Living with a Neapolitan I sometimes feel like pizza is the focus of our lives, this isn’t a complaint, I love pizza, but I usually groan when my husband wants to actually make it. It makes a huge mess, takes an entire day to make and usually isn’t very good. Friday night, after we both got home late, stuck in Friday night traffic and each stopping at the grocery store in fear that everything would be closed for the November 1st holiday. He came home with ingredients for making pizzas, I can’t let the poor man down, so Saturday was spent kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise.
My complaints are that the pizza crust is usually flavorless, hard as a rock and too crunchy, there’s usually too much tomato sauce and not enough cheese. I realize that I am very hard to please and I hate to admit it, but homemade pizza has never been something that I get excited about. My mother made her attempts when I was a kid and we all humored her, but were secretly thinking, “wouldn’t it just be easier to call Johnny’s?”.
This time I was wrong, so wrong, the pizza was almost perfect. I say almost because we are missing the most important part of making pizza, a ceramic oven heated with wood, not an oven made of some unknown metal heated with gas whose temperature is totally off. I’m not sure what he did differently kneading the dough, if he put more love into it, used a different type of water or what, but it was fantastic.
After 4 years of grocery store bickering on what to put on our pizza, and my insistence that margherita is not an option, we have come up with the perfect pizza, a margherita with artichokes, pancetta and onions, which was the first pizza that we made on Saturday night. The 2nd, because of course we had to make two, we decided to split it up a bit and on one side we went with a more Roman variation, zucchini flowers stuffed with anchovies and topped with mozzarella. The other half was with with tomato, mozzarella and black olives and 1/8 of the pizza was a marinara, which was the last piece left.
Basic Pizza Dough from Naples at Table, Cooking in Campania
- 1 envelope dried yeast (2½ tsp)
- 1 cup warm water
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp salt
- ½ cup warm water
- (We added a tsp of sugar to the dough, gives something to the yeast to feed on)
In a 2-cup glass measure, with a table fork, dissolve the yeast in the 1 cup of warm water. Stir in ½ cup of flour, cover with a clean dishtowel and let it stand until the mixture foams up to about double – to 2 cups – about 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine 3½ cups of the flour with the salt. Stir in the yeast mixture and the remaining ½ cup of warm water. Stir until the dough masses together. Gather the dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead, folding and turning the dough onto itself, then pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand, about 10 to 12 minutes, adding, little by little, just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Be careful not to add too much flour or too much at one time. When you have finished, the dough should not stick to the board; it should be smooth, silken, slightly damp on the surface, and very elastic. Dust the dough lightly all over with flour and place in a bowl to rise, covered with a clean dishtowel, for about 1 hour, or until it has slightly more than doubled in bulk. (My mother-in-law and an uncle of my husband’s both suggested that you do this process more than once to make the dough even more elastic, our next experiment will be leaving the dough to rise for at least 12 hours kneading it a number of times in between.)
While dough is rising, and at least 30 minutes before baking, place an oven rack at the lowest level, preferably holding a pizza stone, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Punch down the dough and divide into 4 parts. Alternately, if you intend to use only a portion of the dough immediately, form each forth into a smooth ball and let those to be used immediately rise on a floured board, a couple of inches apart, covered with a dishtowel. Refrigerate or freeze the remaining balls in plastic bags.
To form the dough into a pizza, flatten the ball of dough into a thick disk. On a lightly floured board, rotating the disk as you go, flatten the center of the pizza with your fingertips or heel of your hand. When a ridge of dough starts appearing on the perimeter of the disk, lift the dough up with both hands, and holding on to the ridge, let gravity and the weight of the dough stretch the circle. Keep turning the dough to get a relatively even 10-inch circle. Keep pulling the ridge slightly so the circle gets larger. Be careful not to make the center too thin or the ridge more than ½ inch deep. At some point the pizza will become too flimsy to handle. Now spread the formed pizza dough onto a large baking sheet or wooden peel that has been lightly dusted with flour.
Top as desired.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes depending on your oven and on how done you like pizza. The edge should be tinged with brown.