(Gal, Liz and Jenn making Pizza)
Pizza night is a weekly tradition in this house, and something we love to share with friends and family when they come to visit the homestead. Two weeks ago, I had a reunion with my best friend from high school, Liz, or as she is affectionately known to me, Lizard. We fell out of touch, like many of us do, over some boys…and we hadn’t been in touch for nearly 10 years. BAD BOYS. I thought about her often over the years, and we were so happy to be reunited on Facebook! She lives in Brooklyn, with her beautiful family, and she and her awesome husband came to visit us.
Pizza is the perfect food for entertaining. It is also a great way to feed a crowd when you are not sure what kinds of dietary restrictions people might have. Toppings can range from all veggies, to anchovies, some sausages, or whatever. You can even use pesto or barbecue sauce in place of traditional tomato sauce. You can even forego the cheese, if someone in your group is lactose intolerant. Making pizza together is a great way to spend time with friends – rolling out the dough, making personal pizzas, and then enjoying it together, with a nice glass of red, maybe a beer, and a lot of laughs! See how much fun we are having?
We are really passionate about our pizza here. Roberto grew up eating pizza in Italy, and I grew up thinking I didn’t like pizza (don’t blame me, blame “cheesefood”). This all changed when I discovered thin, crunchy, crust, fresh mozzarella cheese and the amazing array of fresh toppings that one can come up with when you make pizza at home! So you could say that we are both very picky pizza eaters. We might even be pizza snobs. So, in order to do justice to homemade pizza, we have been experimenting and creating for the past two years to come up with THE PERFECT PIZZA (TM).
We used to use the Olive Oil bread dough from Artisan Bread in 5, religiously. However, during that time, we had a bit of a wrench thrown into the works, when I discovered that I was having trouble with wheat. So we experimented with gluten free flours, and pizza dough recipes, and all of them really left a lot to be desired. So we had some sad and disappointing Friday nights. I was determined to find a pizza dough that was up to par taste and texture wise, and at the same time didn’t make me wake up with a hangover feeling the next day. This is where the sourdough comes in. I had heard through the blogosphere that people with wheat intolerance (NOT Celiac) were able to tolerate sourdough bread products. It has to do with neutralizing enzyme inhibitors, which interfere with digestion and breaking down phytic acid, which generally blocks mineral absorption. Sourdough cultures also predigest or completely break down the gluten during the fermentation process. Creating a bread that is more digestable. I also used spelt flour, because I have found that it is not as “heavy” as whole wheat, and closer to the feeling of a traditional pizza crust, like you would find in Italy.
For us, one of our secrets to making a super flavorful pizza is to use tomato paste in place of tomato sauce. This is a family secret, that one of my great aunts came up with. Roberto feels that this “proprietary” information should not be shared with the public. But like I told him, now maybe if we have homemade pizza at someone else’s house, maybe they read my post, and we will like it all the better! That punch of tomato paste flavor really comes through in all its sweetness once it is baked in the oven. Also, the cheese matters. Get the best quality mozzarella that you can, not the shredded stuff. Nice slices of fresh mozzarella add something wonderfully light to the pizza – and go easy on it. It is OK to have some bare spots, where you can actually see only sauce. Trust us…
Some of our favorite toppings are: fresh tomato slices, fresh mushrooms, prosciutto, arugula, anchovies, olives (capers if we are too lazy to pit olives) peperoncini peppers, and sun dried tomatoes. And you must remember to salt and pepper your pizza, and a nice drizzle of olive oil over top doesn’t hurt either! We mix and match the toppings on different pizzas. Usually we make 2 pizzas, and then have leftover for lunches. Another favorite is using pesto as the sauce, and then adding thinly sliced potatoes, that you have baked slightly beforehand.
Perhaps the most important aspect to the perfect pizza is a HOT oven. We preheat our oven 20 minutes ahead to 500 F. We bake our pizzas on cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper. This makes the crust super crisp and delicious! I have heard all the rage about pizza stones, and one day I might add one to my kitchen tools. But I use my Italian husband as a barometer for a good pizza, and so far, we have done well without the need for a pizza stone.
So we suggest you get your crust ready tonight to have pizza tomorrow!
¼ cup sourdough starter
5 cups spelt flour
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS salt
2 cups water
3 cups sprouted spelt flour (or you can use regular, if you prefer)
1 tsp olive oil
Combine starter, 5 cups spelt flour, olive oil, salt and water in a large bowl. Cover loosely with a towel or lid and allow to stand in a warm place for 5-10 hours, or overnight is best. Next add 3 cups of sprouted spelt flour and work it into the dough, enough so you can handle it without it being too sticky. Form the dough into a ball, and rub 1 tsp of olive oil all over it. Place it back in the bowl and let it stand 20 minutes. Then knead the dough with your hands until it is smooth and elastic, then place it back in the bowl, and allow it to double in bulk – about 1 hour. At this point you can use it to make pizza. This recipe makes about 4 large cookie sheet rectangular pizzas. If you are not going to use it all, you can rip off 4 grapefruit sized balls and store each one in a freezer bag, until you want to use it. When you want to use it, take it out to defrost, and then roll out, and put your favorite toppings on.