Be a Home Superstar Chef (Part 9 – pizza)

This is part 9 of our on-going Home Superstar Chef series. The previous posts in this series were Part 1 – Good Pans, Part 2 – Shallots, Part 3 – Pine Nuts, Part 4 – KnivesPart 5 – High Heat Cooking, Part 6 – Restaurant Supply Houses, Part 7 – Pork Chops and Part 8 – Garlic. This entry will deal with pizza.

We have probably all seen the commercial on TV hawking a pizza you can make at home that will cause your friends and family to accuse you of having it delivered. That’s for amateurs. These recipe will have them believing that you have a superstar chef back in the kitchen whipping up, in the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, some serious gourmet shit. And they will be right, that superstar chef will be you.

Pizza, as it is typically prepared in America, is not the natural match for wine that it would seem. Sangiovese and Zinfandel can be miraculous with some pizzas, but the tomato sauce can be problematic for most wine. Tomatoes have an acidity and a sweetness that just don’t play well with a lot of wine. The recipes below, however, do pair spectacularly with all sorts of wine, both red and white. Play around with your pairings and there will be many a great meal in your future.

Making the Crust

Crust (makes 2):

1 pkg of instant yeast (1/4 oz)
1 cup of warm (not hot) water
1 cup of cake flour (4 oz)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose (8 3/4 oz)
2 tbsp rye flour (optional, but barely)
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar

Pour the yeast over the top of the hot water and then begin assembling the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. This recipe can be done by hand, as well, but if you do much baking and don’t have a stand mixer, do yourself a big favor and get one. Once the yeast blooms, turn the mixer on a med-low setting and slowly pour in the water and yeast mixture, pausing occasionally to let it incorporate a bit. Once it is mixed well, shut off the mixer and leave it alone for about 10 minutes. After waiting, check your dough. It should be a little sticky to the touch, but not excessively so. It should come away on your finger from a light touch, but should feel a little tacky. If it is too sticky turn the mixer back to med-low and incorporate more AP flour, a tbsp at a time, until the dough feels right. When the dough is the right consistency, turn the mixer on a low speed and let it go for about 5 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, knead for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Once the dough has been kneaded, remove it from the dough hook and cut into two equal pieces and form each into a ball. The best way to do this is to use your fingers to tuck the edges of the piece under and into the center. The idea is to stretch the outside of the ball fairly tightly as it is being shaped. That is probably easier to show than it is to describe, but as long as you are shaping the dough into a nice round ball everything will be copacetic. Place on a lightly floured surface and leave covered for 30 minutes. While it is resting and rising, place a baking stone on the lowest rack of your oven and crank that sucker up to 500° F.

When the dough has doubled in size, sprinkle a little cornmeal on a baker’s peel. If you don’t have one, consider heading to the nearest restaurant supply store and get one, you will be making pizza often once you’ve tried this recipe. But for now, use a flat baking sheet, the kind with no sides, and use a little extra cornmeal.

Shaping the Crust

Gently pick up one of your dough balls. This dough will be fairly loose feeling at this point, and you can use that to your advantage when shaping the crusts. The top should be a little sticky, but the bottom will have a light, dry flour coating. Start turning it in your hands very gently, letting the weight of the dough cause it to stretch into an increasingly bigger disc. As you work it the circle will begin to get a little too big for this technique. At this point I start to use the back of my hands to move it around and continue shaping, but it is not required, and is something that can take a little practice to do. Even if you skip using the back of your hands, your dough should be starting to look like a pizza crust.

Carefully lay your crust on the peel (or baking sheet) and gently stretch the dough with with your fingers into a uniformly thin and round shape. The reason that I keep stressing that everything be done gently is that you do not want to lose all of the wonderful bubbles that our yeast has belched out into the dough. So, while you are pressing, stretching and flattening, try to keep those bubbles in mind. Once you are satisfied with the shape of your crust, pop that bad boy into the 500° F inferno for 5 minutes. Slide it carefully off of the peel or baking sheet directly onto the baking stone. After 5 minutes, get it back out of the oven the same way that you put it in. Let cool (and deflate, if needed) on a cooling rack. Repeat with the other ball of dough.

Topping Your Pizza

Before making the crust, you will need to know how they will be topped. The choices are nearly endless. Classic Margherita (crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella) is always a great choice. Or the conventional tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni is always an option. Maybe for someone else, but not for you. Why? Because you are a Home Superstar Chef, that’s why! This is what you are going to use on one of the shells, at least.

2 med-large onions
1 tbs butter
8 oz Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese
2 big handfuls of fresh spring mix greens
4 tbsp ranch dressing
pinch of salt

When your family and friends ask why there is salad on their pizza, just smirk and say, "If you don't want it, I'll eat it!"
This should be started right before the dough is mixed together because it is not something that can be rushed. We are going to caramelize the onions. Stop crying and get back here right now, you big baby! These are easy, and they are not bitter, I swear. I know, we have all had bad experiences with caramelized onions, both at home and when dining out. But this time they will be perfect!

Slice your onions fairly thickly, we want them to still be plump and juicy when they are eaten. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over med-low heat. Add the onions, stirring and breaking them up a little. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt. The trick to getting these just right is to keep that heat nice and low and take our time. Burning is not caramelizing, and is the cause of so many kitchen disasters. A good heavy pan and low heat combined with a little sparingly applied TLC will guarantee Superstar results.

Let’s look at the processes involved here. The thick slices keep things nice and moist. The salt helps draw some water and sugar out of the onion. The low heat keeps it from burning and gives everything else time to develop properly. Letting the onions sit for a few minutes between each stirring initially allows the water and sugar to come out and almost simmer the onions in their own juices, but later as the water evaporates, it lets the sugars begin to cook. This is the caramel in the caramelization process. These sugars turn our tear-inducing stinky bulb into sweet golden jewels.

It should take about the 30 minutes to get the proper results, but really keep an eye on them about 20 minutes into the cooking. The onions should be stirred around every 5 minutes until some of them begin to take on a little color. Once you see that golden brown color developing on any of them, stir more often, every 2 minutes or so. When they are a beautiful shiny gold color remove from the heat. They are done.

Now, to top the pizza. Crumble your cheese evenly over the crust. Try and get even coverage, but make sure that there are good, big chunks scattered around the mix. Cover the cheese with the onions in a nice thick layer spread evenly around the pie. Slide the pizza back into the 500°. Check every 5 minutes, and if your oven cooks unevenly like my POS does, rotate so that the crust browns evenly. When the crust is a nice, even gold color (you know what pizza crust should look like), remove from the oven. It usually takes about 15 minutes in my oven, but keep an eye on yours because it could be different.

As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, place your greens in a bowl, add the ranch dressing. Toss to coat, and then turn the bowl upside down onto the pizza. Cut and serve. When your family and friends ask why there is salad on their pizza, just smirk and say, “If you don’t want it, I’ll eat it!” When they take a bite, get ready to take a bow.

Another Option

Since we made two crusts, here is an easy way to top the other one that makes for a perfect counterpoint to the one we just made:

1/2-2/3 cup Alfredo sauce
4 strips of cooked bacon
1 thinly sliced shallot

The Alfredo sauce can even be out of a jar, as long as it is high quality and not too salty. Or use your favorite recipe. Get a nice, fairly thick coating on the crust. Sprinkle the shallots evenly over the sauce, and then do the same with the bacon. Cook as above. Slice and serve.

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