When I was really little, I was afraid of the dark. For awhile during my twenties, my acrophobia kept me off escalators. And for the longest time, I've been intimidated by the whole homemade pizza thing. I tried it about a year ago and my oven and pizza stone were a menagerie of burnt corn meal, and crusted, black cheese. Not to mention the crust was too thick, and the clean up was torture.
Roll your eyes if you want. Not all of us are born for pizza greatness. However, with the help of an article in Bon Appetit Magazine, which suggested I forgo the stone and the cornmeal and simply spread my dough out on an olive oil primed cookie sheet and cook it at 500 degrees, along with enough practical logic from other doughy-lessons, I am proud to say, I DID IT. Now I still am experimenting with the right dough from scratch, but you will NOT BELIEVE how amazingly good this pizza was using ready-made dough. (Makes it easy and quick to satisfy the hungry mob, too!)
Here's what I did. First, I used the Publix brand pizza dough. I let it rest on the counter for the requisite hour before opening the plastic and rolling it out. Then, after rolling it the first time and feeling like I was working with a rubber band, I let it sit, in the small disc I had started to roll out, for about 15 minutes so it could rest, and then worked it again. And the second time? Pliable! I rolled it a bit more and and then simply picked it up and began to turn it and stretch it, gently but deliberately, round and around until it was the size of my medium sized cookie sheet. (Bear in mind I was using flour to dust the counter-top, the rolling pin, and my shaking hands.) By that time it easily spread out to nearly the edges of the cookie sheet and I was able to add the condiments. Really, it won't break. It wants to be stretched!
I made two pizzas. One with the following: 1 C asiago cheese, 1 C pecorino romano (both freshly grated) a drizzle of good olive oil, a scattering of cut up San Marzano cherry tomatoes, freshly torn basil, half a can of drained and cut up artichoke hearts, about a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a generous amount of chili flakes. Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt finished the creation and into the oven it went for about 6 -7 minutes. OH MY GOODNESS. Salty, rich, chewy yet just the right amount of crunch to the crust. (That thin crust -- but not too thin -- is what has eluded me.) The cheese made it perfect, even WITHOUT any red sauce was so amazing. The sweet tomatoes and basil were perfect. Just enough heat and the fresh dried oregano (Please, throw out your bottle of old oregano after 6 months to a year, okay?) made everyone at the table go nutso with pleasure.
The second pizza was just a fun. For toppings I started again with the olive oil. Then chunks of goat cheese; the Humbolt Fog Blue Goat Cheese made it out of this world. Then chopped dried figs...I guess about 3/4 C, 2 T fig spread, dalloped on, about 1/2 C caramelized sweet onions (which my friend prepared earlier), and really quality proscuitto. The soft, kind. Then salt and pepper and into the oven for the same amount of time. Right before serving I topped it with fresh arugula, and then a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar.
There are others to thank as well. Jules, the consummate cheese monger at the Publix in Ballantyne, (Charlotte, NC) the editors of Bon Appetit for knowing I would need a nudge this month to try pizza again, (How on earth did they read my mind! Hahah!!) my wonderful friends for helping with advice, encouragement and smiles, and of course my husband who never stopped begging me to "keep trying!"
Or in other words, the controlled chaos of homemade pizza pies.
Yeah, you're saying, "whine, whine, whine. What could be so hard about making pizza." Well, nothing is hard, really, but there are a few details here and there that are rites of passage. And last night, because of two wonderful friends and a husband who agreed to do the dishes, we have a couple of stories to tell and photos to share.
We started this a few months ago; gathering innocently enough to make a slew of Turkish recipes courtesy Margaret Rossetti and her recent trip to the cradle of civilization, and now we're hooked on mastering some of the simple but important culinary techniques we haven't, well, mastered. A pizza seemed like a tame conquest. But wait until you scatter a bit of corn meal on a 500 degree pizza stone, without protective eye wear, and you will get a feeling for the ups and downs of dough, determination, and deliciousness.
It started with the basics: bring dough (some from Fresh Market, some from Trader Joe's...gotta say Fresh Market's dough is hand's down easier to work with and roll out), and the fresh fixings of our choice. When you're cooking at Margaret's there is no, "good enough." So our pizza sauce, olive oil, and accoutrements including the pizza peels, were all top notch. I encourage you not to skimp on any of these details.
As I arrived with my bread board and my grandmother's rolling pin in hand, we wasted no time before beginning on appetizers. Delving into a lovely group of zucchini, we began by slicing them lengthwise, then grilling, then cooling them, and rolling them up with a filling of feta, olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs. We topped them with lemon zest and ate them for energy. (You'll see the photos and I will get a copy of the recipe to acknowledge and share). It was a good way to warm up to the main course.
Now preparing the toppings is just plain fun. From funky mushrooms to whole milk mozzarella, to spinach and herbs from the garden and gigantic summer tomatoes, all that was missing was a bit of Italian music and local red wine. (We quickly found a CD with a bit of Andrea Bocelli so all was not lost!) Even rolling out the dough was pretty easy. We topped it with a layer of olive oil and a layer of the finest pizza sauce and then stacked away with all the pretty stuff. You can omit the sauce and add ANY TOPPING YOU WOULD LIKE. We especially moaned with pleasure over the addition of macerated fresh garlic. Now that is the BOMB.
However, the fun waned a bit when it was time to cook them. Why? Well, when it was time to schlep our pies into the oven, we underestimated how tricky it is to slide it off the peel or the board and into the oven. (We later learned that you use corn meal like water when it comes to greasing the pathway. We got the hang of it by the 4th pie!) Oh well. That's when you get out the pizza cutter and simple pre-slice and serve. No one need know you inverted a good half of the first pie onto the stone nearly blinding us with smoke and enlisting a "what's burning?" from the peanut gallery in the next room. "Everything is fine, drink your wine." we shouted, and sure enough, after 9 to 12 minutes we were in cheesy, herby, tomatoey, meaty and crusty heaven.
WINE: Just so you know, we served it with a Layer Cake Primitivo Zinfandel. Transcendent...
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.