Where was I?
Ah yes! How could I forget? What to do with your summer tomatoes when they come in, right? Well, gazpacho is the route I’d tend towards, because gazpacho is the very apotheosis of the toma – what? No? That’s not what we were discussing, America?
Really? Oh. Welp. Pizza is cool, I guess…
Oh, who I am kidding, here? I love this! What could be more fantastic than making your own pizza from scratch? Nothing, America. Nothing is better. What? No. Nothing.
– The Dough –
So I was talking about The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, by Pasquale Bruno, Jr., which gave me the dough recipe that I used last week to make a pizza on my own.
A note on pizza stones: we have one in my house. You don’t need one. But if you want one, I think Alton Brown said that a piece of unpolished quarry rock doesn’t go for much at a Home Depot-type place. The key with pizza stones is to let them heat with the oven. Don’t throw a cold stone in a hot oven. Number one, what’s the point? it’s the conducted heat that makes the rock worth anything. Number two, I think there’s a worry of cracking the stone if you heat it too quickly. I almost wrote “crack the rock”, but you wouldn’t make me say anything that damning, would you, America?
We’ll start with the dough and then move on to toppings, because
For this dough, you will need:
* 1 tsp active dry yeast
* 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp warm water
* 1 and 1/2 cups flour
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tbs olive oil
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it do its thing for about five minutes.
2. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the center of the mound for the liquids to go.
3. Add the olive oil and the yeast-water mixture into the well. Begin your mixing.
David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 2: Hands over spoons. Always.
I trust spoons about as far as I can throw them. Think about what you’re using to throw that spoon, America! Your hands, that’s right, unless you’ve got some kind of hideously complex spoonapult (my birthday is coming up).
Some of you may think this is gross. I love mixing with my hands. I live for it. Kneading dough is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I can tell you that nothing gets out the aggressions better. Anyway, work the liquids into the flour and salt until you’ve got a ball of dough, and the dough cleans the side of the bowl as you roll it around. Unfortunately, mixing dough with one’s hands sort of denies a fellow the freedom to touch his camera, thus no pictures of the finished dough. Sorry.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for seven to eight minutes. Then put back in the bowl with a little flour so it doesn’t stick, and cover with a dish towel. Let it sit somewhere warm for an hour and a half. Don’t touch it.
– The Toppings –
While that sits, let us spontaneously, as I did, come up with toppings. I decided to make pizza without really checking to see if I had A) tomato sauce or B) enough mozzarella.
I did not. America, sometimes we make mistakes. You should know, America, I say, without waxing too political.
So there I was, without sauce, without enough cheese. What does the Rugged American Hero do in a time like this?
David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 3: When in doubt, improvise.
It’s only food. Sure, if you have your boss over for dinner and you’re making Veal Prince Orloff (that reference is for you, Mother), follow the recipe, cleave to the plan. But if you don’t really have anything to lose, really. Work on the fly, if your nerves permit it. I promise it’s fun.
So we had tomatoes, fresh and canned, onions, olive oil, and garlic. I said to myself, “what more does a guy need?” and proceeded.
I eyeballed this completely and came out okay. I’m sure you’ll do fine.
1. Cut the tomatoes, open the cans, whatever. Cubing the tomatoes is probably best, but depending on how you proceed with this stuff it doesn’t reaaaaally matter.
2. Sauté garlic (maybe two or three cloves, depending on your preference) and onion (half an onion? maybe. Note the proliferation of maybes. This is not an exact science.) until aromatic and soft.
3. Plotch in the tomatoes with maybe a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Eyeball it.
4. Italian herbs and spices are your friend. Oregano, basil, whatever. Nice, aromatic things that make you think of Tuscan sunsets and suchlike. I can’t talk about Tuscany without thinking of Tusken Raiders from Star Wars. … It’s a problem.
5. Then let it cook down until everything is nice and soft.
Here’s where your path might diverge from mine. You could, if you liked, pour the whole business out of the saucepan and into a blender, where you puree the whole thing and then you could strain it over a bowl and get rid of the liquid and reduce it some more. You could do that, sure. Or you could leave it chunky and kinda wet if you don’t care so much (guess which one I am).
I just let everything stay chunky, and when it came time to sauce the pizzas, I’d just drain off the excess water with a spoon. Noooot a big deal at all.
Anyway, I had doubled the dough recipe, so there was enough mozzarella for one pizza, but not two. And use the shredded kind, why don’t you? Fresh mozzarella is too wet. I don’t know what to do with it, myself. I bet that’s sacrilege. Jeremy, back me up here. If it’s not slices of the fresh stuff with tomato and basil with a drizzle of olive oil (oh god, I’m salivating), I say use the shredded, bagged kind.
That was fine, I thought.
I had one pizza taken care of. What was gonna happen with the next? was the issue.
The answer is SPINACH. I decided to approach this the way Lou Malnati’s approaches sausage pizzas, which is, as I said in the previous entry, involves a quarter-inch thick disk of sausage patted onto the pie.
So we had some frozen spinach, which I thawed and drained, and we had some Boursin cheese, and plenty of parmesan. My dad likes to buy big ol’ blocks of parmigiano-reggiano and keep them in the fridge. We always seem to have tons of the stuff, which gave me the idea for this:
You don’t really need the boursin. You could use cream cheese, or goat cheese, or nothing at all. Do what you like. But if you don’t use Boursin then remember to add some garlic powder or something, and maybe a pinch of salt and pepper.
Try to get the spinach as dry as possible, and then mix in the boursin (maybe a quarter-cup) and a cup or two of parmesan.
The filling should be clumpy, and maybe a 3 to 1 spinach-to-cheese ratio.
More to the point, it should behave kinda like that. It should clump, and be fairly try to the touch. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Your dough is done, I’ll wager.
1. Punch it down, now that it’s risen, and turn it out of the bowl into a 13-inch diameter thing.
You can do the flippity pizza-in-the-air thing, but I want you to know that I didn’t.
Flour a rolling pin and get to it. I saw a television chef use a little powdered-sugar shaker to apply flour to his/her working surface and rolling pin. This is cute, even convenient. But it’s certainly not necessary. I just use a measuring cup and my hands.
C’mon! It’s pizza. This is rustic stuff; who are you trying to impress? At least, it’s rustic my way. And that doesn’t make it not Great Food. Please. Don’t start with that. But this is definitely casual food. Sweatshirt food, if you will.
2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Let’s get to saucing! Behold my sister’s elegant hand, throwing some fresh garlic onto what shall be her cheesely pizza. Yeah, check that out:
Pizza peels are nice but also unnecessary. You can do this all on cookie sheets. Just …. remember the cornmeal. As you can see from this photograph, I forgot the cornmeal.
David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 4: Improvise all you like, but mind your crucial details. Also, learn from my mistakes. Please.
Cornmeal, when placed on a pizza peel, serves as ball-bearings that allow your pizza to slide around with impunity. Without them, the dough sticks to the peel and then it’ll stick to the stone and really the whole thing becomes a mess. Cornmeal with pizza. Trust me.
Cheese it, it’s the cops! … Sorry.
Here’s the spinach pizza, with a little extra mozzarella on top for good luck. You can see that the sauce is a little wet; but I figured it’d cook off in the oven and I was right. And notice the cornmeal on the pizza peel.
4. Put that sucker in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. They should look like this:
Slice and eat. Me, I couldn’t be happier. Could you, America?