Friday, April 16, 2010

New York. That's it. Period.

The thing about pizza is, everybody likes it.  We all have our preferences about styles (obviously NYC pizza being the absolute best - end of discussion!!), but unless you have celiac or one of those limp-wristed cheese issues, you can't really fuss too much when a home-made pie is on the menu.  I like delivery for sick days/lazy days/hungover days, but when the crowd is coming over and a crowd-pleaser is required, said crowd's ravenous snarls are quickly quelled by some hot 'za.  Harmony reigns.  Until the no-meat people throw their usual spanner in the sausage works.  At any rate, home-made pizza is a standby when my brother's band rages through town, eating wildly and leaving mixtapes in their wake.  I have never had any problem with normal pizza dough recipes, basic yeast-risen dough - and I still don't.  Once you have a good recipe and a very hot oven it's hard to screw up.  I mean, you can cover most anything from baloney to vinyl tiling in cheese and someone will be high enough to enjoy it.  The other day, however, sitting round the table and musing about food as it is our wont, the light-bulb hanging around over my father's head went on.  "Naan!" he exclaimed.  He has this new recipe for naan (he's been on an Indian kick), and it is particularly luscious, due to the unusual inclusion of milk and a little sugar in the dough.  It's tender, unobtrusively doughy, with a rich sweet flavor that delicately avoids greasiness or flakiness.  In short, Pop pointed out, ideal for pizza crust.
Another useful facet of homemade pizza is its ability to absorb Stuff In The Fridge.  That little bit of pesto? Trowel it on. Those left-over brussel sprouts? Roast 'em for a few minutes with garlic.  Chard stems? Mince and fry with more garlic.  Leftover cheese cubes and blue cheese crumbles from that catering tray at work you couldn't bear to waste?  Half a can of black olives from last week's caponata?  Limp scallions? Toss 'em all on!  It's economical and clears out precious fridge space.  Toppings for pizza are fairly obvious; I have used all those mentioned above, but I also enjoy:
Roasted garlic cloves
Pre-cooked (as in, before you put it on the pizza) crumbled sausage
Pre-cooked bacon
Peppers, mushrooms, basil leaves, pineapple, onions, jalapenos
Oh for Pete's sake you know what you like on pizza.  In Scotland they like tuna and sweet corn, go figure.  Italians like an egg baked in the center.  My pop likes a blop of pungent soft cheese in the center.  
I make my own pizza sauce while the dough is rising.  Unlike bolognaise, on pizza the sauce is but one component, so you don't need to simmer for hours to get a profound flavour.  That being said homemade is as usual better than Store Crap.
Here's how I make my sauce.  It makes about 2 and a half cups of sauce.  If you need more, add another can of tomatoes.  Freeze what's left for spaghetti and meatballs.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
as much garlic as you can be bothered to peel, put through press - at least 5 cloves
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, NOT drained (I like Muir Glen - don't get the kind with basil or other doodads added)
1 sm can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt (taste at the end, I usually add more)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
if you have it around, a bay leaf or/and a teaspoon dried basil
1 cup chicken or veg stock
Water as needed
In a heavy medium-size pan that's not too shallow, heat up a quarter cup fat (bacon grease, olive oil) over med. heat.  Add onions, still continuously for five minutes to slightly caramelize.  Add garlic and stir for a minute, until the garlic doesn't smell so sharp.  Add all other ingredients, bring to a simmer and lower heat slightly. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  You can also turn it down really low and ignore it for 20 minutes at a stretch but it takes hours to cook down. If it gets too thick, add a little water.  It's done when it looks like tomato sauce.  Taste and adjust seasoning. At the risk of being obtuse, take out the bay leaf.
MEANWHILE: you have been making LA DOUGH! Actually the dough takes 4 to 6 hours to rise so you should do it earlier.  That leaves you time to excavate the fridge for toppings.
This recipe is has been altered by Mr. Darius Brotman. It appears in it's faulty original form in The Dance of the Spices by Laxmi Hiremath.
YUMMY NAAN AND/OR PIZZA CRUST
4 cups unbleached flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt.
1 t. active dry yeast
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large beaten egg
3 T. vegetable oil
1/2 cup warm milk
Cornmeal for the peel or baking sheet
1. In a food processor or with elbow grease, lightly mix the flour, b. powder, sugar, salt and yeast.  Add the egg, yogurt and milk and pulse until crumbly.  With the machine running or arm flailing, gradually add the milk in a steady stream until the dough comes together in a a ball.  if you must add a little more liquid, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.  Avoid overprocessing.
2.  Place the dough on a work surface; oil your hands and knead for 7 minutes.  Dough should be soft, not sticky or stiff.  Form into a smooth ball. put in bowl, cover bowl loosely with a rag, and put it on top of the fridge for 4-6 hrs.
If you are making naan you are supposed to divide it into 12 bits, flatten 'em and let them rise again.  But we won't do that for pizza.  We can't spend ALL day on this.
So now we have dough and sauce. Before I mention cheese, let me say - PIZZA NEEDS A VERY HOT OVEN.  A pizza stone, or terra cotta tiles on a cooking sheet even, are best for cooking on, but a cookie sheet will do (the crust won't be as crispy). Place stone or tiles in the oven to preheat.  Turn your oven up to 500, and preheat it at least 40 minutes, 30 if you are using a cookie sheet.
Sprinkle your peel (that's the handled wooden flat thing pizza gets put in an oven with - if you don't have one use a thin cutting board?) liberally with cornmeal so it will slide off easily.  On your work surface, roll out half your dough to 1/4 thick. Place on peel.  Shape however you like, maintaining even thickness. Add a 1/2 cup sauce or so and spread it 1/2 in. from the dough's edge.
Now cheese.  Don't give into your squalling internal miser and buy solely cheap-o bulk mozzarella.  I like 'quattro formaggio' ; a strong cheese in the pizza's center, encircled by 3 circles of different cheeses of decreasing strength.  An example: from the center out, brie, Gruyere, Gouda, fresh mozzarella.  Or chevre, aged cheddar, fontina, mozzarella.  Blops of ricotta on the top are always frosting on the cake.  But whatever you choose use in greater part milder cheeses that melts well, like mozzerella, fresh mozzerella, gouda, or fontina.  Stronger cheeses tend to melt less well and the choosy consumer demands ooze.  
I like to finish the cheese layer with a handful of slivered raw garlic, and proceed to toppings of choice.  Dot at will.
If you have a well-cornmealed peel it should be easy to quickly and gently slide the pizza onto the hot stone/baking sheet with a few gentle jerks.  Give it a jiggle before you try, to ensure it isn't sticking. Try to hold the peel as horizontal as possible; you are sliding it off, not sliding it down.  If a swodge of onion falls off, ignore it; the important thing is to get the oven closed and save the precious heat.
Cook 10 minutest.  You can assemble the second one while it's baking. Cool for 5 minutes on a rack for crispiest crust before eating or you'll regret it.


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