Category Archives: Pizza

Neapolitan D.O.C.-ish Pizza

I call it “-ish” because my brick oven pizza doesn’t strictly adhere to Italian D.O.C. regulations. But then why should it really? I live in Kentucky. Going nuts procuring perfectly authentic everything — tomatoes, flour, oil, cheese and salt — plus making my dough in perfect accordance with D.O.C. strictures — to my mind goes against the whole brick-oven-on-your-patio pizza aesthetic.

Which is?

Well, which is get the highest quality ingredients you can reasonably find (and afford), pour yourself a glass of wine and have yourself a nice time. Stressing out about whether what you’re making tastes exactly like the pizza you once had in Naples, well, that’s a sure fire way to ruin an evening. And who knows? Yours might be even — do I dare to utter a pizza blasphemy? — better.

So then, to begin, get a nice hot fire going in your JC Penny Model 3701 EZ-Hearth brick oven according to the instructions over there on the right side menu. You want it to burn down to near embers, but still with a few flames here or there (you’re shooting for an interior temperature of between 900 and 1000 degrees). While the fire is burning down, array your accoutrement on a work surface nearby: your pizza peel, your toppings, oil and salt.

What’s the glass of wine for? I’ll give you one guess. Standing by a hot oven turning out pizza is thirsty work!

Next, array your fire. Using a wire brush or other scooping instrument, push the embers to the back of the oven space. This will be your baking area (at least once you’ve brushed away the last bits of ember and ash and swabbed it lightly with a wet rag mop). As I said, you want some flame at the back at all times when making pizza, since the air above the baking surface should be somewhere around 1300 degrees. If the flames die down, just put in another small log and push it to the back wall, on the top of the ember pile, with one of your implements.

A ball of dough at the ready (see recipe below), generously dust a wooden peel with flour or corn meal.

Now then for the shaping. This is easier than I once thought it was. Start by putting down one of your dough pieces on the peel and dimpling it around the edges with your fingers. Try not to deflate the dough out to the very edges since you want the edge (cornice) of the pizza to puff up nicely in the oven.

Stretch the dough out into a circle by patting it, stretching it outward from the middle with your fingertips and rotating, even spinning it a bit (not enough flour? Add more). Tug on it lightly with with the fingers of your other hand some as you rotate it around. In this instance my other hand is busy taking pictures.

What you’re after is a round about twelve inches across. When you’re finished, jiggle the peel a little bit to make sure it isn’t sticking. If it is, lift the round and throw a dusting of flour underneath to keep it detached.

Now apply your toppings. Here I’m making a basic Margherita. Here are the tomatoes. Notice I’m not using a sauce, just plain tomatoes straight from the can (yes, that’s how the Italians do it), well drained and chopped. This is not a sauce, a sauce is too wet for this type of application.

Some pieces of fresh mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella is most authentic, but who has that kind of money?

Some fresh basil leaves…

And lastly a healthy drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of kosher salt.

Lay the pizza directly on the floor of the brick oven, letting it sit for about 30 seconds, or until the bottom crust bakes and is rigid. At that point insert a metal peel (yes I have two, I use the metal one as my retrieval peel since it’s better for scooping), pick up the pizza and rotate it 180 degrees. Put it back down for another 30 seconds until the cheese is bubbly and the crust appetizingly charred. The Neapolitans say your cheese should only be melted, with no spots of brown. Mine almost always has a few. So what are those Neapolitans gonna do…sue me?

Offload the pizza onto a metal restaurant-style pizza plate (the 12-inch versions will cost you $5.99 at any restaurant supply store), cut and serve immediately. Consume with beer if you want to do it the true Italian way. I like mine with wine.

…so what?

A great “Neo-Neapolitan” pizza crust recipe comes from Peter Reinhart’s book American Pie, which I heartily recommend. It goes like this:

1 lb. 9 ounces (5 cups) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
2 teaspoons salt (or 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 to 2 cups room-temperature water

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or mix in an electric mixer for 4 minutes. After you’ve combined all of the ingredients, set the dough aside to rest for 5 minutes. Stir again for 2 more minutes. The dough should be a bitt stickier than you’d normally expect. If you’re using an electric mixer, it should pull away from the sides of the bowl, yet stick some to the bottom.

For Neapolitan-style pizza, you want your dough pieces no heavier than 7.5 ounces…so divide the dough into five pieces. Form into a rough ball, then put the balls into individual ziploc bags that you’ve lubed with nonstick spray. Let the bags sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then put in the refrigerator overnight.

Take the dough balls out of the fridge 2 hours before you plan on making pizza to take of the chill and let them rise.

NOTE: Try this in your home oven too! The results won’t be identical, but they’ll be darn tasty. Just put your pizza stone directly on the floor of your oven and turn your oven as high as it’ll go. Bake for about 7 minutes. If you’re not getting the browning on top you need, finish it under the broiler!

FIRE-TENDING NOTE: For all those brick oven owners who really want to try and do things the authentic Italian way, scoop a peel-full of hard wood chips onto your fire just before baking. The extra smoke, so it’s said, really gives the pizza that brick oven je-ne-sais-quoi.

