Perfecting the Pizza Pie
Let's just assume there is no one who doesn't like pizza. Really, folks, is there? And we're not going into this in an encyclopedic way. This Cat doesn't do A to Z. As the Grand Old Lady of the South once said, "I have had a sufficiency, any more would be a super abundance". We keep it sufficient. What's more, the world does not need another book (Save the trees!), much less a pizza book. Or, putting ourself on display getting all way wistful about pizzas we have loved, and our travels to places to get this, that and the other best of each kind.
Pizza. We're talking a nice thin round crust pie about 14 inches in diameter that cuts into 6 medium sized slices. Following are some points to consider for folding into your own procedure.
If you are like most, you probably don't make pizza at home more than what, 1-3 times per month; probably to the lower end of that scale would be average. So you just don't have the pie-time to become an expert. Cooky Cat has scratched the surface for you once again and here are the purrific tips he is willing to share. (But not all, mind you. But maybe some day. That's what keeps 'em coming back for more, don't you know.)
Some of what is presented here comes from an excellent article in the NY Times, "The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza" by Oliver Strand. Go there and read. It'll help cut through and give the background for this piece. Most particularly the recipe for the dough. A big tip from that article is to let the dough rise overnight, rather than the typically recommended 3 hours. The recipe yields 32 ounces of raw dough. For our 14" pan we divide it into three portions (not the four suggested by Strand); it covers the pan easily and gives a nice thin but definite crust.
We all know about the coal brick ovens and how they produce the high heat and roasty flavor. Even if you can afford one, don't get into it unless it's pizza 24/7 around your place. If you have the scratch (Cooky Cat most certainly do) it would be a nice vanity piece to impress the neighbors and friends; but, again, you should let how you actually would use one of those beautiful things determine whether you buy one, or instead a nice diamond tennis bracelet from Harry Winston for the secretary. Or, that home theater system for Raoul the private Pilates instructor (You know what the kitty is talkin bout, don't you ladies?).
So use your oven and preheat to between 450 and 500 degree Fahrenheit. For a 15 minute bake. If you go 500 degrees check in at 13 minutes to be safe. (Ovens, ugh. Each one is so different, like all my ex-wives.)
The Pizza Pan
We have a 14 inch pan with a million holes on the surface. That's to get the heat in and the moisture out. You can go on a search and think about pizza stones and peels if you like. But, the operative issue again is how much pizza you gonna make, uh?
Get the pan.
Here once again we have choices. Flour is not flour. There's place of origin, who mills it, grain varieties, growing methods (organic or not), qualities, mill size, percentage protein. Bag to bag of the same item moisture content can also vary.
Caveat: Folks, please let's not get into flours the way we did for wine, olive oil, chocolate, now even salt. Leave that to Martha and her ilk. Not that that's a bad thing. Remember, think sufficiency.
Let's jump the shark: get Antimo Caputo Italian Superfine 00 Farina Flour. Or, any other good Italian brand, but make it 00. There's one from King Arthur too if you want to keep it Made in the USA.
Just open a can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes. There's your sauce. Deep flavor and color, organic to boot. Use straight from the can, or a quick pulse or two in the processor to make more uniform but keep some texture.
Mozzarella. As good as you can get. The kind the local Italian store has in water, fresh made in house daily. Now we are not so finicky that a decent supermarket packaged brand will not do in a pinch. But, don't put a price on love. If you want to get all Martha and bend over backwards, go and make your own.
We cut the mozzarella into half inch cubes. No recommendation on that, just our preference. There seems to be the option of cheese down first or cheese down after the sauce. Cooky Cat has no recommendation on this either. Do it both ways. You decide.
And, for the final touch, some freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano / Grana Padano. Resist the temptation to combine. All's you want is a medium dusting as the last touch before going into the oven. How much, a quarter to a half cup if you have to ask.
You may think it presumptuous for Cooky Cat to make pepperoni a staple item for your pizza. Hey, what's talking about food without some prideful assertiveness. So we say . . . pizza without pepperoni is only for when you are about to starve to death. Channeling Diana Vreeland.
As to pepperoni, we have searched long and hard. No pun intended. The best we can do is Hormel Rosa Grande. Every frickin Italian store and market in our current home state of New Jersey seems to sell only that. Armour Eckrich makes a Margherita Pepperoni that looks good too, if you can find it. Of course, quality counts in all things. There could be a local salumeria near you that has its own house made. It's a quest, that pepperoni. Pepperoni lovers know what we mean.
For pepperoni lovers only: Buy the oldest looking (aged/darkest) sticks from the store in the first place. When you get your stash of sticks home from the store, unwrap, wash and dry. Then wrap in paper towels or a clean cloth (no plastic!) and place in the refrigerator for a week or two. That further aging time dries and hardens the pepperoni nicely. If you are not a pepperoni lover, this no doubt will have gone completely past you. We'll light a candle for you and offer prayers.
Don't go away yet. Here is THE big tip. Just because everyone on earth slices pepperoni for topping a pizza into thin rounds does not mean it is the only way, much less the best way. At what is arguably the best pizzeria in the Garden State, Pizza Town in Elmwood Park, they cut their pepperoni sticks lengthwise in quarters then cross cut into nice thick 1/8 inch+ pieces. Don't slice the whole stick at once. A one third piece for a 14" pizza is a good satisfying amount. But you will have your preferences. Try that and see if that doesn't raise your pizza game a giant step.
And, you're welcome.