The Great 'Za Debate

perfect slice. heirloom tomatoes, nicoise olives, prosciutto, buffalo mozz and parmigiano reggiano
Ah, pizza. How can someone NOT like pizza? A traditional Neopolitan dish - pizza actually originated as a simple flatbread with some oil, herbs, and salt on it...then maybe a little cheese...but today's typical pizza with tomato came YEARS later. Thanks to gool ole' Chris Columbus, the delicious American fruits of the vines that are tomatoes were brought to Europe, and now the Italians are known for the delicious San Marzano tomatoes and the Margherita pizza (made for Queen Margherita of Savoy to resemble the Italian flag - how cute). So, what's the big debate, you ask?!

What may come to mind is: Chicago deep-dish or NY thin crust? Wood-fired or coal? Di Fara or Motorino? White or Red? East Coast West Coast? Biggie or Tupac? Well, in my mind the debate is – who has the best recipe for the DOUGH! Forget about all these shenanigans and the hullabaloo about competing pizzas.  What’s really important is the CRUST/the vesicle upon which you can devour delicious toppings and get crazy with it.  Think about it. If you wanted tomato and mozz, you’d make yourself a caprese. If you wanted ham and pineapple, you’d go to a luau.  And if you really just wanted some cheeses and pepperonis/random charcuterie, you would just go ahead and get an antipasti plate.  Obviously, the big deal here is the crust.  So if you’re really concerned, why not get off your bum and make some ‘za!?

Dante - quite pensive - deciding on which recipe to use
At this point in time, I have three solid recipes, and the problem is – they are all equally delicious, but different in very subtle ways.  So it really depends on  how long you have before making your pizza - an hour or two, a half day, or a whole/couple days? That being said, here are our three contestants for today (cue Bob Barker):

Chris Bianco, from Phoenix, AZ is the only pizza chef to earn a James Beard Award, and many regard his pizza as the best in the country (sorry NY and Chi) – so clearly he is on the list:

Makes four 12-inch pizzas
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce envelope)
2 cups warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)
5 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting, preferably organic
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, for bowl

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 3 cups flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Stir in an additional 2 cups flour; continue adding flour (up to 1/2 cup), 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until dough comes away from bowl but is still sticky.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead with lightly floured hands. Start by slapping the dough onto the counter, pulling it toward you with one hand and pushing it away from you with the other. Fold the dough back over itself (use a bench scraper or a wide knife to help scrape dough from surface). Repeat until it's easier to handle, about 10 times. Finish kneading normally until dough is smooth, elastic, and soft, but a little tacky, about 10 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic, and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, 3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it's done; an indent should remain.

Behind door two: Mario Batali – his pizza from Otto Enoteca in NY and Mozza Pizzeria (I have to give credit to Nancy Silverton as well) is ridiculous. Not only do I feel like I ate pizza more times in three months while in LA than I have in my life combined because of Mozza, but I also made sure that EVERYONE went there. Recipe two:

¼ cup white wine
¾ cup warm water
1-½ ounces yeast
1-tablespoon honey
1-teaspoon kosher salt
1-tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour

Combine wine, water and yeast in a large bowl and stir until dissolved. Add the honey, salt and olive oil and mix thoroughly. Start by adding 1 cup of flour and make a wet paste. Add remaining flour and incorporate.

Place dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 2 to 3 minutes.  Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise for 45 minutes.

And last but not least, pizza dough from the Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, CA. I will leave it at that – no explanation besides this is one of the country’s most amazing hidden gems.  This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to, so I’ll save all my mumbo-jumbo about this slice of heaven for another post.

½ teaspoon active dry years
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1-teaspoon kosher salt

Place ¾ cup lukewarm water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Rain in the yeast, stir, and set it aside to activate for 5 minutes.

Add the flour to the yeast mixture and sprinkle the salt on top. Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment, and combine on slow speed for 1 minute, until all the ingredients start to come together. Increase the speed to medium ad mix for 2 minutes. Then increase the speed to high and mix for 2 more minutes.

Immediately turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Roll each half into a tight round. Place the balls o a floured baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in a large plastic bag and tie the bag loosely. Refrigerate overnight (or for 2 nights).

The next day, about an hour before baking the pizzas, pull the baking sheet out of the refrigerator and leave it in a warm area till you’re ready to use the dough.

So go for it! It's fun making a mess pizza dough.  Here's a secret. If you're REALLY, I mean REALLY in a pinch, go to your corner pizzeria (a good one, not a chain like the ones named after an old-school game) and pick up a ball of dough - it will usually run a couple bucks, and all you have to do is prep the dough, heat your oven, and voila!  On that note, on to Scene Two: the toppings!

Please, please, please. Remember this: the better the ingredients, the better the final product.  Also, even though summer is hot, it is a GREAT time to make pizza because there are such amazing, fresh ingredients available.  

Despite which toppings you choose, there are a few steps to follow.  

1) It's best to have a baking stone and a pizza peel - if you don't have one, it's absolutely fine and you can just place your pizza on a baking sheet - use some parchment paper just in case it wants to stick though! 
2) Turn your oven on full blast. Most people don't have pizza ovens (unfortunately) so it can never get up to the super high heat, but this should do - let's say about 450F degrees. If you have one, stick the stone in the oven.
3) Dust the counter, the dough, your hands, your face, whatever with flour and start stretching, pushing, pressing, an tossing until you have a quasi-pizza shape (circular pizza is overrated)
4) Not necessary, but I sometimes like to par-bake my crust because I don't want to overcook the toppings - use your discretion!
5) Let your pizza sit out of the oven for a bit so all the ingredients can "set" - it will be a lot easier to cut!

Here are a few of my favorite pizzas, among many, that I've made:

Caramelized onions & porcinis, campari tomatoes
Breakfast Pizza!
Breakfast Pizza - this should be outlawed.  Crispy bacon, fresh buffalo mozzarella, eggs (sunnyside up from cooking in the oven), parm, and scallions.  I'm not a big bacon or sausage on pizza kinda person (prosciutto does NOT count!), but this is insane. 

Fresh squash blossom, chevre cheese, and truffle oil
Jubilee Heirlooms, fresh Michigan sweet corn, prosciutto
standard margherita with Hillbilly hierlooms

white pizza with sage and truffle

With all greenery - fresh herbs, scallions, etc. I would recommend sprinkling them on post-cooking, but with the above white pizza, putting the sage right on the cheese and allowing it to cook crisps is up so it's almost fried 0 extra delicious.
Burrata and garlic scape
So try out some pies, and let me know all the different delicious combinations you come up with!

So valuable I can't even get my own damn jar of it!
One last note: if you really want to kick up any pizza 1000% you must get fennel pollen.  I can't even explain the difference that this stuff makes. Yes, it's expensive, but a little bit goes a long way - you can get it from Zingerman's.  Oh yea, a little truffle salt doesn't hurt either! 

Happy tossing!!


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