I love good pizza. Not just any pizza, I want good pizza.
Truly good pizza is hard to find. You have to drive to New York City, Chicago, or obscure places like Sidestreet Pizza in Tryon, North Carolina if you want to eat a good pizza pie. There is also a place in the Atlanta suburbs called New York Pizza Exchange that makes an excellent pizza and saved us a few round trips on Delta Airlines to get pizza when we lived in nearby Vinings, Georgia.
If you have never had what I consider to be good pizza, you are missing a real culinary treat. This means that if you eat pizza you are probably happy having Pizza Hut, Dominoes, or Pappa John’s deliver some mishy-mash of cheese stuffed crust with cinnamon sticks and a large bottle of flat soda to your door for $13.98 (such a deal) with a coupon. Every time I try this approach, I swear to myself that I’ll never do it again.
My other home pizza solution has been to modify a store bought frozen pizza like those produced by the DiGiorno division of Kraft Foods. You may have done this drill yourself—take a basic three meat thick crust pizza, toss on some extra mozzarella cheese, black olives, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese, and pop it in the oven.
The result? OK Pizza. Not good…just OK.
I’ve recently solved my pizza cravings because I’ve learned how to make my own pizza crust. While the crust takes a while, the toppings are a no-brainer. The guys and gals over at The Artisan.net gave me all I needed to know about making pizza dough and I’ve done it twice in the past week and believe me when I tell you that this recipe works.
It’s not something that you can do in thirty minutes after you get home from work and the kids are screaming, but you can do it on a Saturday afternoon when you have the time to let the dough rise.
I said LET THE DOUGH RISE. The first time I made the recipe I was hard headed and rushed the process, didn’t let the dough rise fully, and used all of the dough to make one really fat, 2” thick crust 14” pizza. The dough tasted fine, but it was way too much crust for a single pizza.
This afternoon I took my time, let the dough rise properly, and made two thick crust 13” pizzas. Mama Mia…It Worked—I can hardly believe that I made these pizzas.
Here is what I did:
For the Dough Starter—
¾ cup plain flour (not self rising)
¼ cup warm water
1 pack of fast acting yeast
For the main dough—
2-1/4 cups plain flour
1 cup room temperature water
1 tsp salt
For the Tomato Sauce (enough for two pizzas)—
(1) 8 oz can Hunts No Salt Tomato Sauce
(1) 6 oz can tomato paste
½ can Beef broth
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried turmeric
A couple twists of fresh ground black pepper
Toppings—Take your pick, you know what you like…I used
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Spicy Italian Saussage
Sliced black olives
Sliced button mushrooms
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
Sun dried tomatoes
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Crumbled Feta cheese
Making the dough—
Just like the web site I referenced says, making the dough is a two part process.
First you make the starter by combining the warm water and the yeast in a small glass measuring cup. Stir the mixture up and let it set for ten minutes. This activates the little yeast beasties and gives them a chance to stretch their legs and get ready to do some work for you.
Once you have a ¼ cup of hungry yeast, howling for something to eat, pour your water yeast mixture into a small mixing bowl containing ¾ cup of flour. Take a wooden spoon and stir everything up until the dough starts to pull away from the walls of the bowl. Knead the dough a little with your fingers, shape into a ball, and then cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and let it rise for thirty to forty-five minutes. Fix yourself a drink and get the rest of your ingredients ready. Watch a little TV if you want.
When you starter has risen, add your 1 cup of water into your starter and stir it all up to dilute. In a large mixing bowl combine the 2-1/4 cups of flour and the 1 tsp salt and mix thoroughly. Now add your starter/water mixture to your flour/salt mixture and mix it all together with a wooden spoon or, if you’re brave like me, with your bare hands.
Redneck Tip: Wash your hands, then dry them and pour a teaspoon of olive oil into one hand and oil your hands before working with the flour. This will cause the dough to not stick as badly.
Keep working your dough until it starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Lightly dust the clean countertop or a large cutting board with flour, then turn out your blob of dough and knead it for a few minutes. I’m not going to try to tell you exactly how to knead dough here, it’s not rocket science, but it is important to work your dough to mix the ingredients but not over work it—else it will be tough. As I’ve said earlier, practice makes perfect.
Now divide your dough into two even balls, cover them with clean dishtowels, and allow them to rise from 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size, so you can adjust your “rise” time based on what your eyeballs tell you.
While you are waiting, make your sauce by combining the tomato sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, and spices in a small boiler over low heat. Heat until you want to use some, but don’t boil.
When you are close to having the dough ready, kick the heat on your oven up to 500 degrees F. The web site says use a pizza stone. Sorry folks, but I don’t have one…YET. I’m going to get one, but in the mean time I use a vented aluminum pizza pan. The idea here is to allow the bottom of the crust to cook well and become crispy. The pan works pretty well in my opinion, but I am going to go buy a pizza stone shortly.
When your dough has adequately risen, uncover it, move it to the side, and re-flour your work surface. Now place your dough in the center of the work area and fold the dough back onto itself from four directions, trying to maintain a round shape. Now kneed the dough gently and work it out with your hands (or use a rolling pin) into a 13” or 14” round shape, maintaining a thicker rim and a thin middle section.
I actually picked my crust up and worked it with my knuckles in the air like the pizza guys do on TV. If you tear a little hole in it, just place it back on the work surface and pinch the hole closed. When you are happy with your crust or afraid to mess with it further, place it on your pan (or stone.)
Now this step is important. Drizzle a little olive oil over the center of the crust, omitting the outside edges if you want them crispy. Smear the oil around with a spoon or your fingers to evenly coat the crust. This oil is important in order to keep the tomato sauce and other juices from soaking into your crust while it cooks.
Now smear four or five tablespoons of tomato sauce over the center of your crust. Use a large wooden spoon to evenly spread the sauce over the area—not too thick. I like to cook my pizza with a thin coating of sauce and place extra sauce on the side on the table.
Sprinkle a layer of Mozzarella cheese over the sauce, add your other ingredients, and another layer of cheese if you want.
Now you are on the downhill stretch. Toss your pizza in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, and do a few dishes while it cooks. My oven takes about 20 minutes at 500 degrees.
Pull the pizza out and place on a cutting board, place your extra sauce in a bowl on the table, slice your pizza, toss it on plates, top of the wine glasses, and EAT!
The Redneck Gourmet