Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Gastronomy – Homemade Pizza

Posted on: March 9, 2011

I live in New York, where excellent, award-winning pizza abounds, but there’s nothing like making it at home from scratch.  You may lose the instant gratification of walking into a pizzeria and grabbing a slice, but it’s cheaper, a little healthier, and way more fun to make your own. If you cook as an activity rather than as a means to an end, then this is the recipe for you.  Making pizza from scratch is surprisingly easy, but it does take time.  Luckily most of it is not active time, so with a little forethought, you should be able to fit a homemade pizza into your day.


DOUGH

Dough is the only part of pizza-making where precision is required. The food processor + dough blade method is the easiest, and it will keep your arms from getting tired.  Pizza dough is pretty sticky, and not the easiest stuff to work with, so it’s nice to let the machine do the work for you.  The trick is to add the water very slowly so that the liquid gradually blends into the dry ingredients. You should end up with a sticky ball of dough spinning around the bowl of the processor.  If you do make the dough by hand, begin by stirring it with a heavy spoon, then when it gets denser finish it up with your hands.  I like to use half whole wheat flour because it’s more flavorful and nutritious, but whole wheat dough can be stickier, so it is a little trickier than the all-white stuff.  If you use whole wheat, you’ll need to add about ½ cup more water

Stretching out the dough into an actual pizza pie takes a lot of practice. I don’t use a rolling pin; it’s easier to control the thickness of the dough when you flatten it by hand.  I love thin crust pizza, but be careful not to go too thin or you’ll end up with holes in the dough—an eighth to a quarter of an inch is a good target.  The one thing I find completely awe-inspiring now is how pizzerias can make round pizzas.  Mine always end up looking like ovals at best, and butterflies or amoebas at worst.  But there’s no room for superficiality in homemade pizza.  It will taste the same, even if it’s not winning any beauty pageants.

THE PIZZA TOOL BELT

I make enough pizza that I invested in a pizza stone, which remains in the oven and absorbs heat to become a little like a brick oven, plus a pizza peel, which is basically a giant spatula that helps you transfer the pizza onto and off the stone.  Alternately, any large flat surface (e.g. cutting board, rimless baking sheet.) will substitute for the peel, and a baking sheet can replace the stone.

If you do go the pizza stone and peel route, I have two secret weapons: parchment paper and cornmeal.  Parchment paper helps you transfer the floppy, sticky dough to the stone in the oven without totally destroying the shape.  I have a tendency to go nuts with toppings, and the pizza gets really weighed down and difficult to transport to the oven, even with the right tools.  I’ve learned that you can place the flattened dough on parchment paper and then, with a pizza peel, transfer the whole thing to the stone to bake for just 2 minutes.  When it comes out, it will be much sturdier, and you can add toppings to your heart’s content.  This isn’t necessary if you’re using a baking sheet, which you can easily lift into and out of the oven.  In that case, you put the flattened dough onto the sheet and top it without pre-baking.  While this method sounds easier, the stone makes much better pizza: the crust will cook more evenly, and the porous stone will extract moisture from the dough, making it perfectly crispy.

The cornmeal creates a layer that keeps the pizza dough from sticking.  Once you’ve pre-baked and topped the pizza, remove it from the parchment paper, sprinkle some cornmeal onto your pizza stone as well as your pizza peel, and transfer the assembled pizza to the stone.

Potato Pizza

TOPPINGS

Once you get the dough down, it’s time to embrace your own taste buds and get creative. This is the best part of homemade pizza, and recipes are completely unnecessary.  You can go traditional with tomato sauce (or plain crushed tomatoes), mozzarella, and Parmesan, or you can go way outside of the box (sweet potato, pear, pistachio… for better or worse, I’ve tried them all).  One note on sauce: a little goes a long way.  If you’re using tomato sauce, only put so much on that you can still just see the dough through the sauce.  My favorite home pizza creation was inspired by the potato pizza at Five Points restaurant in New York.  I used caramelized onions, Parmesan, mozzarella, thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, truffle oil, and chopped parsley sprinkled on top toward the end of the baking time.  It was pretty outrageous. For your pizzas, literally anything goes so don’t take it too seriously.  Some suggestions: arugula, spinach, basil, fresh tomatoes, blue cheese, goat cheese, apple, egg, sautéed mushrooms, chicken sausage, chorizo, prosciutto, olives, peppers, jalapeno, meatballs.  Happy pizza baking!

Pizza Dough

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Makes: Enough for 1 large or 2 or more small pies

Time: 1 hour or more

To make pizza dough by hand or with a standing mixer, follow the directions, but use a bowl and a heavy wooden spoon or the mixer’s bowl and the paddle attachment instead of the food processor. When the dough becomes too heavy to stir, use your hands or exchange the mixer’s paddle for the dough hook and proceed with the recipe.

For Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, use 1 1/2 cups each whole wheat and white flour (all-purpose or bread flour). You’ll probably need to add closer to 1 1/2 cups water or maybe even a little more.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons instant yeast

2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling onto the dough

Your choice of toppings

1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on and very slowly add 1 cup water and the oil through the feed tube.

2. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is still dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time.)

3. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. (You can cut this rising time short if you’re in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the refrigerator, for up to 6 or 8 hours.) Proceed to Step 4 or wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or a zipper bag and freeze for up to a month. (Defrost in the bag or a covered bowl in the refrigerator or at room temperature; bring to room temperature before shaping.)

4. When the dough is ready, form it into a ball and divide it into 2 or more pieces if you like; roll each piece into a round ball. Put each ball on a lightly floured surface, sprinkle with flour, and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rest until they puff slightly, about 20 minutes.

5. Sprinkle your work surface with flour to prevent sticking.  Place the ball of dough on the work surface and flatten it out, either with your hands or with a rolling pin, pushing out with your fingers from the center of the ball.  Make the dough as thin as possible.  If you’ve divided the ball into two, each flattened pie should be about 14 inches in diameter and 1/8 to ¼ inch thick.  Brush the pizza dough with a few drops of olive oil.

6.  Put the dough on a sheet of parchment paper and onto a pizza stone if you have one.  Bake for 2 to 3 minutes.  If you’re not using a pizza stone, skip this step.

7. Remove the pizza and parchment paper from the oven and top the pizza as desired.  Sprinkle your pizza peel or spatula and baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal.  Return the pizza to the oven, without the parchment paper, for another 8 to 10 minutes until the crust is golden brown and crispy, and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Freya Bellin writes weekly for www.markbittman.com and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent pieces include Tapas Dinner Party and Spicy Seasonal Squash Salad.

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7 Responses to "Frontier Gastronomy – Homemade Pizza"

Just made some potato pizza — absolutely delicious!!

[…] web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP pieces include Homemade Pizza and Tapas Dinner […]

[…] web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Risotto, Homemade Pizza and […]

[…] web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Risotto, Homemade Pizza and […]

[…] back to my earlier pizza article, anything goes when it comes to toppings, but eggs are particularly outstanding.  There’s no […]

[…] written about the pizza stone and peel before, but this pair makes a great gift and only gently prods, “Please invite me over for […]

[…] I’ve posted the recipe for this before, check out my earlier pizza party post, full of tips and handy […]

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