Friday, December 16, 2011

Serve Myself

The last post had the unintended consequence of my getting a Christmas present of "Serve Yourself", a cookbook for one. I'm really excited to try it, but tonight, I'm going with tried and true, which is to say, pizza.

Homemade pizza got a lot easier once I realized you can make it on nearly any bread. I like making bread, but pizza dough has always been unnecessarily time consuming and complicated for my tastes. Not worth the effort. I've tried other things, cooked and fresh. My mom used to do little pizzalike things on english muffins. While great for little kids it felt like cheating, and not big enough for toppings. Plus, I rarely keep them on hand. I went to a funky little bar and restaurant in Corning NY that served lunch pizzas on a tortilla. This was game changing for me. I prefer a thin crust with many toppings and to realize I could just throw down some stuff on a tortilla (I keep a stash in the freezer, often) meant I could have pizza anytime.

But what to throw down?
I keep a stash of shredded cheese in the freezer, (Usually mozarella, sharp cheddar, Trader Joe's parmesan, and sometimes crumbled feta or a round of goat cheese) so that's taken care of.
I usually have some form of tomato sauce, or pesto, for the base.
Options: Spaghetti sauce (the meatless ones last a very long time in the fridge) or a little tomato paste to which I add stuff if available: Bruschetta spread, or an olive tapenade (more TJs), chopped sundried tomatoes, a spoon of pesto or fresh basil. Any or all of these things will jazz up the sauce.

The top can be anything. I love me a good sausage-mushroom-pine_nut- artichoke pizza, but can also go to town with blanched broccoli, olives, avocado, or ham or bacon (the pre-cooked bacon works great), banana peppers, or whatever happens to be fresh from the farmer's market or in my fridge or freezer. I've been known to top it with a chiffonade of basil or arugula (especially an avocado pizza) after it's removed from the oven. The one I'm finishing now had minced chili pepper from my neighbor, mixed in with sundried tomatoes, olive tapenade and Prego. I topped it with my last two slices of ham and Jarlsberg, which I'd rolled up and cut into wheels, then some mushrooms, because most food is better with mushrooms, IMHO. I topped with 3 more cheeses, and baked it.

Baking temperature is another key. It's almost impossible to bake a pizza at too hot a temperature. I used a 475F oven tonight and it wasn't quite enough given that I cooked it on a thin Al baking sheet. I don't bother with a pizza stone figuring it'll take too long to pre-heat, and I like my cookie sheet pizza sufficiently well. A 500+ pizza oven will cook pretty fast, so watch for it and use protective hot pads and things, but see how much better it is when the temp is cranked up.

I'd show you a picture of my pizza, but it's almost all gone now. Urp.

Because I was also messing around with baking a pumpkin and roasting pumpkin seeds tonight, which killed time between the steps, I made my own dough. I make it up as I go along because, as I said, most bread like substances will work. Tonight I used a couple small scoops (coffee scoop sized) of semolina flour, half a tablespoon of yeast, a splash of water, and enough warm water to make a paste. I let this sit, covered for a few minutes, then mix in in a dash of salt, and bit of sugar and a drizzle of oil and regular flour until it's not sticky. (For some reason, most pizza dough recipes use oil, so I went with it.)

Rising. This is where most pizza dough recipes go off the rails for me. I'm too impatient for my dinner to wait up to 1.5 hours to raise dough. My cooking class even suggests resting the dough for 24 hours or more to get it really stretchy. That would be fine if I made a bunch and stashed it in the freezer, but I was working from a clean bowl here. This month's Cook's Illustrated had a hint for proofing/rising dough in a warm damp place: put the dough bowl in the oven over another dish; pour 3c boiling water into the dish and shut the oven. Well, I had a giant pumpkin headed for my preheated oven, so I improvised. I had a little metal bowl with my dough in it. In the manner of a double boiler, I picked out another bowl that would serve as a base, and poured less than a cup of boiling water into it and covered it with a silicone lid for a while. When the lid gathered up some condensation, I moved the lid to the dough pan, blew across the hot water and made sure it had cooled to a touchable temp, then stuck my covered dough bowl over it. With the breadmaker yeast (couldn't find any other kind in a jar), and this warm environment, my bread raised nearly double in 20 minutes. So roughly 40 minutes after walking in the door, and one hacked up pumpkin later, I was ready to make my pizza. Roughly a half cup of flour(s) gives enough for a thin crust pizza for 1-2 people.

Honestly, I started using the semolina flour when I bought some for another baking experiment, then didn't have masa for a flatbread recipe in "Big Small Plates" that I'd had fun with. That recipe is:
1 c flour
1/2 c masa harina (or semolina...)
1/2 t ground spice (toasted cumin or caraway or...)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t finely ground black pepper
1/2 c + ~2T water, as needed

Mix all the dry ingredients. Start working in the water until dough is moist but not sticky. Let it rest, covered, for 30 minutes. (This relaxes the flour so you can roll it out.) Divide the dough into 8 pieces, and roll out each like a tortilla on a floured surface until quite thin. At 475 F, Bake 1 or 2 at a time for 60-90 seconds on a baking stone, or if using a baking sheet, 2 minutes then flip and cook another 1 minute until they're all made. At this point you can use them for anything, including little pizzas cooked also at 425 for 3-5 minutes.

This recipe was the inspiration for my dough - I top my dough raw, although I'm thinking the center would be better if I precooked it a tad or cooked it hotter or on a stone. I figured adding a little yeast wouldn't hurt things, and if I didn't want to wait for it to fully rise, I'd have a flatbread thincrust pizza and be perfectly happy. And I am perfectly happy with how tonight's pizza turned out.

1 comment:

farmwifetwo said...

Dh got me a kitchen aid mixer a few years ago for Xmas. It has a ridiculously easy pizza dough recipe in it. That's what we had Tues night. One big one for Dh and I and the boys had their's in pie plates.

It's a food group in our house.