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A Big, Homemade Pizza Pie

December 19, 2012 By:
Linda Morel, JE Feature
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The aroma of homemade pizza is so tantalizing, it will send anyone near your oven into ecstasy. Because I was always quick to order pizza, I didn’t start baking my own until a recent trip to Naples, the city that claims to have invented this plucky spheroid.

 
The pizza we know today evolved from flavored flatbreads common throughout the ancient and medieval Mediterranean world. While pies of many varieties were sold for centuries as street food to poor people on the Italian peninsula, food historians are not certain of pizza’s origins.
 
However, in 1889 baker Raffaele Esposito of Naples created the modern pizza. Because he wanted to honor a visit from King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita, he named his masterpiece Pizza Marghe­rita. He prepared it with ingredients representing the red, green and white colors of the Italian flag, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. He was the first person to add cheese to this humble pie.
 
Today, Neapolitans are passionate about pizza, particularly Pizza Margherita. Wherever you walk within the city, you’re near a brick oven stoked by crackling wood. Tourists and locals alike wait outside the most popular pizzerias, as the aroma of voluptuous dough and sizzling cheese wafts out the door.
 
Inspired by the mouthwatering pizzas I tried in Naples, I began experimenting with doughs and toppings as soon as I got home. Friends and family lingered around my kitchen, vying for a slice as soon as the oven door opened.
 
Admittedly, preparing pizza is time consuming, so I understand why people buy pies from pizzerias. But once you’ve been seduced by homemade pizza, you’ll think twice before picking up the phone to call in an order.
 
The Dough
2 tsps. plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yukon gold potato
3⁄4 cup plus 2 Tbsps. lukewarm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1⁄8 tsp. sugar
2 and 1⁄2 cups flour, plus up to 1⁄4 cup, plus additional 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. plus 1 tsp. cornmeal for sprinkling
 
Preheat oven to 175˚. 
 
Coat a large, oven-proof bowl with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and reserve.
 
Peel the potato, rinse under cold water and cut into quarters. Place in a small pot, add water and bring to a boil. Boil until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool briefly. Move to a second bowl and mash with a fork. Cover and reserve.
 
Place 3⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of warm water in a third bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and sugar. Stir briefly with a fork until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 12 minutes.
Turn off the oven and keep door closed.
 
In a fourth very large bowl, place 21⁄2 cups flour and the salt. Spoon the potato around the edges. Make a well in the center and gradually pour in the yeast mixture and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir with a fork until a crumbly dough forms.
 
Knead the dough for 10 minutes, squeezing it with your hands and pushing it with the heel of your hand. Dough will be sticky. From the 1⁄4 cup of flour, sprinkle in a little flour as you knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. Should it become sticky again, sprinkle in a little more flour. Repeat as needed. You may not require the entire 1⁄4 cup of flour.
 
Form the dough into a ball. Move ball to the oiled bowl. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the warm oven and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
 
Remove bowl of dough from oven with mitts. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon or so of flour on your counter. Place dough on the floured counter and punch down. Stretch the dough by placing one hand in the center of the dough and pulling it with the other hand. Form it into a 10-inch circle. Cover dough with a linen towel for 5 minutes.
 
Place the pizza stone in the oven. Turn the oven to 450˚. Heat the stone for at least 30 minutes.
 
Sprinkle cornmeal on the baker’s peel. After dough has risen for 5 minutes, transfer it to the peel. Cover dough again with a linen towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
 
When dough has risen, use your fingers to curl up the ends of the circle. Arrange one of the toppings below on the surface.
 
Carefully sprinkle 1 teaspoon of cornmeal on the center of the hot pizza stone. Slide the prepared pizza from the peel onto the stone. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until edges brown and the toppings are cooked through. Remove pizza from the oven with the peel. Roll the pizza cutter over the pie and cut it into slices. Serve immediately.
 
Makes 8 slices.
 
TOPPINGS:
 
Neopolitan
(Dairy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 lb. mozzarella, sliced thin and cut into small pieces
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into 4 to 5 slices each
1 can (2 oz.) of anchovies, drained of oil and cut in half
12 basil leaves
 
Follow the instructions for the Margherita above — but place the anchovies on top of the tomato slices. 
 
White on White
(Dairy)
1⁄2 cup ricotta cheese
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1⁄4 lb. mozzarella, sliced thin and cut into small pieces
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium onion, sliced into thin circles
 
Spread the ricotta cheese over the pizza dough. Sprinkle the garlic over the ricotta. Place the mozzarella over the garlic. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Place the onion circles over that.
 
Margherita 
(Dairy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 lb. mozzarella, sliced thin and cut into small pieces
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into 4 to 5 slices each
12 basil leaves
 
Sprinkle the garlic over the dough. Place the mozzarella over the garlic. Sprinkle on the Par­mesan. Place the cherry tomato slices over the Parmesan.
 
Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, as directed. One minute before the pizza is ready, pull the oven rack toward you and carefully sprinkle on the basil. Close the oven door and finish baking the pie.
 
Ricotta and Broccoli
(Dairy)
2 stems of broccoli
2 Tbsps. olive oil
kosher salt to taste
1⁄2 cup ricotta
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese
 
Cut florets off the broccoli. Slice the larger ones into halves or thirds. Heat oil in a large skillet on a medium flame. Place the broccoli in the oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Saute briefly until barely wilted. Reserve.
 
Spread ricotta over the dough. Sprinkle the garlic over the ricotta. Sprinkle on the Par­mesan. Spoon the broccoli on the top.
 
Fontina and Arugula
(Dairy)
1⁄4 lb. arugula
2 Tbsps. olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1⁄2 lb. fontina cheese, cut into thin slices
1⁄4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more if spicy hot is desired
1⁄3 cup Parmesan cheese
 
Place the arugula in a colander and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on a medium flame. Add the arugula and stir. Saute very briefly until just wilted.
 
Sprinkle the garlic over the pizza dough. Arrange the fontina on top of the garlic. Place the arugula over the fontina and sprinkle on the red pepper flakes. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top of the pizza.

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