Last week in this column I shared a new discovery – Roberta’s Pizza Dough, a recipe I happened to see in The New York Times from a pizza joint in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This week I’d like to offer a couple of my favorite recipes, along with some tips.
For a really scrumptious, crispy, well-risen crust a pizza stone is vital. They can be found at most hardware stores. Please get one that is at least 15 inches in diameter if it’s round. That’s because it’s easier to slide a 12-inch round pizza onto them if they are at least a couple inches bigger than the size of the pizza. I have a rectangular one, 14 x 20. Works great. Sorry, can’t remember where I bought it.
They’re shaped like a big flat paddle with a handle. If you don’t want to buy one, you can make do by using a heavy piece of cardboard from which to slide your dough onto the hot stone.
Place pizza stone on very bottom shelf of the oven. Then turn the oven to 500 degrees and pre-heat it for 30 minutes, at least.
While oven is heating, prepare the mushrooms:
Use about one-half of a package of fresh button mushrooms or Portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/8th-inch slices.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
A couple wee pinches of dried thyme
¼ tsp. kosher salt
A few grinds of fresh pepper
In a large skillet, sauté mushrooms in oil and butter on medium-high heat. Add thyme, salt, pepper and sauté while stirring, 5 minutes max. You want them to be somewhat chewy, not mushy.
Turn off burner, leave mushrooms in skillet.
Now, sprinkle a layer of corn meal on your pizza peel and rub it all over, making sure there are corn-meal grains, like tiny ball bearings, all over the “paddle” part.
Roll out a 12-inch round of pizza dough. Using fingertips, dimple the surface of the dough all over. Place rolled-out dough onto the corn-mealed pizza peel.
Use a regular spoon to spread pizza sauce over the dough (I like the Contadina-brand pizza sauce that comes in a squeeze bottle.)
Cover the sauce with a nice thick layer of shredded (or fresh) mozzarella. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the cheese and six or seven grindings of black pepper. Then pat the cheese down gently so it stays put. Sprinkle red-pepper flakes over top.
Use a slotted spoon to remove mushrooms from skillet and place them on top of the cheese layer.
After the oven has pre-heated for at least 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 450 degrees. Place the pizza peel right above the hot stone at a slight downward angle, then gently jerk the peel toward you, allowing the pizza to slide off nicely onto the stone.
Bake 10 minutes.
Remove pizza from stone by using a large spatula to separate it from the stone, then coax and slide pizza onto a cookie sheet. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.
When serving, I sprinkle some Kraft-brand canister parmesan cheese on the top.
Prepare dough as noted above. Spread 4 Tbsp. of heavy cream over the top (or you can use 2 Tbsp. milk mixed with 2 Tbsp. sour cream.). Add mozzarella, salt, pepper. Sprinkle red-pepper flakes on top. Then add one or two other kinds of meltable cheeses on top. I use four of those deli slices of provolone cheese, torn in pieces, as well as some fresh parmesan cheese.
Add your toppings of choice, although this white-sauce one is plenty tasty as just a cheese pizza. Bake as in recipe above.
Be sure to remove the pizza stone and clean it after it cools. Also wipe out the very bottom of the oven with damp paper towels to clean it of any burned corn-meal grains.
A 12-inch pizza is fine for one or two people. But if you have more guests, it’s not difficult to just keep rolling out more dough and baking more pizzas one after another. In fact, you can make a “party” of the process, with everyone helping.
I like plain-Jane pizzas that aren’t too gussied up. If you add too many toppings, the dough can get soggy; you might as well make a casserole. Less is more.
Some of my other favorite toppings are pepperoni, Canadian bacon and pineapple, and spinach and crisp bacon pieces (on the white-sauce version). I sometimes add fresh herbs, especially basil leaves. And quite often I grind up fennel seeds with mortar-and-pestle and sprinkle pinches of it over the layer of sauce.
Pizza-making should be fun. Don’t fuss. Suit yourself. Try any toppings you think you’ll like. And then – delizioso! – enjoy.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.