Filed under:  Bread, Neapolitan Pizza | 10 Comments

Chicago-Style Pizza

The first thing to do when setting out to make a Chicago-style deep dish pizza is to disabuse yourself of the notion that what you are about to make is in any way Italian. It’s American fast food, and if you want it to be good, you must treat it as such. That means premium-quality ingredients, not gourmet ones. No San Marzano tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella or Italian flour. Del Monte, Kraft and General Mills are fine (and probably better than what the actual pizzeria is using). So don’t get fancy, since that impulse will work against creating the perfect Chicago pie.

So then, using the recipe below, proceed as follows. Combine all your dry ingredients in a bowl like so…

…and whisk lightly to blend (yes this is going to be a detailed tutorial since the dough preparation is the most important part of the process).

Add your cooked and riced (or finely grated) potato…

…and work it into the mixture with your fingers.

Repeat the process with the oil. Pour it in…

…fold it in a little with a spatula…

…then finish working it in by hand…tum-tee-tum-tum…

Now all you need to add is your lukewarm water…

Again fold it in a bit, then knead it lighty — very lightly — by hand until it comes together in a ball.

Kneading lightly is important since you want to avoid activating much gluten if you can. You’ll invariably get some going, but be gentle here. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth…just about like so:

Now for a short rising (is your oven preheating?). The idea here is to let the yeast go just long enough to create a few crust-lightening bubbles, but not so many that the dough loses its fundamental density. An hour to 75 minutes at the most, by which time it won’t have risen demonstrably, however it will get little bit spongy. About like so:

Now we’re ready to shape it into a crust. Flour your rolling surface and apply the pin, rolling it out to a roughly twelve-inch circle. I use a ten-inch straight-sided tart pan for this (the photo up at the top makes it look like it’s flared out like a pie pan, but that’s just the macro lens perpective). A pizza pan will obviously work just fine too.

Drape the dough over your pan and press it down into the corners. Did you tear it? No problem, stick it back together. Is it too thin one one side? Then rip a little excess off from somewhere and stick it down where you need it. This dough ain’t fussy.

Once that’s done “dock” it with a fork to keep it from bubbling up in the oven (don’t forget those pan corners!).

Then parbake it for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Once that’s done you can let the crust sit for as long as you like (though not more than a few hours). When you’re ready cover the bottom with mozzarella. Hey! Is that pre-grated mozzarella??? Of course it is! Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying?

Then put on your toppings (I don’t recommend any more than two, three tops, and then only a scarce scattering).

Then splatter heaping spoonfuls of sauce onto the top of the pizza. Not too thick now, just enough to redden the top. On which note you need not cover everything, about 80 percent is dandy.

There now, all ready for the oven. That wasn’t so hard now was it?

Bake for half an hour — on a pizza stone — at 375, until the cheese bubbles up around the sides and turns golden. Do not “rest” the finished pizza. Eat.

Filed under:  Bread, Chicago Pizza | Leave a comment

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

This recipe is a close match to the legendary Gino’s East cornmeal crust.

The Ingredients:

7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
3 ounces (1/2 cup) cooked russet potato, grated (or riced) and cooled
2 ounces (1/2 cup) finely ground yellow corn meal
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) vegetable oil
3.5 ounces (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) lukewarm water

The Procedure:

Whisk the flour, corn meal, yeast, and salt together. Add the potato, rubbing it into the mixture with your fingers to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Do the same with the vegetable oil. Making a small well in the center of the mixture, add the water, kneading it in gently by hand until the dough is smooth and uniform, about 30 – 45 seconds. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 45 minutes-2 hours depending on how dense or bready you prefer your crust (if less than an hour it may not rise perceceptibly).

Put a pizza stone on a lower rack of your oven and preheat to 400 degrees — a full 45 minutes before you’re planning to bake. When ready, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and roll thinly, roughly to shape. Press it into a 10″ or 11″ pizza, tart or springform pan, leaving a 1-inch lip around the sides (longer-rising doughs will have excess).

Poke holes all around with a fork and par-bake the crust on the stone for 13-15 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven and turn the heat down to 375. Sprinkle pizza with mozzarella cheese, then desired toppings. Top it with your favorite sauce (recipe below if you need one) by splattering heavy spoonfuls over the fillings (don’t worry if the coverage isn’t perfect, you only need to cover about 80% of the total area with sauce). Sprinkle a little fresh-grated parmesan on to finish. Bake on the stone 20-30 minutes or until the edges are golden and the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.

Joe’s Pizza Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil (or half a dozen fresh leaves, torn)
1 28-ounce can tomatoes (not San Marzanos)
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes, or until a sudden wave of garlic smell sweeps out of the pan, telling you it’s ready. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the dried spices and sauté 3-4 minutes more. Put in the tomatoes, crush them with a potato masher, add salt and a couple grindings of pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes. Balance sauce by adding sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the tomato paste and simmer 5 more minutes.

Recipe should make enough sauce for 2 pizzas, depending on how much you like (I usually splatter on about 1 1/2 cups per pizza). It freezes well in tupperware or quart-sized freezer bags.

Filed under:  Bread, Chicago Pizza, Pizza | 12 Comments