The Best Pizza Under One Roof

My normal baking routine is to make dough in the evening and then let it rise overnight for baking in the morning. The wild starter likes a long ferment, and gets even better after a day or two in the fridge after the first rise (if I’ve planned ahead, which is not always the case). But sometimes one needs of the baked goods in a narrower time frame, and it is for that very reason that I always also have a bag of dried yeast on hand.

A case in point: pizza. Now a couple days retarding in the fridge really makes for a superlative pizza dough, and there’s no short cut around that reality. But it is equally true that a pretty fine crust can be wrangled on short order, and so that is what I did. About 3PM I mixed and kneaded it–using exactly my usual recipe, but with a fat pinch of yeast and a dribble of honey to feed it–and by 5:00 it was voluminous and smelled ripe. I divided and shaped it and let it rest while I assembled and fabricated various toppings and combinations thereof. It’s worth mentioning here that using the same amount of starter I would for my regular sourdough serves two main purposes. First, it is stretchy as hell; the microbial activity develops gluten to its maximum, which is what one looks for in a pizza dough. Second, it’s nice and sour, so in its way it does in fact offer a short cut to that long-fermented flavor.

The toppings were as follows:

1. Tomato sauce, covered with lightly dressed arugula selvetica after baking and cooling. I love arugula salad pizza. Love.

2. Foraged chicken of the woods sautéed in olive oil with homemade salami, parsley, and a splash of rosé.

3. Kalamata olives, onions, garlic, and capers, with hot pepper on the side for the kid’s sake. Pizza alla puttanesca is one of our all time favorites.

4. Chard and basil, coarsely chopped together. They share a dark green intensity of flavor and make a fabulous pairing. That’s the photo up top. All but the salad pizza got strewn with locally-made fresh mozzarella as well.

The crust (I like to roll it out, and pretty thin) finds a pretty sweet spot between crisp and chewy, with good flavor from the white/whole wheat flour mixture. I used about a 75/25 split this time around. Also, my beloved $4 ceramic floor tile from Lowe’s Depot makes a huge difference in the result; at 500˚, with the convection fan on, the top and bottom finish cooking to a resplendent and flavorful brown at the same time. Each pie takes about 8 minutes and achieves a passable approximation of the char one gets in a real wood oven.

Now that the garden is banging, pizza is one of the most pleasurable ways to feature its many gifts. Pastas and various stir-fries or curries are great, sure, but there’s something just a bit more wonderful about a well-made pizza covered in the best stuff you can get your hands on. It has a lot to do with the same principle that causes me to make so many other things from scratch: we’re all used to having a “homemade” category and a “buy” category for food. Each time we move something from  “buy” to “homemade,” we experience a frisson of excited accomplishment and that satisfaction unique to having demystified something previously arcane and inaccessible.

For years–in Chicago, and then in Brooklyn–one of my regular culinary rituals was to buy frozen pizza dough at the store(s) and then defrost, divide, roll, top, and bake it on a cookie sheet. Pretty much every decent grocery store has the dough: usually in clear plastic bags with Italian flag colored fonts, it’s utterly unremarkable but does an adequate job when rolled out super thin. There was a pretty lengthy period in grad school when I’d bake one for breakfast, work 10 hours, and bake another for dinner. It tasted good every time. But now, as I focus more discerningly on chasing my food farther up the supply chain, that option isn’t as appealing. This dough is organic and has local whole grains in it, which is nice, but beyond that it’s tangy, with real character, and it’s crisp underneath with some charred bits for authenticity. It’s real pizza, and good pizza–the kind I would pay someone else to make, but don’t have to any more.

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  1. Andrew
    June 27

    Sourdough starter in pizza dough is always a good idea, Peter. I have always hated the idea of discarding half of my sourdough starter with feedings if I didn’t need it all for baking bread. So on those occasions I’ll throw the “discards” in the freezer and when I need pizza dough, I’ll thaw it out and add enough flour and water to make the desired quantity of dough. You get plenty of sourdough tang from the long cold ferment. And since I mill all my own flour at home from locally grown wheat, I appreciate the conservation of flour. Homemade dough, homemade sauce from garden-grown or local tomatoes, homemade mozzarella from local milk (if you haven’t tried this yet, try New England Cheesemaking Supply Company’s 30 minute mozzarella; piece of cake compared to cheeses you have already made, and instant gratification), local sausage from pastured pork, chicken, or lamb, vegetables from the garden or our CSA. Unbelievable, and the kids love it, as do we. My daughter has told me that the pizza she gets at birthday parties “tastes like nothing.” Once you start doing it all yourself, it’s impossible to go back.

  2. June 28

    The whole time I thought “that lucky bastard has a pizza oven”. I’m going to Lowe’s right now. They look perfect.

  3. June 28

    Okay, seriously, have you shared this bread/pizza dough recipe yet? Or are you just going to keep waving it around, teasing me? I have baby fennel (too much to get in the ground), little onions thinnings…squash blossoms…I’m ready for some delicious pizzas, just need dough! These all look amazing, if I hadn’t just eaten a huge smoked pork sandwich I might try to climb through my screen to get these!

  4. Peter
    June 28

    Andrew: Yes, that’s the whole point. For some reason I haven’t tried mozzarella yet. I have that book, but I’ve been so obsessed with the other stuff I kind of jumped all the easy ones. I’ll get to it soon. Good for you for milling your own flour. I haven’t taken that plunge yet, but then a grinder is below some other gadgets on my list and I have nowhere to put it.

    Marisa: It’s 16″ square, but make sure it fits in your oven (the front-to-back dimension is the important one usually).

    Mo: I promise I’ll have it soon. Early July.

  5. June 29

    Uh huh, suuuuure. I’m making pizza today with whatever dough recipe I can get off google. Impatiently waiting for yours. 🙂

  6. June 29

    beautiful, peter. really. pizzeria mozza in singapore has nothing on you. and i mean that…

    please promise to feed me in september. and wear that suit while cooking. ok? ok!

  7. Peter
    June 29

    Mo: No, seriously.

    Claudia: I will not wear the suit while cooking. You’re only commenting because I owe you money.

  8. July 3

    Wow, one would think you had lived in Italy or something. Wish I could eat my computer screen looking at those pizzas.

  9. “Each time we move something from ”buy” to “homemade,” we experience a frisson of excited accomplishment and that satisfaction unique to having demystified something previously arcane and inaccessible.”

    This! Yes! This is what I try to explain to my friends time and time again! You nailed it right on the head. Some day soon I will have to quote you on my blog … and direct all my friends over your way, of course! 😀

  10. Peter
    July 6

    Nicole: I’m still nostalgic for pizza rustica; this is just me chasing that archetype.

    SF: I love that feeling, and it’s been a big motivation lately. Pleasure is a much better incentive than guilt.

  11. July 16

    i just read your response and that is quite funny. and it was even true at the time…

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