Sunday, December 21, 2008



When the moon hits your eye like a pie!  It has become the Italian-American specialty, available in every city and town, from the family-owned pizza parlor to the national chains. Thick or thin, chewy or crispy, Chicago-style or New York, from vegetarian to pepperoni to curried chicken with pineapple to pears smothered in chocolate sauce, we have made pizza our own cultural experience!

Weekends at our house mean homemade pizza. After living in Italy, we are pretty much purists : tomato sauce, olives, spicy sausage or bresaola, mozzarella and grilled vegetables or rucola. Though the whole final mess is horrendous to face, flour everywhere, spots of sauce smearing the work surface, I love the pleasure of kneading dough, patting it with olive oil and watching it rise. Satisfaction indeed! Hand slicing the cheese, popping it in the oven, then serving the husband and kids in front of a good movie.

It may take a couple of tries to master dough making, but it is very much worth the effort. With this recipe, you can make almost any kind of bread or dinner rolls, even "snails", pieces of dough spread with anything from pesto to cinnamon-sugar and chocolate chips, then rolled up and baked. I am using it here to make classic, rustic pizza with a special "extra" : focaccia, an Italian (almost) flat bread, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper and baked. Serve focaccia with soup or salad, a platter of Italian cheese and cold cuts, and you have a very cozy, homey meal.


Sauce :
3 cups (700 ml) canned crushed tomatoes
1 can (7 oz, 140 ml) tomato paste
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Pitted olives, black and green, about a dozen or so of each, as you like, sliced, optional

Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in a few tablespoons olive oil then, after allowing the oil barely a minute to heat up, put in the chopped onion. Allow the onion to cook, stirring constantly, until shiny and beginning to be translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue cooking, stirring, until the onion has shrunken and is golden brown.

Pour in the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the sugar (this cuts the acidity of the tomatoes), the sliced olives, and the oregano. Salt and pepper generously. Blend well. Once it is heated through and just beginning to boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and set aside.
Pizza Dough :
about 2 lbs (1kg) flour - don't forget that you will be adding flour as you knead!
3 1/2 tsp (18 g) fast-acting yeast
4 1/2 tsp (21 g) salt
3 Tbs (40 g) brown or white sugar or honey
warm (body temperature) water - twice 1 1/3 cups (300 ml)

In a small bowl, place the brown sugar or honey and the fast-acting yeast. Pour on 1 1/3 cups (300 ml) warm water. I turn on the tap and let the water warm up, letting the water run over the back of my hand, and when I can't feel it anymore, when it is just nicely warm, not hot, I measure into the measuring cup. Remember : if the water is too cool, the yeast won't activate, but water too hot will kill the yeast. Let this sit for 15 to 20 minutes until the yeast has activated and is frothy.

Measure the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl or on your work surface. When the yeast is activated, make a well in the center of the flour, pour in the yeasty water, scraping out all the yeast and sugar sticking to the sides or left in the bottom. Add about half of the second 1 1/3 cup (300 ml) warm water. With a wooden spoon or your hands, mix slowly and carefully, gradually getting all the flour wet. Add more water little by little where there is still areas of dry flour, until all the flour is moistened.

An important thing to remember : if your dough starts out too wet when you turn it out on your work surface to start kneading, you can always add more flour until it is as dry as you knead, as needed. But if you start kneading and it is too dry, you realize that you haven't blended in enough water, then it's too late to add more! So if in doubt, make it wetter rather than leaving it too dry.

Now knead :
Using all your force, pushing, folding back onto itself then pushing with your knuckles, over and over again, just work the dough for 6 to 9 minutes. Sprinkle flour on the work surface and even on the ball of dough whenever it feels sticky, even slightly sticky. By the end of 6 to 9 minutes, you should have a beautiful, smooth, elastic dough. Like a baby's bottom.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil onto the center of an large oven tray. Turn the ball of dough around in the oil, smearing it so the dough is well oiled all over. Place the ball in the center of the now oiled tray and cover well but loosley with plastic wrap, pulling the plastic over the edges of the tray to allow room for the dough to double in size and still stay completely covered with plastic.

Allow to rest in a dry, warmish spot for an hour. It should double in size.

Prepare the pizza :

Sauce, homemade or good jarred blended with tomato paste to thicken it up
Mozzarella, cow or buffalo milk, one ball per person or equivalent in log or pre-grated
Toppings of choice : grilled vegetables, pepperoni or other sausage or cured meat, olives, aragula, for example

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) regular oven or 400°F (200°C) for convection.

This dough should make about 8 dinner-plate size individual pizzas. I use it to make 4 pizzas then make 2 focaccias the following day for lunch with the leftover dough. But you can make any size or thickness of pizza you like.

Make sure that your work surface is well floured. I prepare a cookie-sheet-sized piece of parchment or oven-safe paper per pizza or focaccia I'll be making. Put a round piece of fist-sized dough in the center of your floured surface, sprinkle the top of the ball with more flour, then roll. Roll only in back and forth motions, turning the dough constantly in between each back and forth action, to keep the dough in a fairly uniform shape. Don't try and push or pull the dough, working it out too fast and the dough will just spring back. It has to be rolled, pressed firmly, but rolled. Back and forth, gently, gently, turning the dough and flouring underneath and on top regularly.

When your dough is large, fairly round (no one's perfect!) and fairly thin, or as thin as you like it, carefully roll it around the rolling pin and lift it onto the piece of oven paper. Give a quick lick with the rolling pin a couple of times to even it out, then put aside just until ready to garnish and bake.

Spread a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce on the round of dough, spreading evenly and almost to the edges, leaving about 1/2" (1 cm) of border. Slice the mozzarella (either cow's or buffalo milk) and lay the slices out in a star pattern over the sauce. Add slices of sausage or pepperoni - though normally I add this a few minutes before the pizza is done cooking. Add grilled vegetables if using.

Bake for 10 or 15 minutes or until edges are browned and the cheese is bubbling and browned.

Remove from oven onto a large wooden cutting board, throw on a few handfuls of rucola (aragula), the bresaola (Italian cured beef) if adding, and serve with a good Chianti or a chilled Lambrusco Amabile! And a good movie....


E ancora un po' :


Pizza dough
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt (large crystals)
Optional : dried herbes (basil or parsley or oregano), halved cherry tomatoes, whole olives

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) regular oven or 400°F (200°C) for convection.

Cut off a piece of the dough and place on the floured work surface. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and rub it around so the rolling pin doesn't stick. Roll out gently until you have a thickness of no less than 1/2" (1 cm), and thicker if you like. Transfer the focaccia to a piece of parchment or oven-proof paper.

Brush the entire surface with good-quality olive oil, give a good grinding of black pepper over the surface, sprinkle on the sea salt and, if you are so inclined, sprinkle on any other dried herbs or press into the dough either halved cherry tomatoes or whole olives.

Slash the dough with a sharp knife or pastry cutter, not quite to the edges of the dough, creating pull-apart strips of bread.

Bake for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the bread, until a deep golden brown. The focaccia will have risen a bit.

Remove from the oven and eat hot or warm.

Buon appetito!


dragonmom said...

Ok, now I'm hungry for homemade pizza!

Isabelle said...

Hi Jamie,
I tried yesterday your home made pizza recipe : we had a great dinner (with Clémentine and Dominique).


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