Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I know people brag about different things. Some are fixated on cars. Others immediately tell you how many bedrooms their house has. Or how many houses they have. I’m no exception. I can’t wait to tell people that I have four ovens. Yes, two of them are normal, electric ovens in the kitchen (one Rex, one Miele). I use them all the time, for baking, roasting, etc. But it’s the other two ovens I get really excited about.
You see, I have two - count’em two - wood burning ovens at our home in Todi. Hah. Beat that! One is the more ‘modern’ kind of oven, where the wood goes in a separate area to fuel the rectangular oven. I loved cooking with this for several years - the heat got searing hot and the brick surface meant I could get crispy crusts.
But no, I wasn’t content until Domenico built a true, dome shaped pizza oven. (that's it above) I know I will eventually use it to cook other things, but for now I’m having too much fun making pizzas. We whip them up every weekend, rain or shine. And when I say we, I mean we. Domenico and I are a tag team. I craft the pizzas, and he is the oven master.
I’ve experimented with a few recipes for the dough and so far the one I like best is Evan Kleiman’sPizza, Pasta and Pannini. It’s really simple, but it was a revelation seeing Evan actually make the dough herself when she was visiting. When she says leave it wet and sticky, she really means it. It’s kind of a mess until you get the hang of it, but the wetter the dough the thinner you will be able to get the crust. Trust me. Or rather, trust Evan. But another dough recipe that I’ll be trying soon is the one from the NYTimes last month that uses sour dough starter.
Yes, the dough and crust is important, I know. But the real fun comes with the toppings. This is where my pizzas really shine. Once I roll out the dough into a thin circle, I carefully transfer it onto the peel and quickly add the toppings before Domenico swishes them into the waiting oven.
What I top them with is a bit whimsy, a bit planning and mostly what cheeses I happen to have in the fridge. As many of you know, I’ll go out of my way to make it to a local caseificio. There is Montecristo in Ponte Rio, and Giuliani in Collelungo. And of course, I always make a pit stop at Lufra in Orte on my way up to Todi from Rome. While I almost always use mozzerella, I am equally happy with smoked scamorza, black pepper-studded pecorino and oak-barrel-aged, rosemary-wrapped, goat cheese.
And what’s a pizza without pork? I am partial to crisp-frying little cubes of guanciale, or else adding thin slices of wild boar salami. Vegetables can be anything from leftover swiss chard, coarsely grated raw zucchini or - my favorite - thinly sliced red onion.
A few words about assembling the pizzas. Have all your toppings ready at hand, in small bowls. Roll out your dough on a floured wooden pastry board, if you have one. Use a rolling pin to get things started, then stretch it out with your hands. Once it is in perfect (or not so perfect) shape, gently lift it onto the metal peel that you have generously sprinkled with semolina flour (I find this works best, or fine corn meal).
Now, work quickly before the dough starts to stick to the peel. First lay on a thin layer of tomato sauce if you are using that ( I rarely do). Then cheese (if using mozzarella, make sure you drain it well first). Then meat toppings, fresh herbs. Finally drizzle with olive oil and top with salt.
Here are a few of my favorite combos, as well as Evan’s dough recipe. You'll notice my pizzas are never overloaded. Resist the temptation to add just one more ingredient. With pizzas, less is always best. And as always (and you're probably getting sick of hearing this) the quality of the ingredients is the most important thing. It's better to use what's at hand, rather than half-assed substitutes. For instance, if you have some incredible farmhouse cheddar by all means use that instead of some not-very-good imported sheep's milk cheese.
Cherry Tomatoes (fresh, or canned, drained)
Add fresh basil once the pizza is out of the oven.
Red Onions, sliced
Mushrooms, thinly sliced
Zucchini, coarsely grated
Ndjua (very soft, very spicy and fatty pork salami from Calabria)
Sliced spicy sausage
Crumbled and precooked sweet pork sausage
Grated orange rind
Evan’s Pizza Dough Recipe
Makes Four 10-inch pizzas
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (I use 15 grams lievito di birra)
1/4 cup luke warm water
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cold water
In small bowl add yeast to water and let fizz for 15 minutes (I skip this, and just disvolve the cake of yeast in the water)
In large bowl combine yeast and water with 2 1/2 cups of the flour, salt, olive oil and cold water. Stir to form a thick batter. Add the rest of the flour a little at a time, eventually transferring it to a floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and a bit sticky, but elastic.
Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes, covered.
Divide the dough into four balls, place on a board and cover. Let rise for about an hour.