February 20, 2009

Pizza napoletana

My family's roots are in Campania, the Italian province of which Napoli, the birthplace of pizza, is the capital.  Sunday nights have always been pizza night in my family so it's probably not surprising that pizza is one of my favourite dishes.

Aside from being exceptionally tasty, pizza is also quick and easy to make at home.  Add some extra veggies and you can serve up a delicious and healthier version of your favourite take-out with very little effort.

Refrigerated pizza dough is widely available at grocery stores and Italian bakeries and makes great homemade pizza.  Whole-wheat dough is becoming more available and Longo's has a low-sodium whole-wheat pizza dough that is excellent and is also available for home delivery through Grocery Gateway.

While I often buy ready-made pizza dough, I like to make my own whenever I can.  It's really easy - you just have to factor in the rising time.  If you make it the day before you can let it rise in the refrigerator or you can freeze the dough after rising so that you have it ready anytime the mood strikes - just let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

I use a large commercial deep dish pizza pan but a half-sheet pan will do nicely as well - and sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom then spread out the dough with your fingers.  I don't like to use oil in the pan as I find it makes the crust greasy.

I like to use my fingers to press down on the dough from the centre while stretching it out gently.  The dough will be a little tacky but shouldn't be too sticky.  If you find that it's sticking to your hands too much then rub a little olive oil on them.

It's best if you let the dough come to room temperature before spreading it but if you're rushed you can use chilled dough, it will just be a bit harder to spread.  If the dough springs back when you're spreading it just let it rest for a few minutes and stretch it out again.  

Then all you have to do is add your favourite toppings and throw it into a hot oven.   If you have a pizza stone feel free to use it.  Personally, I find that it's more trouble than it's worth but my brother-in-law swears by his pizza stone and his pizza is amazing.  Entirely up to you. 

When it comes to toppings I have to admit that I am a bit of a purist.  My favourite pizza is the margherita - tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella (buffalo if available) with a splash of fresh olive oil and a sprig of fresh basil added after it's baked.  Made in a wood-burning oven it's a transcendent experience.

At home I have to compromise a bit.  Fresh mozzarella is yummy but makes for a soggy crust without the high heat of a wood-burning oven so I usually use grated mozzarella.  If you want to use fresh mozzarella I suggest letting it drain for a day or two in a colander set over a deep bowl in the refrigerator so that it releases some of its water.

Mushrooms, onions and cured ham also make occasional appearances on my pizza but my first love will always be the margherita.

Try making pizza at home - I promise you will thank me.

Pizza Dough
Makes enough dough for 2 large pizzas.  Once risen, dough can be placed in a freezer bag and frozen - defrost in refrigerator overnight before use.

1 kg all purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
600g water
6g traditional active dry yeast
3g salt

Proof yeast in a small bowl with 100g of warm water.  Add flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed just to combine.  Add the proofed yeast and the remaining 500g of water and use a dough hook to knead the dough in the mixer on medium speed for 7 to 8 minutes or until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth.  The dough will be tacky at this point and may be sticking slightly to the bottom of the bowl.  If it's too sticky or to wet add more flour or water, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the right consistency.

Remove bowl from mixer and pour a small amount of olive oil (1tsp) over dough, rotating it in the bowl so that the oil coats the entire surface.  Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (this will probably take a couple of hours). Alternatively, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

Divide dough in half and spread each half in a large pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal.  Top pizza and bake in a 475°F oven for approximately 15 minutes or until bottom of crust is browned (you should be able to lift up the edge of the pizza with a spatula or wooden spoon to check the bottom).  Allow to cool slightly, slice and enjoy!

Tomato Sauce
Makes enough for 1 large pizza.

350ml canned plum tomatoes
1tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
salt to taste

Slice garlic and place in cold saucepan with olive oil.  Heat gently over medium heat until garlic starts to sizzle - this should only take a few minutes and once you smell the garlic you're ready to move on to the next step.

Add the canned tomatoes and crush with the back of a spoon.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool before spreading on pizza.


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