If you're old enough to remember the show that was hosted by Leonard Nimoy, you're old enough to understand the importance of searching for the unknown, the unexplained, the mysterious. But what am I in search of? No, not extraterrestrials, not what happened to Amelia Earhart, not the truth about the Bermuda Triangle. More pragmatic, more practical, but still mysterious. It's pizza. More accurately, perfect homemade pizza dough. Okay, maybe not perfect. Maybe pretty damn close? Can someone lead me in that direction? It seems like it would be so simple. A mix of water, salt, flour, oil, yeast.
I try recipe after recipe, not tied down to one formula. I skimmed Jim Lahey's My Pizza (having made his no-knead bread, I'm behind this man). I think about the tools I use, the ingredients I have on hand, what I can tweak, what I should tweak, what I accidentally discovered (hello overnight cold rise!), and why I always forget I own a pizza stone.
I haven't tried Jim Lahey's yet. That's next on the list. The latest recipe I used was Alice Waters' recipe from The Art of Simple Food. It's good. Very good. Alice's recipe got the overnight cold rise and since the recipe makes enough for two pizzas, the first was traditionally baked in the oven, the second was actually 'baked' in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. More like fried, with a touch of olive oil, then after adding some caramelized onion, cheese, and porchetta (Oh, porchetta!), I threw it under a broiler until the cheese melted and the crust charred.
The other recipe is from a book I bought awhile ago called, The Cook's Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking by Carla Capalbo. I bought it at the used bookstore around the corner and it's turned out to be a great little find. Lots of practical, not over the top recipes and in the year or so that I've had it, I refer to it more times than I thought I would. This version also got the cold rise treatment and was made solely by the cast iron/stovetop/broiler method. Thanks to a pizza craving when Los Angeles had one of its ugly heatwaves last month, I couldn't wait for the temps to drop to satisy the craving, and that's when I tried the stovetop method.
I loved using my cast iron skillet so much, that I'm throwing cast iron pizza into the regular rotation. For some reason, it just seems like it takes less effort. Which, in looking at it objectively, doesn't. Two steps compared to throwing it on a sheet and slipping it into the oven. I don't know. They're both good.
Porchetta and Caramelized Onion Pizza
Dough recipe makes enough for 2 10-inch pizza
Alice Waters' Pizza Dough Recipe
2 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup rye flour
3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
Stir together the yeast and 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Add the rye flour and 1/4 cup of the ap flour. Let this sit in a bowl until bubbly, about 1/2 hour. In another bowl, mix the remaining ap flour with the salt. After the yeast mixture is foamy, add the flour and salt mix, along with the olive oil and cold water. Mix dough and turn out onto a floured board, kneading for about 5 minutes until dough is soft and elastic. If your dough is wet, add a little more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the right consistency is met.
Here you can either put the dough in a bowl, covered and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm spot or put the dough in the refrigerator for an overnight rise. Just remember to take it out a couple of hours before you want to use it.
6 oz porchetta, sliced paper thin
1/2 cup onion, caramelized
1/2 cup Grana Padano, grated
1/2 cup Asiago, grated
2 tbsp basil, chiffonaded
red pepper oil, for drizzling (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees (if baking in the oven). Stretch dough to roughly 10-12 inches. Sprinkle dough with cheeses and basil. Spread caramelized onion and porchetta over dough. On a pan, with a thin layer of coarse cornmeal, place pizza and put in oven. Bake for 8-12 minutes. When removed from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining basil and drizzle the oil.
If you opt for the cast iron skillet method, make the dough big enough to fit into your pan. Put pan over high heat and add a little oil (about 1 tsp or so). Add dough and allow to cook, flipping over every few minutes. Turn on your stove's broiler to its highest setting. Top dough with porchetta et al and put pan under broiler. Keeping an eye on the pizza, remove when you see a little char on the crust and porchetta edges look crispy.
Basic Pizza Dough
From 'The Cook's Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking'
Makes roughly 2 10-inch pizzas
2 1/2 tbsp fresh cake yeast or 1 pkg dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
In a bowl, mix the water and yeast. Stir in the sugar and let stand until yeast dissolves and begins to foam, 5-10 minutes. Mix in the salt and about a third of the flour, stirring and gradually adding the flour until dough easily pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 8-10 minutes. In a lightly oiled bowl, place the dough inside and cover with a moistened and wrung out dish towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45-50 minutes. Punch down the dough and knead for a minute or two. Dough is ready for toppings. Bake using either method above.
Notes: both recipes actually call for unbleached flour. Obviously, all purpose will work the same. I tend to have either or on hand, so use what you've got. As for the rye flour, if you don't have any, swap regular flour for the 1/4 cup called. I had it on hand and think it adds a subtle touch that you can't quite place your finger on. Feel free to use whole wheat if you don't have rye. The second recipe calls for cake yeast. If you can find it, I highly recommend using it. It's a hit or miss find for me, so I use the dry yeast.