As per usual, the time I did burn the $@*%^ out of the pizza was entirely the fault of the equipment and in no way could the events of that evening be blamed on me. I had read a bit about Neopolitan pizza and it is properly cooked at around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Several chefs confirmed this so rather than my usual 500 degrees in the oven for 12-15 minutes, I put my pizza stone in my in-laws Big Green Egg and turned opened all the bevels. With the egg at 900 I put on my first pizza not knowing how long it would need to cook but assuming that if I checked on it in about five minutes I could gauge the progress and adjust. After five minutes it was a cinder. The toppings looked fine but the crust was just a hunk of brittle carbon. We turned the heat down to 500 and with the exception of a little black on the next pizza from the pizza stone, which took a bit longer than expected to cool down, we had three very tasty pizzas.
The next day I was speaking to a baker I knew and it turns out that for those temperatures you need special flour. Your average domestic grocery store flour caramelizes at 600 degrees. See. Not my fault. I didn’t stand a chance.
On to the recipes.
For the crust:
3 cups of bread flour
1 packet active yeast
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsps olive oil
enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the inside of a large bowl – let’s call it two glugs
Put the sugar and yeast into a bowl and then add 1 cup of warm water and let sit for ten minutes until it foams. Put the flour in a mixer. You need this by hand if you like to but you won’t like to for long. We’ve done it both ways and can’t tell the difference. Make a cup in the flour so it looks like a volcano then add the salt and the olive oil and then pour in the foamy yeast water. Start your mixer on low at first and as it mixes turn it up to medium or medium high and let mix for around 8 minutes until it coheres and looks like dough. Coat a large bowl with extra virgin olive oil and roll your ball of dough around coating it well. Cover with a dish towel and leave it at room temperature or somewhere warm (not hot – in sunlight or on top of an unlit gas oven) to rise. Punch it down after thirty minutes and again after an hour and you have ready to cook dough. This makes enough for two roughly 12 inch pizzas.
For the sauce:
1 28oz. can of whole tomatoes with its juice
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium to large carrot, diced
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
a hand full of chopped fresh oregano
pinch dried red pepper flakes
Pour a little olive oil into a sauce pan and add the garlic. Turn up the heat to high and when it starts to get really fragrant, about two or three minutes but be careful not to let it turn brown, and then add the onion. When the onion turns translucent, add the carrots and celery and a dash of salt and cook until the vegetables start to soften, five or so minutes. Break up the tomatoes in a bowl and pour them in along with the oregano and a pinch or more of red pepper flakes. Don’t kill yourself, but don’t worry about making it a bit too hot. You are going to cover it in dairy fat soon so it wont be as strong as you think. Keep it on high until you see little bubbles coming through the surface and then turn it down to medium for ten minutes and correct for salt. Take it off the heat and puree.
A couple of tips: I like to construct the pizza on the peel so I don’t mess it up in transfer. I’ve also found the it’s easier to get the pizza off the peel and into the oven if you toss a few pinches of cornmeal on the peel before you put down the dough. So roll the dough out on a floured service until it’s about 12 inches wide and put it on the peel. Pinch the dough around the edges to contain the sauce. At this point make sure everything is ready because every minute the sauce sits on the dough outside the oven is a minute that the dough gets soggy. Ladle the sauce in the center of the pie and using the bottom of the ladle, spread over the surface. Add some sliced fresh mozzarella keeping in mind that it will spread as it melts so you don’t want to cover every square inch. Lightly sprinkle with some shredded fontina, which lumps together in the most unpleasant ways, but is worth the effort. As I mentioned above, you need to preheat the oven to 500 and when it reaches temperature give your pizza stone twenty minutes to fully absorb the heat. Cooking time is from 12 to 15 minutes. Make sure and check every five minutes or so for bubbles in the crust. If you see one, pop it with a fork.
Toppings are a personal choice, but if I may offer some suggestions:
Sauteed bacon lardons, asparagus, and corn
Black olives and pruscuitto
Potato and rosemary
And not terribly original, but awsome – pepperoni and sausage