Who on this earth does not like pizza? The crispy crust, melted cheese, spicy sauce, and scrumptious delectables — it’s one of life’s no-brainers for instant gastronomic pleasure. While I’ve always enjoyed pizza out in the world — John’s slices on Bleeker Street in my old New York hood, Grimalidi’s coal fired pies in Brooklyn, Zachary’s over-stuffed deep dishes in Berkeley, Peppe’s and Sally’s where pizza was born in New Haven, Silverton and Batali’s West Coast bravado at Mozza in LA — I wasn’t a big at-home pizza slinger. Back in New York I used to buy the dough from the pizza shop around the corner and when we moved, I’d pick it up at the market. But I was always disappointed. My oven couldn’t get hot enough, the pizza stone wasn’t big enough, I’d come up with a litany of excuses to convince myself. Sure I could dress up a pizza, but as you probably know, it’s all in the crust. So one hungry evening a few years ago, the heavens opened and Mark Bittman whispered in my ear, Make it yourself, Stupid!
And so we set out to make pizza dough from scratch. I think our reservations had to do with playing with yeast, but the wife and I decided to stop babying around and just give it the old college try. And if by chance we created a yeast fueled dough monster like in Ghostbusters, we’d have one our Henckels ready and sharpened to do battle before it left our kitchen and stormed LA. We started with Bittman’s basic dough recipe and thus our addiction to pizza-from-scratch was born. Now the point of this blog is to find ways to consume our weekly farmer’s market bounty and I’m starting to think that’s why those crazy Italians invented pizza in the first place — as a flavor explosion vehicle. After wrestling the dough enough times to tame the leavening process, pizza-from-scratch became a staple in our diet (don’t tell my cholesterol watching doctor about this one). We’d make it on a stone or just in a baking sheet, we’d try a tomato spread one night, a pesto spread the next. Or maybe it would be naked with a light drizzle of olive oil. The adventure was in the dressing — what vegetables and meats could we combine?
When our old friends Gabriel and Peggy stopped through this weekend en route to Fiji (where they’re currently sipping mai tais while you’re stuck reading this in your cubicle), we cleaned out the fridge for this week’s Pizza-From-Scratch Improv #96. For a sauce, we settled on a white bean-garlic-rosemary puree, also complements of Mr. Bittman (Last time we made a garlic scape-white bean puree). Then came the farmer’s market veggies — some cipollini onions, which we sweated until sweet and tender, some tomatoes, a sliced red onion, a bell pepper, a bunch of garlicky sautéed chard, and loads of fresh basil. For the carnivore pizza, we threw in some sweet and hot sausages and fried them out of the casings. Then came mighty mozzarella and peppy parmesan. Twenty minutes in the very hot oven later… Pizza Pegriel was born (a combo of their names — their idea, not mine).
Mark Bittman’s Basic Pizza Dough (for one cookie-sheet size pizza)
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast (1 package)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
In food processor, combine flour, yeast and salt. While processor is running, add olive oil and up to 1 cup warm water a little at a time until the mixture starts to form a ball. (The wife says be careful not to add too much water.) Place dough on a floured work surface and knead into a ball. (The wife says if you’re lazy and don’t want to clean a floured work surface, you can just flour your hands and knead in the air.) Place dough in bowl and cover until dough rises to about twice its original size (one to two hours).
Mark Bittman’s White Bean Puree (Doctored slightly)
1 can or 2 cups cooked cannelini beans, rinsed thoroughly if from a can and drained.
2 garlic cloves
Kosher salt in and fresh black pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil or more to taste
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Puree everything in the food processor and doctor to your tastes.