Pizza at Home – My Two Cents

Pizza dough is remarkably simple to make yet “perfect” dough can be elusive due to the lack of technique and improper tools.  So here are my two cents…

1.  Equipment

  • Buy a Baking Stone that is at least an inch thick and large enough to accomodate pizza and bread.  I always recommend going a bit larger than you would think for a few reasons:  a large stone retains heat and provides a bigger target for you to place your pizza/bread upon.
  •  Invest in a pizza peel.  I personally favor the stainless steel version.  It’s strong, thin, and easy to store next to the refrigerator.
  • Parchment Paper is the best “cheat” I’ve ever used.

2.  Technique

  • Proper hydration of the dough is crucial, so follow the recipe exactly unless you are a master breadmaker.
  • I use two recipes:  Jim Lahey’s No Knead or the one from FornoBravo.com
  • Learn how to stretch/toss the dough.  It may look a little hard at first, but it’s quite easy and makes for a wonderfully thin crust.  Mind the ceiling fan!  Here’s a great video of the technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWL__9yDu8I
  • HOT Oven.  Crank it up as hot as it goes.  500 to 550 depending on the make and model.  After preheated give your stone at least 30 minutes to get up to temperature.
  • CHEAT: Place parchment paper on your peel.  Place the dough on the parchment paper and assemble your pizza.  Place in the hot oven and after a minute or two of cooking you can quickly reach in and pull out the parchment paper while using the peel to lift up the pizza about an inch.  **NOTE** Make sure you remove it after a few minutes otherwise it will brown and possibly ignite.  Kitchen fires = Lame!

3.  Quality Ingredients

  • The Dough.  I find that using the extra fine 00 flour makes all the difference in the world.  If you like thin dough with a wonderful texture I have had great success with Farino di Grano Tenero Tipo 00.
  • Don’t use canned sauce.  Build your own!  It’s cheap and quick and you can tailor the flavor to your own preferences.  My personal recipe is something like this:
    – 1 Can or Tetra Pak of quality tomatoes.  I like Pomi Chopped Tomatoes.
    – 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
    – 2 TBSP Olive Oil
    – Pinch of red pepper flakes
    – Oregano, Fennel Seed, Salt & Pepper
    Saute the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant (a minute or two).  Add the tomato, S&P, red pepper flakes and herbs.  Simmer until flavors meld ~15 minutes.  Cool and use!
  • The Cheese – Mozzarella.  Fresh if possible, as it melts so much better and has a lovely texture and flavor.
  • Fresh Vegetables!  Be creative, but don’t use anything canned!!
  • Flavorful meat with a focus on quality over quantity.
  • Fresh Basil – for garnish

Pizza is a wonderful invention and there’s no reason you can’t make a wonderful version at home.

Cheers!

A Weekend in the Poconos – 03/26/10: Asiago Chicken with Pancetta; Homemade Pizza

This trip to the Poconos was centered around the kitchen and the amazing meals we had planned.  Due to the rain and temperatures hovering in the 30’s we decided to cook entrees that would warm us from the inside out.  On Friday night I decided to cook Asiago Chicken with a side of Chive Polenta, Mushrooms and Onions with Gorgonzola, and Green Beans.

Here are the recipes:

Asiago Chicken

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
4 slices Asiago cheese (1/8″ thick)
Flour
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 slices pancetta
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh thyme or fresh oregano

Mix some salt and pepper (1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper) along with about 1/2 c. of flour in a shallow bowl or plate.  Dredge chicken breasts, shaking off any excess flour.  Place chicken in a hot oven-proof skillet with ~ 1-2 Tbsp olive oil (as needed).  Turn on broiler and move rack to the top shelf.  Cook the chicken until golden brown (3-4 minutes), flip and cook additional 3-4 minutes.  Place 1 slice of cheese followed by 1 slice of pancetta on each chicken breast.  Place in broiler and cook until chicken reaches 160F (~4-5 minutes) and pancetta “crisps”.  Remove chicken from pan and cover with foil.  Add 1/2 of wine and finely chopped herbs to pan, deglaze, and reduce until thickened.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

On Saturday night we had some delicious homemade, thin-crust pizzas that Brie made.

The one on the left was a spinach (sautéed with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil), oyster mushroom, and gorgonzola pizza.   The gorgonzola melted perfectly and the spinach blend had a lovely taste and texture.  The oyster mushrooms really held up well and were still firm, without a touch of the slipperiness that button mushrooms can have.  The crust had good flavor, and was made with a touch of red wine (thank you Mr. Batali).

The second pizza (on the right) featured roasted red peppers, hot italian sausage (crumbled and cooked beforehand), oyster mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and a homemade red-sauce base. 

New York City – President’s Day Weekend with Friends

The President’s Day three-day weekend is a much-needed reprieve in the middle of February.  My friends, Ian and Mike, came out to NYC for a few days to blow off some steam and enjoy the offerings of the city.  As always, by the time they left I thought my liver was going to explode and my lack of sleep was catching up with me.  Here are the highlights:

Thursday:

Friday:

Saturday:

  • A walking exploration of Chinatown.
  • Had some tea at Mr. Tea, a small little tea and snack shop on a side street in Chinatown.
  • Basilica – a great little Italian place in Hell’s Kitchen.  I had the squid ink pasta with shrimp and a side of garlic toast.  Brie and I split a bottle of Montepulciano.

Sunday:

  • Coney Island The classic getaway for New Yorker’s.  Everything from the boardwalk and the beach to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and the Cyclone.
  • NYC Aquarium A decent aquarium, but I would have expected more for a city such as NYC.
  • Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs.  There’s something awesome about a classic hot dog that snaps when you bite into it.  NOTE: Try and not pay attention to the calorie postings.
  • A return trip to Valhalla with some Sacco Pizza.  The beauty of this bar (in addition to the beer selection) is the fact you can bring in your own food.

Monday:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
  • Halal Cart – Street vendors that sell things such as Falafel and Gyro sandwiches.  Our delicious Gyro sandwiches (half lamb, half chicken) were smothered in white sauce and hot sauce.

In addition to the major events listed above, we watched the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and played drinking games while watching Three Sheets.  As always, it was a great time and we made the most out of the short time and bad weather.  Until next time!

I am also including some of the pieces that struck a chord with me while at the MoMA and Met.

Monet, Hopper, Warhol, Braque, Picasso, Miro, Klee


Pizza al Taglio – Pizza Rustica / 2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot

With the bounty of vegetables in the refrigerator calling our name, Brie decided that a pizza would be a delicious way of reducing the supply. 

The whole wheat crust was made from scratch and the toppings included garlic, marinated diced tomatoes, olive oil, chopped mushrooms, roasted eggplant, thinly sliced yellow onions, thinly sliced italian salami (on my half), fresh basil, a dash of fennel, a dash of oregano, and finished with some mozzarella.  It was then put into a HOT oven until browned and bubbling.

I think one of my favorite things about pizza is the texture difference between the different toppings.  The chewiness of the crust, the softness of the cook vegetables, the crisp edges of cheese.

I think I’m going to have to go eat some leftovers now, I’m making myself hungry.

With the pizza we split a bottle of 2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot.  It was a very smooth Bordeaux that is drinking well right now, but would probably be even better after a few more years of aging..  However, since we have no wine cellar or wine refrigerator, these bottles need to be consumed sooner than later.