Monday, June 30, 2014

Pizza Picnic

Once you've got the hang of that Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe, it can free you up to do all kinds of things.  In fact, your confidence might be such that you find yourself visiting your local restaurant supply store to pick up pizza boxes.  I mean, don't those beautiful almost-pro pies of yours deserve it?

tony's pizza:  zuke! fig. a:  Tony's Pizza:  We deliver!

The Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe is intended to make classic, round Neapolitan pies that are cooked fast in a blistering-hot oven.  But it can just as easily be used to make the kind of pan pizzas that places like Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery specialize in.  In fact, combining the Roberta's method with aspects of Lahey's method results in some truly outstanding pan pizzas.  And there are a number of advantages to this approach for the novice:

1.  you don't need a pizza stone
2.  you don't need a pizza peel
3.  these pizzas can be easier to form
4.  these pizzas tend to have better staying power

"Staying power"?  Yeah, your classic Neapolitan pizza is best eaten fresh out of the oven.  That doesn't mean it won't be tasty later, either at room temperature, or cold out of the refrigerator, but it's at its absolute peak piping-hot, just moments after having been pulled out of that blistering-hot oven.

Your pan pizza, on the other hand, is often just as good when it's at room temperature--especially if you make the kinds of simple, but smart and delicious pizzas Sullivan Street Bakery became famous for.

This, in turn, opens up further possibilities--like pizza picnics!  Get your hands on those pizza boxes and you suddenly have a dish that's (fairly) easily transportable, that's ready to eat and keeps nicely, and that's a real crowd-pleaser.

In fact, all you need is a bottle of rosé, some olives, and a nice salad, and you've got yourself a complete picnic spread.


P1040292 figs. b & c:  Tony's zuke pie

Then all you have to do is round up some of your pizza-loving friends.  You might even want to dust off your old croquet set as an added lure.  If you've got a backyard with a suitable lawn, and you're a real Eighties Revivalist, you can go for that Heathers look.

croquet fig. d:  girls gone wild

Then again, if you're more into that Downton Abbey vibe, choose the lushest, most perfectly manicured park you can find.  Preferably one that lies in front of an actual castle.

And if you want to really challenge your guests, select a park that's got some lush and shady sections, for dining and spectating, surrounding a chewed-up ole dogpatch, like we did.  That's when you discover who the true "magicians of the mallet" are.  Already, by our second match, a number of members of our crew were running off brilliant runs of shots, in spite of the difficult terrain.

P1040294 fig. e:  diamonds in the rough

Anyway, I was so excited by the prospect of a pizza picnic that I baked three different kinds the morning of our Pall Mall Pizza Picnic.  The pizza you see above is our latest coup de coeur:  an unorthodox, but fantastically tasty zucchini and Gruyère pie (the Italian original would be made with Fontina instead).  The photos you see below are a couple of before & after shots of the pan pizza that's been a go-to dish for us for the last few months:  pizza patate or potato pie.


potato pizza figs. f & g:  potato pizza, before & after

Okay, so what exactly is the Lahey Pan Pizza Method?  Well, it looks like this.

Lahey pizza method fig. h:  Jim Lahey demonstrates

It starts with your pizza dough.  You can use Lahey's own recipe from My Bread, or you can use that Roberta's Pizza Dough Recipe--just make sure to use the full "24-hour" version, featuring 18 to 24 hours of slow fermentation time, if you opt for Roberta's Pizza Dough.

Then you need a 13" x 18" sheet pan and some olive oil.

And, finally, you need to carefully stretch the dough across the sheet pan, forming a rectangular shape.  Check out Lahey's technique in the image above.

With just these elements, you're ready to make a minimalist flatbread.  Just drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle it with sea salt, and bake in a pre-heated 500º F oven.

But these element also form the basics for Lahey's topped pies.

Potato Pizza 
1 qt lukewarm water
4 tsp kosher salt
6 to 8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 cup yellow onion, diced
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
fresh rosemary
fresh chives, chopped 
special equipment:  a mandoline, to make the extra-thin potato slices you need for such a pie 
In a medium bowl, combine the water and the salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Use a mandoline to slice the potatoes very thin (1/16th of an inch thick), and put the slices directly into the salted water.  Let soak in the brine for 1 1/2 hours (or refrigerate and soak for up to 12 hours), until the slices are wilted and no longer crisp.  Doing so will prevent against your potatoes oxidizing, but, more importantly, it will both salt your potatoes and help leach out the water in the potato slices themselves.  This is an essential step, so don't try to cheat on it. 
When your potato slices are ready, reheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack placed in the center. 
Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much excess water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  In a medium bowl, toss together the potato slices, onion, pepper, and olive oil. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the potato mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges of the pan.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and/or the chives. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices. 
Zucchini Pizza 
3 large zucchini, or 6 to 8 medium zucchinis (about 2.5 pounds)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups grated Gruyère
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp homemade bread crumbs 
Use a box grater to grate the zucchini.  In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the zucchini and salt.  Let stand for 15-20 minutes, until the zucchini has wilted and released its water.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack in the center position. 
Drain the zucchini in a colander, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  Salting the zucchini, letting it release its water, draining it, and patting it dry is absolutely essential to the success of this pizza.  Skipping any of these steps will result in a disastrously soggy pizza, so, please, no cheating. 
In a medium bowl, toss together the zucchini and cheese, breaking up any clumps of zucchini, until well mixed. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the zucchini mixture over the dough.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs.  These give the pizza both color and texture. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Again, Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices.
[both recipes are closely based on recipes that appear in Jim Lahey's My Bread]

