“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.
This followed by a couple of days what has become a not-atypical dinner at my house, where I served a pizza bianca, lightly sprinkled with olive oil, salt and rosemary, and threw together a pie with a tomato sauce based on a slew of onions and a bit of guanciale (only because I happened to have some), along with a sufficient amount of grated Parmesan to make its presence known.
I won’t even get into the money-saving part; people who cook at home for economic reasons already know about that. I will say that my crust tasted better, and my pizza was more properly cooked (yes, that’s a matter of taste, but do you really want to eat a bialy with tomato and cheese, as seems to have become de rigueur?) and better sauced than the one I ate a few days later in Midtown.
Yours can be, too, and I know that because I’m not really that good at making pizza. In fact, two or three of my close friends do it better, and I know of others.
It’s about three things: some confidence, practice and a food processor. This piece is my attempt to instill you with the first, encourage you to get the second and implore you to use the third, though even that’s not necessary, since there is an alternative: the no-knead method popularized by Jim Lahey. I’ve gone back and forth between the two, but for ease, lack of mess and more-flexible timing, I’ve come to prefer the food processor. Still, make the dough however you like, because you won’t go wrong.
From the beginning, the food processor was justifiably promoted as a tool for making dough. (My longstanding guide for this, by the way, is “The Best Bread Ever,” by my friend Charles Van Over.)
I love it for pizza because you can make the dough in five minutes. (A video of this is here.) Although rushing isn’t ideal, you can start pressing or rolling out the pizza 20 minutes later. (Use the larger amount of yeast if you’re doing this.) Which means, in a pinch, start to finish in an hour.
What is ideal is letting the dough rest for a while in the refrigerator or even freezer, though for best quality not for more than a few days. The advantages of this technique, besides the obvious convenience (make the dough in the morning or up to a few days before, and just let it come to room temperature before proceeding), is that the dough matures, marginally improving its flavor and making it considerably easier to handle.
There are, of course, some fine points, but even here there’s flexibility. Should you roll the dough or pat it out? That’s your call. (If you pat it out, you can leave it thick and dimpled — use your fingertips — and call it focaccia.) Should you use a pizza peel and a stone? Well, yes, and if you preheat the stone for a good half-hour, the crust will crackle even more, but it isn’t essential. I didn’t have a peel for a couple of years (no room) and used a piece of plywood or a flexible cutting board. And if you don’t have a stone, a baking or cookie sheet will do fine; just use a little olive oil to keep the dough from sticking. This will give you a crisper crust, one sort of halfway to the fried dough Pete Wells writes about this week.
A whole-wheat crust? Sure, 50 percent; it won’t be as crisp or have the same “pull,” but it will have a deeper flavor and give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. (You can also integrate herbs, garlic, dried chiles, loads of black pepper, cornmeal, whatever, into the crust; the food processor makes this incredibly easy.) Extra-crisp crust with extra-moist topping? Prebake the crust about halfway, with just a bit of olive oil on top, then add everything else and return to the oven.
Mix the dough by hand? Yes, but you’re increasing your workload or, if you go for the no-knead method, your time. If your food processor isn’t big or powerful enough for the recipe here, halve the recipe or get a new food processor. Other uses for the dough? Fried pizza or calzone, both discussed elsewhere in this section; rolls or bread or even those silly garlic knots. But pizza is the highest and best use.
The options don’t stop, and we haven’t even started on toppings. When it comes to these, I’m pretty conservative, favoring the kind of treatments I mentioned earlier, or pizza with potatoes (a legitimate Roman favorite, obviously for carb lovers), eggplant or zucchini.
Others include the obvious, like tomato sauce of almost any type, with or without mozzarella and/or Parmesan; fresh tomatoes; pepperoni; anchovies; sausage (cooked or crumbled); chorizo or other cured meat; olives; onion cooked to any degree or not at all, with olive oil; pesto (or fresh basil); eggplant or zucchini, sautéed or grilled first, with or without cheese and/or tomatoes; seafood (raw clams, oysters, shrimp, scallops, lightly steamed mussels, lobster, whatever), preferably with garlic, oregano and oil.
I don’t wander far from those, which doesn’t mean you can’t. It’s all optional, and all good. Better, in fact.