her beloved pizza with surgical precision – toppings first, then crust. She describes it as the perfect food . . . all food groups present and accounted for. And, delicious. What else could you want? People love their pizza.

We are no different. Friday nights are sandwich or pizza nights. When pizza is on the menu, I often make a batch of dough and freeze half – same with the sauce. I have experimented some, but always seem to go back to Deborah Madison’s crust and pizza sauce recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. As for toppings, there is always cheese for Alia. The other one is an improvisation – thinly sliced potato and Maytag blue cheese with a sprinkle of thyme with no sauce; a mix of mushrooms with smoked mozzarella sprinkled with minced flat-leaf Italian parsley and garlic; or caramelized onions and Field Roast Italian Sausage with mozzarella and Parmesan. Never more than three toppings though – preferably only two – because any more than that results in a muddled, confused pizza, in my opinion.

Tonight it was sauteed kale (yes, again!) and Field Roast Italian Sausage with crumbled feta and mozzarella for us. According to Luca, “Sometimes experiments turn out really good.”

Friday Night Pizza Party

Crust (adapted ever so slightly from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I don’t bother with extra virgin when I baking or pan frying for that matter. I save it for vinaigrettes when you can really taste it)
1  1/2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or kosher)
1/2 to 1 cup whole-wheat flour, to taste (I use 1 cup)
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (I usually only need about 2 1/2 cups)

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a mixing bowl, stir in the yeast, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add remaining water, olive oil, and salt, then beat in the whole wheat flour followed by enough white flour to form a shaggy dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until smooth, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. For a crisp, light crust, pizza dough should be on the moist side, which means it will be slightly tacky.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it once to coat, then cover with a towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size (about 40-60 mins). I find the top of the refrigerator is a good place for the dough to rise. Turn the dough onto the counter and divide into the number of pizzas you want (I usually find one recipe makes 4 pizza crusts that are a little more than 12″ in diameter). Shape each piece into a ball, set on a lightly floured counter, cover with a towel, and let rise for another 20-30 mins.

While the dough rises the second time, you can make the tomato sauce (below) and prepare the toppings you want. If you are using  a pizza stone, place the stone in the oven and set to 500 degrees. You can also use a large round pizza pan or a large cookie sheet. The idea is to put the crust on a really hot surface so it starts crisping immediately,

Tomato Sauce for Pizza (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves sliced thinly

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 28 ounce can crushed (preferably fire-roasted) tomatoes (I like Muir Glen brand)

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a 10 inch skillet (I use cast iron) with garlic and a little black pepper. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and raise the heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the juices are evaporated and the sauce that remains is thick enough to mound on a spoon with no surrounding watery liquid. Taste and add salt and pepper for a flavorful sauce. This is a simple sauce so seasoning is key.

  • Shaping the Dough

Taking one ball at a time, flatten it into a disk, pushing it outward with your palm. Working from the middle, push the dough out with your fingers until it’s flatter. Then, I get out my marble rolling pin and roll it into a rough circle less than 1/4″ thick. The crust can best be described as thin and chewy. Adjust the thickness to your preference.

  • Baking the Pizza Crust

I own a pizza stone and peel. These are helpful if you make pizzas often. A pizza pan or cookie sheet will work, but not as well.

  • Using a Pan?

If using a pan, carefully take it out of the oven. It’s hot! Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the pizza pan to keep the dough from sticking. Place the rolled out crust onto your pizza pan and brush with a little olive oil and prick with the tines of a fork. Put the pan into the oven and let bake for about 5 minutes or until it starts to brown SLIGHTLY. Poke big bubbles that form with a fork.

  • Using a Stone?

Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the peel to keep the dough from sticking. Place the rolled crust onto your peel and brush with a little olive oil and prick with the tines of a fork. Shake the peel slightly to be sure it isn’t sticking. Carefully slide the crust onto the stone. This takes a little practice. Let bake for about 5 minutes or until it starts to brown SLIGHTLY. Poke big bubbles that form with a fork.

  • Topping the Pizza

Take the crust out and add toppings as you like. Tonight, I put on a thin layer of tomato sauce, then chopped, sauteed kale and Field Roast Italian Sausage. I finished it off with crumbled feta and shredded mozzarella. I also made a cheese one – thin layer of tomato sauce and shredded Parmesan and mozzarella with a sprinkling of smoked salt when it came out of the oven. Put the pizza back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove pan from the oven or remove the pizza using the peel.

Let the pizza rest on the pan or peel for 10 more minutes so it is easier to cut. If all goes well, you will have a thin and chewy crust that holds it shape under the tasty toppings. No droopy pizza here!

Is it easier to order out? Yes. Is it as good? No way!

Ratings:

Me:  A (kale pizza)

Scott: A (kale pizza and cheese pizza)

Luca: A (kale pizza) A and half a + (cheese)

Alia: A (cheese pizza)

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