Pizza_1_3

This past Christmas I vowed that unlike previous years, I would actually make use of all of my gifts as soon as possible. This is, after all, the girl who received a Cuisinart food processor for Christmas two years ago and proceeded to leave it in the box for an entire year before taking it out and finally using it. I know, I know! I don’t deserve the food processor. But what can I say? It is now an indispensable part of my batterie de cuisine and no you can longer confiscate it from me on the grounds of neglect.

So with this vow in mind, I eagerly set about unveiling my brand new pizza stone, which was a gift from my mother.

Now I do not for one single moment believe that a pizza stone is required to make great pizza. My mom has been making incredible pizza at home for as long as I can remember. But for me, there is some sort of deeper bond to the pizza stone. I think it has to do with my yearning for a wood-fired oven.

The first time that I ever saw a wood-fired oven, much less ate food cooked in a wood-fired oven, was as a little girl in Italy. My father’s family lived there so we would visit often in the summers. Those days were usually spent with my paternal grandparents who still lived in their home in the hills outside of Ascoli Piceno in the region of Le Marche. It was there, in my grandmother’s rustic kitchen, that there lived a small but very effective wood-fired oven.

I’m not sure why that oven has such a hold on me.  Maybe it’s the memories of watching the fire being slowly built, the smell of the food cooking almost instantly in the oven’s chamber, or the way everything looked as it emerged crisp and golden. All I know is that I have always wanted one.

At the moment, my modest home kitchen does not have the capacity for a wood-fired oven, although a girl can always dream! Until that day comes, I will content myself with my pizza stone, which is a much smaller, more lightweight and easier-to-clean way for me to reconnect with those summer days.

Pizza_3For the pizza dough, I used the recipe that has now become a classic in our family. I am not exaggerating when I say that we have tried at least a hundred different pizza dough recipes over the years. But I always come back to this one. Reliable and easy, it has never failed me. It’s a recipe from a book called Pizza by Lorenza De’ Medici Stucchi. If you have a favourite pizza dough recipe, however, by all means go ahead and try it out on a pizza stone! If you don’t have a pizza stone, never fear, just use regular pizza pans or rimmed baking pans.

While I usually make two large pizzas from this recipe, I decided to make smaller pizzas, about eight to ten inches in diameter. In all, I was able to make six pizzas.

Pizza_4_1As for the toppings, well, therein lies the greatness of pizza. It’s like a canvas waiting to be painted  on. This time around, I chose three different versions:  Yukon gold potatoes with blue cheese and rosemary; tomato sauce with roasted garlic, mozzarella and chili oil; and tomato sauce with artichokes and goat cheese.

While I still yearn for that wood-fired oven, for now I shall content myself with pizza from my own hearth!

Ciao!

Basic Pizza Dough

adapted from Pizza.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for working and rolling the dough
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil (to grease the bowl)
  • cornmeal (if you’re using a pizza stone)

By Hand

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let stand until slightly foamy on top, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour (2 3/4 cups) and the salt. Form into a mound and make a well in the centre.
  3. Add the yeast mixture and either with a fork or your hands, slowly begin incorporating the flour into the yeast mixture. Continue mixing until a dough forms. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour.
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and transfer the dough to the surface.
  5. Using the heel of your hand, knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and then place in an oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and also a tea towel. Place the dough in a draft-free place and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Once the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. (If you’re using a pizza stone, follow the manufacturer’s directions for heating the stone.)
  8. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.
  9. Roll the dough to fit the pan that you are using.
  10. Top the dough as desired (see my variations below). (If you’re using a pizza stone, be sure to sprinkle some cornmeal on the pizza peel or whatever instrument you’re using to transfer the pizza from your work surface to the pizza stone, and on the pizza stone.)
  11. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pizza crust is golden and the toppings are cooked. (If you’re using a pizza stone, transfer your pizza to the stone and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.)

With the food processor:

  1. Follow Step 1 above.
  2. Place the flour (2 3/4 cups) and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.
  3. With the motor running, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube.
  4. Combine until the dough begins to form clumps around the processor blade. If the dough is too sticky, add flour.
  5. Remove the dough from the processor bowl and knead 5 or 6 times to form into a ball.
  6. Place dough in an oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and also a tea towel. Place the dough in a draft-free place and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Follow Steps 7 through 11 above.
  8. Enjoy!

For the pizza with Yukon gold potatoes, blue cheese and rosemary

  • 4 Yukon gold potatoes
  • blue cheese (as much as your heart desires)
  • a few sprigs of rosemary
  • olive oil
  • sea salt (optional)
  1. Peel and rinse the potatoes. Slice into 1/4-inch slices.
  2. Brush the prepared dough with olive oil.
  3. Lay the potato slices on the pizza.
  4. Crumble the blue cheese over the potato slices and sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt.
  5. Bake as directed above.

For the pizza with tomato sauce, roasted garlic mozzarella and chili oil

  • your favourite basic tomato sauce
  • roasted garlic (as much as your heart desires)
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of shredded mozzarella depending on the size of the pizza
  • chili oil (for drizzling)
  • sea salt (optional)
  1. Brush the prepared dough with chili oil (or olive oil).
  2. Spread tomato sauce on the dough and then add roasted garlic.
  3. Top with shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Bake as directed above.
  5. When the pizza comes out of the oven, drizzle with chili oil for added flavour

For pizza with tomato sauce, artichokes and goat cheese

  • your favourite basic tomato sauce
  • canned artichokes, drained and sliced
  • goat cheese (as much as you like)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt (optional)
  1. Brush the prepared dough with olive oil.
  2. Spread tomato sauce on the dough.
  3. Arrange artichoke slices and goat cheese on the dough. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Bake as directed above.

Note:  If you are using a pizza stone, be careful not to sprinkle too much cornmeal on the stone before baking the pizza. I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing worse than burnt cornmeal!