Friday, February 26, 2010

pizza odyssey

When I was still living in the Bronx, no one wanted to come all the way up north to visit. This was understandable, but perpetually disappointing. However, I have great friends, so there were occasions when they all made the trek to visit Laura and me. Generally, this happened I bribed them with food. My final stint as a Bronx hostess was no exception, as I offered our guests the best of Arthur Avenue's imported and homemade delicacies served up on a pizza.

Nathan's delicious meatsa trio

As I alluded to in an earlier entry, our old oven was a totally crazy inferno, to the point where Laura was afraid to light it. The first time I baked a cake, I was shocked to discover that it was cooked through in less than half the prescribed time. It was absolutely impossible to tell what temperature the oven was set to, and I would have to try and gauge by opening the broiler to see the size of the flame. Needless to say, this was a considerable culinary challenge when it came to most foods. However, when it came to pizza, I had long suspected that the high temperatures would only work in my favor.

creamy taleggio cheese with porcini and cremini mushrooms make the night's best pizza

Professional pizza ovens exceed 1000 degrees as a matter of course, so home cooks have difficulty replicating their results. Many bloggers have tried and failed, but they didn't have my oven. I cranked it up to full heat and left it on until my entire apartment was swelteringly hot-- no small achievement considering the jerks downstairs hadn't turned on the heat all month. Anyway, my mom gave me grandma's old oven thermometer, and the needle went past the maximum temperature of 500 degrees and back past 250 degrees before something inside it burst and covered the interior with chalky dust. Also, I got nice rubber coated pot holders for Christmas, and they actually started melting. This pizza party was intense, and probably the closest I'll ever get to making pizza parlor pies at home.

prosciutto di parma, pepperoni, polly-o and sausage

I was pretty proud of how well the whole thing came off. I made my own dough, my own sauce, and used fresh herbs and the finest toppings that Arthur Avenue had to offer. However, that is not to say that things went off without a hitch: my first pizza was actually a total mess. Jess lent me her pizza stone, so I put that in the oven to get properly hot. If you're properly equipped you use a wooden peel to transfer the pizza onto the stone. I was not properly equipped, so I thought maybe I could just drop the pizza in there on a sheet of wax paper. I tried this, and as you probably will have guessed, it immediately began to burn and melt. We awkwardly attempted to transfer the first pizza to a sheet of aluminum foil and tried again. The final product, with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella from Casa and fresh basil and parsley, was delicious, but more closely resembled a ghetto disaster of a calzone than a proper pizza.

the first attempt: a delicious mess

However, we used the foil technique for all the rest of the pizzas with wonderful success. I ended up making five pizzas that night and seven overall. (I baked up the rest of the dough with some olive oil, herbs and a little grated cheese to make pizza flatbreads to bring to Jess and Marc's birthday). In addition to the deformed plain pie, there was pepperoni one, and several specialty pies: a porcini cremini mushroom taleggio pizza with fresh basil, a lox pizza with a sour cream, dill, shallot sauce and Nathan's home cured salmon, and my boy's prosciutto di parma, sausage, pepperoni stuffed crust send up to the meatsa trio, ingredients purchased at Arthur Ave's amazing Calabria Pork Store.

Nathan's homemade lox with fresh parsley and a dill sour cream shallot topping

The next day I also made two pizzas including a three meat pizza with Polly-O cheese (ran out of the fresh stuff!) and fresh basil and parsley for lunch. They were allllllll awesome, and so easy to make! I've recently recreated the mushroom pie as a crostini, so you can expect an elaboration in a later post, as well more on the homemade tomato sauce. Also, hopefully Nathan will also share his lox with you. For now though, I'll leave you with everything you need to know to make your very own pizza dough.

the risen dough

This recipe makes two 10 or 12 inch pizzas, depending on how successfully you stretch the dough! Bake as soon as you've topped your pizza, and at the highest possible temperature, as it will cook faster and keep the dough from getting soggy and your pizza from being a floppy mess.

Carefully stir one packet of yeast into a cup of warm water with one tablespoon or either sugar or honey. I used sugar, because I forgot my honey at my apartment and I made the dough at Nathan's because boyfriend has a bad-ass Kitchen Aid, but lots of recipes seem to prefer honey. While the yeast is getting nice and frothy, (let it sit for about 5 minutes), mix three cups of flour with two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Slowly add the yeast and water, mixing until they form a dough. This is easier when you have a mixer, but definitely doable by hand. After it comes together, knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes and then form it into a ball. Drizzle olive oil into a bowl to coat it, and set the dough in it to rise, making sure to cover with a towel or plastic wrap. The dough should double after an hour or two, after which you want to knead it again. At that point, you can let it rise again, or you can get down to the business of making pizza, giving each pizza crust a nice dusting of cornmeal on the bottom to make it less sticky. I let my dough rise again for hours and hours, and that was fine. I even refrigerated some of it over night and kneaded it and let it rise again before I finally baked it. You can also freeze your dough, but I think you have to do that before it rises. I was totally expecting to fall flat on my face with my first attempt at pizza dough, but it was surprisingly easy. Try it!

more pizza dough than you could possibly ever need

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