Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pizza, my love

Oh Pizza, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
I love thee to the depth and height my soul can reach,
I need thee like a land-locked surfer needs the beach. 

And when I have a gnawing hunger to appease,
I crave thy sauce, thy dough… thy melty cheese.

I love thee freely as I breathe the air,
I love thee purely, and I refuse to share.

I love thee with a passion that never wavers,
I dream of thy thin crust and thy countless flavors.

Oh Pizza, you have the smiles and tears of all my lovin’,
I can hardly wait to pull you from the oven!

If I could, I would marry pizza and have a litter of thin-crust babies, then eat my family up with gusto.  Is that sick?
Pizza is one of the few foods that is quintessentially New York.  On nearly every corner, there’s a fresh slice of heaven just begging to be bitten into- and while you can try your hardest to get a decent pie elsewhere, it will never taste exactly right.  Some attribute it to old-school wood-burning ovens, others swear it’s in the water. 
Whatever theory you ascribe to, you have to admit that we’ve got it good with our abundance of truly delicious, cheesy thin-crust pies.  But sadly, with that bounty comes an unsettling pitfall: there are twice as many occurrences of really, really bad pizza.  There is nothing more tragic than bad pizza- with the gluey, rubbery cheese, the still-white, under-baked crust, and the tinny sauce that still tastes of the can… ugh.  And as much as I love pizza with all my heart, we all know it’s not the best way to keep one’s girlish figure.

So to save me the disappointment and the calories, I’ve been making my pizzas at home.  I love to add spices to the dough like garlic powder, crushed peppers and fresh or dried herbs.  Putting some whole wheat flour in the there also gives the crust a great flavor and crunch, not to mention adding nutritional value.  Usually I load up on the veggies and cut back on the cheese, and the results are satisfying and excellent.  And sure, it’s not the same as a steaming hot pie from Patsy’s, but at least I can still fit into my skinny jeans...

Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
1 pkt.               yeast
1 tsp                 sugar
1 ¼ c               warm water
1 cup                all-purpose flour
1 cup                whole wheat Flour
1 ½ tsp           salt
½ tsp              ground pepper
1 tsp                garlic powder
1 T                   honey
1 T                   olive oil
AP flour and corn meal for dusting

1.  Proof the yeast: before you start the dough, you want to hydrate the yeast to make sure it is still active.  It may not look it, but yeast is alive!  That is why the temperature of your water is so vital, it should be slightly warm to your touch: too cold and the yeast will not bloom, too hot and it will die. 
Dissolve sugar in ¼ cup warm water, then sprinkle the yeast over the water and gently mix together.  Set aside.  After 5 minutes, the yeast granules will have broken down and the mixture should be bubbly.  If you don’t see any bubbles it means the yeast is no longer active, so start over with a new packet.

2.  While waiting for the yeast to proof, combine flours, salt, pepper and spices in a bowl.  When the yeast is ready, pour it into the dough along with the remaining water, olive oil and honey. 

Mix the dough by hand or use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. 

3.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 8-10 minutes, until it looks smooth.  Use flour to keep it from sticking. 
 4.  In a lightly oiled bowl, allow the dough to double in size in a warm place for 1-2 hours- cover it loosely with plastic wrap.
5.  When the dough has doubled in size, divide into two pieces.  (If you are only going to make one pie, tightly wrap and freeze the other piece).  Knead the dough for another 5 minutes, then cover and allow it to rise for another 20-30 minutes.  The second rising will help further develop the flavor and color in the crust. 
6.  Unless you are using a pizza stone, place an inverted cookie sheet on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat the to 425° F. 
7.  Shape the dough into a flat round disc and place onto a tray lined with foil and dusted with cornmeal (you could use anything here: AP flour, semolina flour, sesame seeds, etc).  For a thicker crust, shape the dough by hand- for a thinner crust, use a rolling pin.


8.  Brush the crust with olive oil, then top with sauce, sliced veggies, meats, cheese, or whatever you like.  Get crazy!  Drizzle the finished pie with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper if needed.

Portabella Mushroom, Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil

Tomato, Sauteed Spinach and Onions, Brie

9.  Put your tray on the pre-heated cookie sheet or slide the pie onto the pizza stone and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is brown on the bottom and the toppings are cooked.  Finish it under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp the cheese.



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