There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone that your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.
I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza.
My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:
The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. My favorite new source is Central Milling in Logan, Utah. They make an organic 00 flour that makes for a great crust. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:
6 cups (16 oz.) 00 flour
1 1/3 cups tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil
I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor with a dough blade, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for at least 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise at least another 2 hours again.
I’ve written before about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.
San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.
I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. A nice hunk of your favorite fresh mozarella is all you need.
A matter of choice. I wrote a while ago about how I make my own guanciale, a cured meat that comes from pork cheeks. Chopped and fried, that is one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings.
But my signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in freezer bags to use all year long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.
Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly for about 45 minutes before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.
Recently, I’ve also started cooking pizzas on my barbecue grill (using a special stone for the grill) to add a smoky component. The grill gets hotter than my home oven, which is great, but it’s obviously a more work to set-up and clean.
My favorite pizza?
There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, it’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s a small, rustic pizza margherita using mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is the fact that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in deep fryer with olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on and quickly bake it in a very hot oven. The end result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had.
I’ve had some great success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing the dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!