Pizza at Home


Pizza at Home

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

What can be more Italian than pizza? Well, maybe pasta or even risotto but if I ask what is more popular than pizza nobody seems to be able to come up with an answer. But how many people make their own at home. Not too many. And why not? Probably because like a lot of what holds us back from doing stuff – we can become intimidated. There are those big ovens at pizza parlors and the images of pizzaiolos tossing rounds of dough in the air that make it seem too complicated or requiring too much skill . But be not afraid. It is really pretty easy. Of course like anything else it takes a little practice but it is definitely worth the small learning curve. For one thing you can make better pizzas and you can make them cheaper. If the dough is already made you can do the whole thing before you could get one delivered. You can make a pizza with almost anything that you could put on pasta. The one that I’m going to show here was as much a collection of stuff that I happened to have in the refrigerator as it was about planning. The ingredients that I used for this one were some left over onion, broccolini, garlic, oven dried tomatoes and regular and smoked mozzarella. So here we go.

First let’s consider tools. Apart from the too obvious oven, you need a peel and some tiles to go in the oven. The peel is that paddle shaped thing that slides the pizza into and out of the oven. The one shown in the picture above is one that I have had for years. I like the fact that it’s wood but you can also get them in metal and if you want you could just use a cookie sheet without a rim. Of course with a really hot oven you might really decide a handle is a good thing. Next you really should get some tiles to put the pizza on. This bakes the bottom of it so it’s not doughy. I bought mine at a local tile place and they were ridiculously cheap. The ones that I bought were 12 inches square and I needed three and I think that the bill came to a whopping $6. One needed to be cut into exactly two pieces and the store here (Import Tile) even had a tile saw that I could use to do the job. So measure your oven and get a set of tiles that will leave a little airspace all around and you’re set. As you can see in the photo above, the tiles get a little stained with stuff – ingredients, olive oil, etc. but that’s just what happens and no cause for concern.  Put those tiles on a rack in the oven and turn it on as high as it will go. It will take a while to heat up because of the tiles but you’ll get a nice pizza. It helps to have an oven thermometer but I’ve learned it takes about half an hour to get my oven up to its 550 degree limit.

I’m not going to really go into making the dough. The recipes are really simple and you can find them all over the web. I make enough dough at once to make 4 two person pizzas and then I freeze 3 out of the four portions. It works great! You do need to think about pizza in the morning and get that dough out of the freezer but it will be ready to go in the evening when you’re ready to use it. I use a recipe from the “The Italian Baker” by Carol Fields and I heartily recommend that book. But let’s move on.

So get everything ready. The toppings should be prepared, cooked, chopped, grated and whatever else needs to be done to them and in little bowls awaiting the moment of truth. Now’s the time to take the peel and sprinkle some polenta meal over it. This acts like little ball bearings so that the dough doesn’t stick to the peel when you want to put the pizza in the oven. I do this with the peel over the sink so I don’t get the polenta all over the place.  Now all systems are go. Stretch or roll the dough to the size you want and try to get it fairly thin. I use a rolling pin. I saw the pizza guy at Chez Panisse roll out the dough for his pizzas so if it’s good enough for Chez Panisse it’s good enough for me. Now put the dough on the peel and shake the peel a bit to make sure it’s not sticking. Now put on the ingredients and shake it a little to make sure that it’s not sticking and pop that baby into the oven. BTW if it is sticking you can usually get it unstuck with use of a spatula around the edges. You might want to practice the motion that you need to use to get it off of the peel and onto the tile. Do a dry run with just about anything as a pizza substitute and a cold oven. Put something on the peel and move the peel into the oven with a continuous motion and then jerk the peel back  to leave the object on the tile. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of it. After it cooks about 6 or 7 minutes I use the peel to turn the pizza around so that it bakes pretty evenly. Another 5-7 minutes and it should be done. I let it rest a minute or so, cut it into the usual sections with a chef knife and mangiamo!

There are a few things to keep in mind about the toppings. I mostly make white pies, i.e. without tomato sauce so that’s what I’m most familiar with. Keep in mind that some veggies require some kind of precooking. One reason is that the pizza may only be in the oven for 15 minutes or less so if it won’t cook that fast, cook it some first. Slicing things thinly sometimes does the trick. The other reason is that some veggies (or other ingredients) have a lot of moisture that they give off when they are cooked. I learned this the hard way when I put a bunch of raw thinly sliced onions on the dough and made a very soggy pizza. You can give some protection to the dough by brushing or rubbing it with just a little bit of olive oil before putting everything else on. The only other thing that I might add is a plea to have a fairly light hand with the toppings. Too much stuff, especially cheese makes a heavy pie without much character – you could get that at Round Table so shoot for something better when you make your own. The crust really tastes good but you need to give it a chance and not smother it.

Any other hints or experiences with pizza that you’d like to share? That’s what the comments are for – I’d love to hear from you.

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2 Responses to “Pizza at Home”

  1. Jamie P. Says:

    Molto bene, Giuseppe! Mi piace davvero!

    I just bought one of those big long wooden ravioli ‘rolling pin’ contraptions; now I need a peel to go with it. Have you ever made your own ravioli?

    Jamie

  2. Joe Says:

    Jamie,

    I have made ravioli. You really should make your own pasta since that stuff from Market Hall is OK if you’re going to do lasagna or just cut it up but it’s really too thick to make good ravioli. So with the pasta and everything ravioli is a lot of work. The times that I’ve made it, I have made a bunch of it and freeze some. I recommend that you put it on a baking or similar sheet that will fit in the freezer and make sure that none of them are touching so that they won’t freeze together. Once frozen you can then bag them up and just dump them straight from the freezer into boiling water.

    Good luck with the ravioli and let me know if it comes out – ditto for pizza.

    Joe

    Joe

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