Sunday, October 16, 2005

PiZZa—Phase II

As I wrote back in April when I first tried to cook it: I love good pizza.

Not just any pizza, I want good pizza.

I’ve cooked pizza at least once a month since then, and I’ve finally gotten the crust making process down to an art. Having modified the quantity of ingredients and understanding the method a little better, I feel like it is worth writing about it again to bring the recipe to the attention of my new readers.

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.

Making home made pizza dough is 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 again took my time, let the dough rise properly, and made one nice thick crust 13” pizza. Mama Mia…It Worked—I can hardly believe that I made this pizza myself.

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—

1-1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup room temperature water
1 tsp salt

For the Tomato Sauce—

(1) 8 oz can Hunts No Salt Tomato Sauce
(1) 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
A couple twists of fresh ground black pepper

Toppings—Take your pick, you know what you like…I used

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sliced pepperoni
Spicy Italian Sausage
Sliced black olives
Sliced mushrooms
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
Sun dried tomatoes
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Crumbled Feta cheese

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 put your dough ball on a plate and cover it with a clean dishtowel. Now 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 to.

When you starter has risen, add 3/4 cup of water into your starter and stir it all up to dilute. In a large mixing bowl combine the 1-1/2 cups of flour and the 1 tsp salt and mix thoroughly. Now slowly 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 lightly. I mean LIGHTLY. 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 put your dough ball on a cookie sheet, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and allow it 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, and spices in a small boiler over low heat. Heat until you want to use some, but don’t let it boil.

When you are close to having the dough ready, kick the heat on your oven up to 500 degrees F.

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 pizza pan or pizza 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 your pizza cooks in the oven.

Now smear the 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 thick layer of Mozzarella cheese over the sauce, add your other ingredients, and another layer of cheese if you want. It's your pizza--be creative.

Here is something else that I've started doing that helps thicken the crust. Let your finished pizza sit on the counter for fifteen minutes or so before you put it in the oven to cook. The yeast in the dough will continue to make the crust rise and you'll get a nice, light, fluffy crust interior with a crisp exterior as a reward for your patience. I really like the consistency that results.

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 your pizza cooks. My oven takes about 20 minutes at 500 degrees.

Pay attention to your crust after about 18 minutes of cooking--don't burn your masterpiece.

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 off the wine glasses, and EAT!

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

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