02 May 2008

Homemade Pizza

Years ago I used to make a lot of homemade bread. During high school and for a few years afterwards, I made all kinds of loaves: traditional baguettes, artisan European breads, sourdough, crazy experimental loaves, gargantuan Russian bread cooked in a full 5 qt. Dutch oven, and whatever else struck my fancy. It wasn't uncommon for me to keep half a dozen different flours on hand at any given time. At some point I moved on to other things, and great local bakeries have filled the need for the odder kinds of bread.

A brief mention of Mario Batali's Otto mentioned a pizza technique I'd been wanting to try. His restaurant starts pizza on a griddle and finishes it in the oven. I've read of similar ideas using a cast-iron skillet, and that's what I tried.

Making the dough was easy even though it had been forever. Recipe? We don't need no stinkin' recipe! Flour, water, salt, yeast, a dash of sugar. Allowed to rise twice, etc. While the dough was doing its thing I took some Muir Glen canned tomatoes, spiced them up a bit and reduced it all down for the sauce. The cooking method requires a bit more detail. (I've got an electric oven, so with gas this will be a bit different.)

I moved a rack of the oven to the top position and turned the broiler on, leaving the door shut. The big cast iron skillet was allowed to heat on medium high until all the metal was hot. I formed the crust into a rough disc as thin as possible (about 1/8" thick on my example but with more refined dough you can go even thinner--just cook it less). Lay out your mise en place, making sure to have everything ready. Put the pets in another room, turn off the smoke alarm, and prepare to sweat.

I spooned a bit of the homemade sauce on the dough, just enough to get the flavor and some nice chunks of tomato. Too much will make it soggy. I topped it with cut fresh mozzarella balls and a little Sriracha sauce. Dash of sea salt and pepper. I scattered a little cornmeal in the cast iron skillet and immediately slid the pizza into the skillet. Just a couple of minutes until the bottom is crispy and is flecked with a few black marks. Before the bottom burns, slide it out of the skillet (don't burn yourself) onto a plate or pizza peel. Then slide it directly onto the rack of the oven directly under the broiler. Cook until desired level of bubbling/browning/etc. For me it only took another couple of minutes.

While prep and everything took a while, the actual cooking time on the pictured pizza was less than five minutes. Five hot and busy minutes, but quick nonetheless. I threw some fresh basil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and enjoyed it mere seconds after this photo was taken. Great pizza. Light and crispy, full-flavored, and the crust had those little charred spots that do wonders for the taste.

I will warn you that the potential for screwing this up is great. Don't take your eyes off the pie at any stage of the process and be prepared for some smoke. But if you're willing to bear the heat as temperatures rise here in the South, then go for it.


fredric koeppel said...

wow, that looks great! as many pizzas as i have made, i have never done one on a griddle or grill. of course mine are bigger, like maybe 16 inches in diameter (well, they're never perfect circles), so that would be mnore difficult. what wine did you sip with this Little Wonder?

Benito said...

I just drank ice water--I was focused more on the cooking method than on eating, and it's one that requires razor-sharp attention and reflexes.

If I had been a person sitting at the table while all this was happening, a cold, crisp Prosecco would have been perfect.

fredric koeppel said...

pizza prestidigitation!

gregg smith said...

"local bakeries"?? are you still in Memphis or did I dream you ever were?

Benito said...

There's Shalom's at Kirby and Quince, La Baguette on Poplar near East High School, this little French bakery up on Stage Road near Wolfchase, plus various Mexican bakeries around town that provide interesting options. There's even some Middle Eastern places that make fresh pitas.

You're also seeing some pretty decent bread baked on-site at Costco and some Kroger and Schnuck's locations.