Making Perfect Pizza at Home

Making Perfect Pizza at Home

Growing up near New Haven, Connecticut, we are spoiled when it comes to pizza.  In New Haven, Wooster Street is our Little Italy.  A half-mile long stretch of city block dedicated to the some of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in the northeast.  Pepe’s Pizzeria Napolitano and its cousin, Sally’s Pizzeria are some of the oldest pizza places in the country.  They are always high on everyone’s list of favs and people gladly wait the 2+ hours in line for one of their super thin, wood-fired tomato pies.  Tummies stuffed with pizza, no trek to Wooster St. is complete without an Italian ice and a cannoli from Libby’s.  Today, Modern Pizza and Roseland’s in Derby are worth the drive from anywhere.  Determining the best place in New Haven has been fuel for heated debate for the last 75 years.  But it all comes down to a matter of opinion.  For us, great pizza is in arms reach.

Unfortunately for most, Pizza is the good-old American go-to food.  It’s what we order when we don’t really care what we’re eating.  We just pick up the phone and call.  Then in just 30 minutes, it gets hand delivered to our door.  It’s quick. It’s cheap.  It’s easy and it’s dinner.  But it’s hardly Italian food.

On my first trip to Rome, I found out what real pizza was like.  When in Rome, do what the Romans do; drive to Naples to get the best Apizza Napolitano. (Actually Romans are quite proud of their pizza too…I just wanted to use the ‘When In Rome’ pun…)  In Naples, pizza isn’t just stomach filler.  Naples is where pizza is arguably perfected and they take it very seriously.  Here, as well as all over Italy, Italians balk over what Americans do to their beloved dish.  Order a pizza and you will not get a giant slab of cooked dough with toppings a mile high and enough to feed everyone at the table.   Pizza here is a source of pride.  For the typical Italian, it’s all about the freshest ingredients and the simplicity of design.  And there are rules…yes rules…for the construction of the perfect pizza.  The basics are this:  The dough.  The sauce.  The Cheese and Toppings.

The dough:   Fresh handmade dough, hand rolled thin to fit the plate of the individual diner.  Pizza is always an oh-solo-mio event.  For real Italian pizza, the dough is the most important part of the pizza.

The sauce:  Fresh crushed tomatoes lightly seasoned.   The sauce should be applied lightly.  You should be able to read a newspaper through it.  It should barely color the dough pink.  In Rome, the sauce is put on until about 1/2 inch from the crust.  In Naples, the sauce goes right to the end of the dough. 

Cheese:  Thin slices of Mozzarella or a sprinkling of parmesan.  Not too heavy handed.

Toppings:  The major rule about toppings is that they should NEVER be thicker than the crust.  While pizza in the US is all about the toppings, toppings on real Italian pizza are more about simplicity.

Back in the Netherlands, I went into a pizza withdrawal. Except for a very few exceptions (Renato’s in de Pijp section of Amsterdam is one of the best),   pizza here is varying shades of bad.  Undercooked pre-processed crust, terrible sauce and covered with *gasp* Dutch GOUDA cheese instead of mozzarella!  As with so many things here, if I was going to get good pizza, I was going to have to make it myself. 

Luckily, after remodeling my kitchen, my brand new Boretti oven came with a 90 cm pizza stone.  At the time I thought I would never use it.  But after 10 years, it’s one kitchen ‘gadget’ that gets more use than I thought.  Crank the heat up to the max and I can make pizza that can match some of the best.  A pizza peel is also a good gadget if you have a pizza stone.  Otherwise, cooking your pizza on a cookie sheet works just fine too. 

Keeping in mind that pizza is all about the crust, it’s actually quite easy to make authentic pizza yourself.  If you have dough leftover, you can freeze it.  To thaw,  put it in the microwave at 10% power for about 5-10 mins (depending on the size of your dough).  Check often so it doesn’t cook. 

 Here’s the recipe:

Pizza topped with mozz, marscapone, capers, parma ham and finished off with fresh rucola

 The Best Homemade Pizza

Dough Starter:

1 package (2 teaspoons)  dried yeast

¼ Cup warm water

¾ Cup flour

Dough:

1 Cup Water

1 teaspoon salt

2 ¼ Cup flour

Sauce:

5 peeled and crushed Roma tomatoes. (or a can of crushed tomatoes if you pressed for time)

1 crushed clove of garlic

1 teaspoons salt.

Toppings

Thinly sliced mozzarella cheese, Choose from:  grated parmesan, fresh chopped basil, thinly sliced mushrooms, an egg (raw – it cooks in the oven), sliced olives, Parma ham(put on pizza AFTER it comes out of the oven – YUM), mascarpone cheese, chopped garlic,  rucola, pine nuts, or whatever your heart desires..

Mix starter ingredients in a small-medium mixing bowl.  It will be rather stiff and crumbly.  Cover and let sit one hour. 

After an hour,  add the cup of water to the starter.  In a large bowl  of a mixer with a dough hook, mix flour and salt.  Add starter.  On a medium setting,  knead the dough  for about 3-5 minutes.  The dough will be very soft so it’s better with a mixer than by hand. 

Divide the dough in 4 pieces, shape into balls and put on a well floured plate or cookie sheet.  Cover and let stand until double (about an hour).  You can start this at about 4:00 to make pizza for a 6:30 dinner. 

Preheat your oven to 450-500F.  Place a pizza stone on the lowest level. To make crust, dredge a dough ball in flour and roll out dough on a floured surface.  Try to get it as close to a circle shape as possible.  It should be very thin, about ¼ inch or less.  Dusting with extra flour will make it easier to roll out.  Then, pre-cook the dough to keep the toppings from making the dough soggy. This also makes it easier to push the topped pizza in the oven.  Do this by, putting the dough on a peel and shove it in the oven for 2-3 minutes until a bit puffy but still white.  This is important because a home oven cannot even come close to the temperature of commercial ovens.  So pre-cooking the dough keeps your pizza crispy on the bottom with perfectly cooked toppings.  Repeat with the rest of the balls. 

For something fun,  I put one pre-made crust on everyone plate and let my guests put their own toppings on.  My oven can cook 2 pizzas at the same time.  Have your guests top their pizzas just before going into the oven.   If they are prepared too much in advance, they will be soggy. I always serve a salad so the people that are waiting will have something to do. They can eat their salad first. 

Pizzas take about 4-5 minutes each to cook.  I find that the oven has some recovery time between pizzas, so the later ones may take a few minutes longer. 

Buon Apetito!

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