Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mitch's thin-crust pizza

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Thin Crust Pizza

I've been making pizza for years. Thick-crust, thin-crust, large, small, round, rectangular, with bufalo and low-moisture mozzarella, parmesan, pepperoni, anchovies, peppers and onions and olives and peperoncini. On an aluminum baking sheet and on a pizza stone, peeled off with a spatula or with a pizza peel. Sliced with  a pizza wheel, a 2-handled rocker knife, or a steak knife. 

There are a few things about pizza-making where I draw the line. For example, never will a barbecued chicken touch my pizza. Or a sliced pineapple. I don't want to live in a world where someone serves Hawaiian pizza. Why? Because Italian pizza, the kind that I grew up with in New Jersey where you just bought it for 25 cents a slice in a pizzeria, you don't jerk around with it.

It's not that I'm afraid to try something new. I learned a trick recently from, believe or not, an English-as-a-second-language textbook. The text in these is sometimes necessarily rather insipid, but this year I gave an intermediate class a lesson on sequential adverbs (First, then, next, after that, finally, etc.) which included some recipes for snack foods. There was a pizza recipe that suggested pre-heating the crust prior to adding the sauce and cheese. I tried it, and it really makes the thin crust pop. But whether you do that or not, that's your choice. I've gone back to a single thin sheet of dough, with the ingredients added before putting it in the oven.


Lately, I've found that making the dough in a warm place and then putting it in a closed, oiled container in the fridge overnight allows it to rise and also makes it a little easier to work with. 

So here's the recipe for a medium, 35 cm (about 14-inch) diameter round pizza. 

Ingredients for the dough:
2 cups (about 1/2 liter) of bread flour
1 tsp. dry yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in a quarter-cup (about 125 ml) of warm water. Mix the flour, salt and olive oil. Add the dissolved yeast, and mix well. Slowly add about another quarter-cup of water and mix it well.  Knead for about 3-4 minutes, adding water or additional flour to make a nice, pliable dough. 

Oil the mixing bowl, coat the ball of dough in the oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour to let it rise. Or leave it wrapped and oiled, in the fridge, overnight.

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 small white or sweet red onion, minced fine
a few dashes of oregano, basil, Italian seasonings, black pepper 
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
3-4 tomatoes, grated
1 tbsp tomato paste (this is optional--if you boil the tomato sauce down slowly and long enough, you won't need anything else to thicken the sauce)

Heat a sauce pan with the olive oil. Add the minced garlic and onion, and saute until soft and fragrant. Add the herbs and stir, then add the tomatoes and, if you want, the tomato paste (this is the canned stuff, which in Morocco is sold most familiarly under the brand "Aisha". Stir well, then simmer until a nice workable consistency, not too thick or too watery.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 205 degrees Celsius.

Ingredients for toppings (optional):
green (and/or red) peppers
black olives
sausage or salami piccante (pepperoni)

Saute enough vegetables, like green or red peppers, garlic, or onion so that each slice has a bit of don't want the pizza to be too wet, so a little goes a long way. Don't overdue want to keep the color of the vegetables, especially if you're using a mixture of red and green peppers.

When the dough has risen to twice its original size, punch it down, and sprinkle a handful of coarse semolina flour or cornmeal or flour on the pan. Dust the top of the flattened dough with a little flour to make rolling it easier. Roll out the dough to thinly cover the pan. 

OK, now if you want to pre-cook the dough, then coat it with a bit of olive oil, and put in the oven for just a few minutes, until the dough starts to blister and form a crust--you don't want it to be brown. Remove the crusted dough.

Ladle the sauce on and spread it around.

Grate mozzarella cheese (I like to use both low-moisture mozzarella and the traditional boules of buffalo-milk mozzarella) and sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top. Don't overdo it on the cheese--that's a classic American mistake. There should be enough, but it shouldn't be smothered in gloppy moozzarell'.

Add the sauteed vegetables, and maybe even some black olives if you want.

Add one anchovy to each slice. If your friends don't like anchovies, find some new friends.

Sprinkle a few more of the herbs over the pizza: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary

Bake until the cheese is fully melted and just starting to brown. 

Remove, sprinkle with some minced red chili pepper flakes to taste, and serve.