Pizza is a basic. Starting this school year, in addition to my English classes, I will be teaching culinary arts to our high school students. Pizza will be one of the things that I teach them how to cook, and how to cook properly. It is a must-learn! There is more to it than a frozen concoction or a pre-baked crust or even takeout.
Pizza is one of those many comfort foods that can be done right, and done well. It can be customized to reflect exactly your tastes and personality. It all depends on what you put on it.
I had the craving to bake pizza after going wine tasting in Anderson Valley, CA this weekend. We stopped at Navarro Vineyards – whose wines are divine, by the way – and were treated to a tasting of cheeses. The cheese are made locally by Pennyroyal Farm and crafted from the milk of their very own free-grazing sheep and goats. The Laychee cheese, which I used on the pizza, is a blend of sheep and goats milk. It has the creaminess of a soft goat’s cheese with the saltiness of a feta. Absolutely delicious.
When it comes to pizza, I am a purist. I chose to compliment this cheese from Boonville, CA, with the simplest and tastiest of ingredients. I sliced some garlic super thin, did a chiffonade of fresh basil, and cut up the last of my heirloom tomatoes from last week’s CSA delivery. Finally, I determined that these tomatoes were green zebras (the only one I received in my box!) and marvel stripes. They had a sweet taste that went well with the salty cheese.
Since what you put on pizza varies so much, the crust is what you must master. I use a very basic crust recipe:
Basic Pizza Dough
3/4 c. lukewarm water
1 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 c. bread flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix the water, yeast, and sugar together in a large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes, or until yeast dissolves and starts to bubble. Stir in the flour and salt (of the 2 cups of flour, try using up to 1 cup of of whole wheat flour!) until you have a sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and kneed for 10 minutes, making sure the dough gets nice and elastic.
Now you have three options. 1) Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise for about an hour, until doubled, then use immediately. 2) Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, putting it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Remove an hour before baking. 3) Gently oil the ball of dough and wrap in plastic wrap, placing it in the freezer. This will last up to 3 months. Remove the dough from the freezer the night before you will bake it!
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, then place a pizza stone in the over for 20 minutes. Remove the stone carefully and rest it on an upside down baking sheet. Sprinkle the stone gently with corn meal to prevent your pizza from sticking. Stretch the pizza dough thin so that it will cover the whole stone. All of this can be done on a regular baking sheet, just don’t preheat the baking sheet like you would the stone.
Either brush the crust with olive oil or top with pizza sauce. Top with your favorite toppings.
Bake in the 500 degree oven for 10 minutes. When removing, be extremely careful and watch where you place the hot stone!
The pizza stone gets the crust nice and crispy while letting the toppings cook at their own pace. The cheese melted nicely, and the garlic was perfect.