June 29, 2009

Pizza From Scratch

Cooking "from scratch" means, to me at least, that you begin with flour and uncut meats and vegetables. Other people seem to use different definitions of this phrase, which confuses me. I don't think you need to grind and pack your own sausages, clean your own fish, press your own oil, or mill your own flour to qualify the meal as "from scratch." But neither is adding water and an egg to a pre-mixed blend of ingredients sold in a box.

So here's how I made pizza from scratch Saturday. Start with a foccacia dough for the crust:

Put in two teaspoons of dry yeast and a pinch of bread flour* in a cup and a half of warm water. Stir well, allow to sit for about five minutes. Meanwhile, take six cups of bread flour, and begin sifting in a stand mixer. Add about a teaspoon of salt and seasonings -- I put in dried rosemary, oregano, basil, and black pepper. Less is more for the spices, but do not omit the salt.

When the yeast solution proofs (a layer of bubbles forms from the yeast and it begins to smell like brewing beer), pour the proof into the stand mixer. Then, add three to five tablespoons of olive oil, and watch the mixture. Over time, it will blend together and form a dough. Add more bread flour, maybe three tablespoons at a time, until the dough stops sticking to the side of the mixing bowl and instead forms a large ball.

Remove the ball of dough, and put it in a bowl several times larger than the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allow to stand for two hours or so on a warm, draft-free counter. After two hours, the dough will have risen to be three or four times the original volume; punch the air out and allow to stand for another two hours or so.

Prepare your cooking surface (a pizza stone, or in my case a cookie sheet) by sprinkling it with corn meal. Roll the dough flat, and shape it to your cooking surface.

Now, prepare the pizza. Both sauce and cheese are optional, and there is no particular rule that you need to use red marinara sauce. These are popular and you won't go wrong with them. The Wife likes a garlicky cream or alfredo sauce. I like olive oil. You don't have to have sauce at all. There also is no rule that you have to use cheese. Mozzarella cheese, or commercially-available blends, are popular and easy. After that, you can top it with whatever you want (or, perhaps more realistically, whatever you have on hand).

For this weekend's homemake pizza dinner, I made two pizzas. One was with the creamy garlic alfredo sauce and a mozzarella-smoked gouda blend of cheeses, topped with black olives, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and thinly-sliced red onions. The other had red sauce, again with the mozzarella-gouda blend, topped with roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, thin red onions, and morsels of hot Italian sausage removed from their casings (brown the sausage in a saute pan first; do not put raw pork products on cheese even if you're going to cook it). Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes or until the bottom of the crust is cooked all the way through. Two cookie sheets' worth of these pizzas was consumed by four people that evening and the following afternoon -- no leftovers.

* Bread flour, as I have learned, is not the same thing as all-purpose flour. It has a higher gluten and protien content.

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