That's right. Pizza. Four times.
Evening dawns in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago. Which evening? Last Tuesday evening. Having purchased the ingredients for a night of pizza making from Family Fruit Market* , I whipped up a double batch of pizza dough. My dough recipe of choice right now is from this book. I used the 24 hour variation. Slower rise theoretically equals better texture and flavor. I also slow braised some sliced onions in a liquid of olive oil, vinegar, and sugar. Three hours in the oven at 250. Sharing the three hour oven were 8 sliced roma tomatoes on a pan drizzled with olive oil and chopped garlic.
Cut to Wednesday morning. Joe remembers to take the dough out of the fridge for a 10 hour room temperature rise. Cut again to Wednesday night. Pizza stone in the oven, heating to 450. Bag of semolina next to the stove, ready to dust the peel and the stone. I make a quick spicy tomato sauce for use on one pizza. I dice some spicy calabrese salami and slice some andouille sausage. A variety of cheese are grated, sliced, or crumbled: Romano, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, and Fontina. All were domestic, as I didn't feel the need to go to my favorite Italian cheese importer for pizza for this batch of pizza. It's time to shape the dough.
I cut the dough into 4 pieces, and shape each one into a ball. I'm no whiz with pizza dough. I've been known to resort to a rolling pin if I make a dough that is too elastic and don't feel like waiting for the dough to rest between each attempt at stretching it. This time, with the nicely slow-risen dough, it was actually quite easy to handle.
Pizza number 1:
I made a circle-ish oval with the first dough ball. I just pressed it out with my fingertips, and then used the hold-the-middle-while-pulling-the-sides method, where you do exactly that, rotate 90 degrees, and keep pulling. When it got to the correct size, I put it on the dusted peel, brushed the outside inch of it with olive oil, and poked it all over with a fork. Topping time: a layer of the spicy tomato sauce. A layer of the diced calabrese salami. A layer of sliced mozzarella, then a touch of fresh oregano and some parmesan cheese. Into the oven. It looked pretty good when it came out. It tasted fantastic. The calabrese really elevated it above the usual pepperoni pizza.
Pizza number 2:
We'll call this one the mistake. I decided to get a little bolder with the dough. I patted it out a little, making a disk of sorts, and then put it up on my knuckles and tried tossing it in the air. The amazing thing, it actually worked. I caught it on my fingertips and it was noticeably bigger. So I kept going. Ended up with a nice sized round with a think edge and a REALLY thin center. I dusted an edgeless sheet pan with semolina, because the peel was waiting to pull out the first pizza. I brushed oil on the edge and topped it with a layer of the slow cooked onions, a very little bit of fontina, then the oven-dried tomatoes, then some sliced andouille, and then a little bit of romano. Onto the now vacated peel, to put in the oven. The problem, it won't budge off of the sheet pan. At all. It won't slide. So I have a pizza with a very thin center, with a good amount of topping. I could have just tossed the whole pan into the oven, but I didn't think of that at the time. So Joe and I grabbed it with four hands and tried to cleanly move it to the peel. Surprisingly, the dough didn't break through, but all of the toppings slide to the middle. So after some quick rearranging, the pizza went in the oven. Twelve minutes later, out it comes. It's the second picture. Note that I didn't prick the dough with a fork before it went in, so the edges bubbled up quite a bit. How did it taste? Pretty good. The crust was great at the edges and didn't have much texture in the middle. Not surprising. The tomatoes kind of overpowered everything, and I wish I had looked for better andouille. Also, it needed more cheese.
Pizza number 3:
Not wanting the excessively thin center, I decided not to spin-toss the pizza. When I was about 19, I spent a summer delivering for Dominos. I didn't prepare any food there, but I recall the managers talking about why you should never spin-toss the dough. Instead they used a horizontal method, passing the dough from one hand to the other, holding onto the edges and turning it as you toss it back and forth. Hard to describe, but I tried it, and it worked. It gave me a nice crust that was uniformly thicker in the middle than in the previous attempt, and gave me a good ridge around the edge. Toppings for this one? Gorgonzola and parmesan covering a smear of the slow cooked onions. No tomatoes at all. It came out with the best crust, but overall the calabrese pizza was still in the lead. The Gorgonzola might have been a little too strong for the subtle sweetness of the onions. Still, a good pizza. It's the third picture.
Pizza # 4:
Pizza number four was supposed to be another try at the 2nd pizza, but I put on fewer tomatoes, and threw on the odds and ends of cheese I had from the others. Used the horizontal passing method for the crust. It came out well, with an odd protrusion from one side. Good flavor, tomatoes weren't overpowering, still disappointed with the cheap andouille. Picture number four.
No one came over to share the pizza, it was just three roommates and I. The calabrese / mozzarella pizza was the winner in my mind. The horizontal toss method worked well for the crust. The wooden pizza peel, big stone in the oven, and semolina flour were essential to the success of the evening. Definitely a successful food night.
*Family Fruit Market is a small grocery store in our neighborhood with an amazing selection of produce and deli items. Joe and I probably shop there 2-3 times a week. It will get its own post someday.