The third pizza I made was a mushroom pie, with a combination of standard white mushrooms and some sautéed shiitakes, but I didn't take any photographs, so you're going to have figure that one out for yourself.

The bottom line is that this pan pizza method is easy to master and it turns out some great pies.  It also results in a type of pizza that makes possible the pizza picnic, or a low-stress version of the pizza party. 

Why not just use Jim Lahey's own pizza dough recipe if you're going to use his pan pizza method and recipes?  There's no reason you couldn't--but, if you've already fallen in love with one pizza dough recipe, and it works with this method, why not keep things simple?  In terms of the end result, Lahey's pizza dough recipe involves more flour, more yeast, and less fermentation time, and it turns out a pizza that's delicious but somewhat breadier.  Using Roberta's pizza dough recipe turns out the pizzas you see in the photos above.  It's really up to you.

Either way:  long live the pizza picnic!


Friday, June 06, 2014

DIY Pies

Summer isn't even here yet, but already the summer of 2014 is shaping up to be the Summer of the Pizza.  You see, a few weeks ago I experienced something of a pizza epiphany (the trigger appeared in The New York Times, so I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone), and since then I've been on a tear.

Tony's Pizza! fig. a:  Tony's Pizza!

I'd been messing around with pizza recipes for a few years, and I'd experienced a fair degree of success, but I'd never quite hit on a recipe that felt like The One.  Most of the time I was working with variations on Chad Robertson's pizza basics from Tartine Bread.  I've been baking bread quite seriously for a few years now, and my method is very closely based on Robertson's method, so it made sense to follow his lead when it came to pizza, too.  If you follow the instructions in Tartine Bread, the pizza that results is a sourdough-based pie that's a bit on the rustic side for three reasons:  1) because you're essentially pinching dough from your country bread recipe, which contains 10% whole wheat flour, 90% all-purpose flour, and no 00 flour; 2) because your sourdough starter also contains whole wheat flour; and 3) because Robertson recommends dusting your pizza peel with corn meal to help with the transfer of the pizza to your stone. I like "rustic," and Robertson's method results in pizzas that have nice shape and great rise to them, but, still, even though I played around with the formula, it never felt like The One.

nyt margherita fig. b:  margherita by Falco & Sifton

Then I came across Sam Sifton's collaboration with Anthony Falco in the digital pages of The New York Times back in April.  Sifton wasn't just looking to create good pizza at home, he was aspiring to greatness.  And in order to crack the code, he turned to Falco, the "official pizza czar" at Roberta's, the pizzeria/restaurant/bar/tiki garden/community radio station that's perhaps the defining enterprise and hangout of the Bushwick scene of the last decade.  Roberta's also happens to produce some truly outstanding pizza pies.  What resulted was a manifesto.  After commenting on the sheer amount of pizza consumed in America, then lamenting the fact that so much of that pizza is so poor, Sifton goes ahead and proclaims the arrival of a New Era of DIY Pizza-Making:

Very little pizza is made at home, from scratch. 
I am here to change that.  I am here to say:  You can make pizza at home.  You can make pizza at home that will be the equal of some of the best pizzas available on the planet.  With a minimal amount of planning and practice, you can get good at it, even if you are a relatively novice cook.  [my emphasis]
That's a bold statement worthy of the bold type, but, the thing is, Sifton is just about right.  You can make pizza at home.  You can even make some mighty fine pizzas that are comparable to some of the best pizzas available on the planet.  The only thing you'll likely be missing out on is the effect of baking a pizza fast in a blistering-hot pizza oven that's running somewhere between 700º - 1000º F, especially a wood-fired pizza oven like Roberta's.  But your pizzas will look awesome and you'll be proud to serve them, and, even more importantly, you'll be blown away by just how great your DIY pies taste.  I mean, even your leftover pizza will look and taste great.

leftover pizza  fig. c:  leftover margherita & sausage pizza lunch

As soon as I tried this Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe, it felt like The One.

