Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pizza for the Common Folk

I am a lot of things, but I am not a connoisseur of pizza. Really, I’ll eat it however it comes. I know a lot of people out there aren’t like me. They want it New York style or they don’t want it at all. I suppose all the Chicago-ites (I’m really not sure what you are supposed to call them) would claim that a pizza isn’t a pizza if it doesn’t have an inch-thick crust with lots and lots of meat on top. Put either of those pizzas in front of me and I’d eat it with a big smile on my face. Heck, put a piece of Papa John’s in front of me and I wouldn’t utter a word of complaint.

Therefore, if you are a pizza snob, you may just want to bypass the recipe below. But if you do, well, I feel sorrow for you, as I do for anyone who’s prejudices keep them from enjoying the great experiences available to them, in this case, a splendid piece of pizza.

For the rest of you, these recipes aren’t rocket science. Don’t get intimidated by making your own crust and pizza sauce if you haven’t in the past. Sure, it takes a little more time, but it’s worth the flavor you get at the end. This pizza usually takes me about 1 hr and 30 minutes to make, that’s including an hour for the dough to rise and 15 minutes for the pizza to bake. So really, you’re talking about 15 minutes of hard labor here, and honey, if you can’t give me 15 minutes, well, to put it bluntly, you need more sleep or more sex in your life. Actually, probably both.

Mai’s Cheese Pizza

Pizza Dough:

1 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (I think they suggest 105 degrees but don’t go scrambling for a thermometer if you don’t have one setting by the sink. I trust you to figure it out. If it feels warm to you, go with it.)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 c. flour (I use bread flour but feel free to use all-purpose)

In a large bowl, mix the yeast and water and let it set for 5 minutes. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix. If you have a stand mixer, use your dough hook and let the machine do all the work for you. You won’t have to knead this by hand at all. Just keep the mixer going for about 5 minutes or until the dough looks soft and pliable, then put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel till it’s doubled in size, about an hour.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a wooden spoon or, better yet, your hands and get mixing. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, put the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Then put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a damp towel till it’s doubled in size, about an hour.

Once the dough is doubled, you have two choices. You can either divide the dough and make two smaller pizzas or keep it as is and make one huge one. I usually keep the dough together and make a big rectangular shaped pizza that fits perfectly on one of my baking stones. The choice is up to you. Either way, flop the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out to your preferred shape and size. I wish I knew how to stretch the dough with just my fists like those short Italian guys do at the pizza joint down the road from us. It looks so macho and artistic at the same time. Oh, well. Then, put your dough on a baking sheet or stone and start adding your toppings.

Pizza Sauce:

1, 6oz. can tomato paste
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ c. chicken broth
¼ chopped fresh basil

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. If you like your sauce thicker or thinner, adjust the chicken broth measurement accordingly. Spread the sauce over the pizza dough.

Pizza Topping:

¼ c. parmesan, freshly grated
¾ c. smoked gouda, freshly grated
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, freshly grated
Freshly ground black pepper

If you have a food processor, simply put the grater attachment on and fire away. This will take you all of about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a food processor or some other easy way of grating, my heart goes out to you because I absolutely loath grating things by hand. I’m not sure why. I don’t think my mom tethered me to the kitchen counter with a box grater and a 10 lb. bag of carrots when I was a child, but I may just be blocking out the memory. I do hate it, so if you detest it as much as I do and you have no access to a machine powered grater, then I give you permission to purchase pre-grated versions of the above cheeses. If you don’t detest hand grating or if it brings you copious amounts of pleasure, consider yourself one of the lucky ones, and then get grating.

Sprinkle your cheeses over the sauce, grind some pepper on top, and stick the pizza into a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. I like to let my pizza set for a good 15 minutes or so once it's out of the oven so it can firm up and lose some of that molten heat. Then, enjoy!

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