The secret to the Roberta's recipe is all in the method.  Aside from the 00 flour, the ingredients are as basic as they get.  Sifton urges his readers to make use of a kitchen scale the way real bakers do.  I fully agree, but I've included the volume for the active dry yeast because the amount called for (2 grams) is very small, and my kitchen scale is not particularly trustworthy when it comes to such tiny amounts.  And although the recipe works with a minimum of 3 hours' rising time, it works like a charm and has a great deal more flavour if you start your dough about 24 hours before you plan to make your pizzas.  I've made a few 3-hour, 6-hour, and 8-hour pizzas using this recipe over the last couple of months, but I always get the very best results when I start 20 to 24 hours in advance.  Plan ahead.  What Sifton calls "a little pizza homework" really pays off.

Another one of the reasons that Sifton and Falco's collaboration is such a success, is that the article comes with an accompanying video that's clear and concise and provides a great sense of what the dough should look and feel like at each stage in the process.  Don't miss out on it!

The only specialized pieces of equipment you need to make great pizzas at home are a pizza/baking stone and a pizza peel, but even these aren't 100% essential, and Sifton & Falco suggest some useful cheats.

Anyway, without any further ado:
Roberta's Pizza Dough 
Total time: 20 minutes, plus at least 3 hours of rising time 
153 grams 00 flour
153 grams all-purpose flour
8 grams fine sea salt
2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
4 grams extra-virgin olive oil 
1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. 
2.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. 
3.  Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.) 
4. Place your baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat your oven at the very highest setting. 
5.  To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. Top and bake. 
6.  Check your pizza after about 3-4 minutes.  Rotate your pizza if necessary.  Total baking time will be approximately 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the nature of your oven.   
Yield: 2 x 12-inch pizzas 
[recipe based very closely on the recipe that appears in "A Little Pizza Homework" by Sam Sifton, The New York Times, April 8, 2014]
When it comes to topping your DIY pies, Sifton is a proponent of simplicity:
Topping a pizza is tender work as well.  You do not want to overload the pie.  Doing so leaves it soggy, no matter the heat of the oven.  
He's absolutely right, and the recipes that accompany his article are all minimalist gems from the Roberta's repertoire:  their margherita; a two-cheese pizza that cleverly riffs on cacio e pepe, the classic Roman pasta dish (think lots of pepper); and the Green & White, which combines a simple mozzarella pizza with fresh greens.

But after you've mastered these, you'll likely feel emboldened and start thinking about experimenting with toppings a little.  This recipe is very amenable to such experimentation.  Just remember to keep it simple when you do.

When I got started on this pizza craze back in April, I started out as simple as they get--mostly margheritas and marinaras.  But as soon as I felt I had the hang of this recipe (and that was pretty much immediately), I tried out some more adventurous combinations that I'd collected over the years--combinations that I'd either experienced firsthand, or that I'd read about.  Like this radicchio & gremolata pizza

radicchio pie fig. d:  radicchio & gremolata pie

that I also read about in The New York Times a few years back.

Or this potato pizza recipe

Untitled fig. e:  potato pie

from Jim "No-knead/Sullivan Street Bakery" Lahey that's been blowing our minds for years.

Or even this breakfast pizza

sausage & egg pizza fig. f:  sausage & egg breakfast pie

that combined a riff on American Flatbread's classic New Vermont Sausage pizza with an homage to Motorino's breakfast/brunch pizzas.

Feeling lucky?  Here's the recipe for the radicchio pie:
Radicchio & Gremolata Pizza 
1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
extra-virgin olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, cored, outer leaves discarded, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 oz mozzarella
1 oz grated Parmesan or aged pecorino 
Mix the parsley, garlic, citrus zests and enough olive oil to make a loose paste.  Add the salt and the black pepper until the flavour is strong and pleasant to the palate.  Let the gremolata sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours. 
Once you've formed your pizza dough, spread half the gremolata on it, before topping it with half the mozzarella and half the Parmesan or pecorino, and, finally, half the radicchio.  This amount of radicchio might look excessive, but, don't worry, it will reduce significantly. 
Bake until the crust is golden and the radicchio is wilted and a bit charred. 
Eat and repeat. 
Yield:  makes enough topping for 2 x 12-inch pizzas.
[based on a recipe that accompanied "The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza" by Oliver Strand, The New York Times, May 18, 2010]
This beautiful pizza may very well have been the winner at a recent pizza party featuring four different types.  It looks amazing and the taste is unbelievable.  The radicchio gets a bit charred and crispy and caramelized on top; then there's a second layer of radicchio that gets sweet and juicy; and, finally,  there's the cheese and the gremolata to bring it all together and really make it sing.  We're talking a serious showstopper here.

Anyway, that Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe is the key.  Especially if you give it the time it needs to ferment properly.  I've never seen a pizza dough that's such a joy to work with.  And the flavour!

Stay tuned for more about potato pizza, and for my sourdough version of Roberta's Pizza Dough (!).

In the meantime:

Long live pizza!


Long live the New Era of DIY Pies!!