The Big Night
Italian blood runs strong in our family. Signs of it have always been there, but being married to someone not from Italian lineage makes the difference stand out even more so. And while my husband may not quite understand my abnormal obsession with the perfect shot of espresso, heaping piles of broccoli rabe, and artichokes every which way, we are at least in agreement about the importance of pizza.
I say “importance”, but what I really mean is reverence. It’s not an exaggeration that profound thanksgiving for the one of God’s most awe-inspiring creations is often the first thing mentioned in saying grace on pizza night. Granted, it has taken some time to perfect the recipe that truly glorifies what is essentially a three ingredient Italian pie. I don’t pretend that our family version (which has evolved over the better part of ten years) is textbook Neapolitan, but it has come to represent the gold standard for us.
Aside from just the right ratio of flour to yeast to water, the dough is enriched with several glugs of extra virgin olive oil. This gives the crust an almost pastry like quality, crisp and buttery, that does best when rolled paper thin and left to slowly rise before baking. With regards to toppings, any Italian will tell you that simple is best. This also means however simple the toppings may be, they still need to be of the best quality.
For the sauce, my Mom’s Sicilian recipe concentrates crushed tomatoes to the point where they yield the sweetness and robust flavor needed on a pizza. Fresh, whole milk mozzarella should be loosely strewn over top, and if you can find a good Italian deli that hand makes the cheese, so much the better. A tear of fresh basil scattered around is a final necessity before gently sliding the entire thing into a scorching hot oven. In the five minutes it takes to bake up into a crispy, bubbling thing of beauty, do yourself a favor and pour a glass of rich, slightly tannic red wine. It is a crucial part of the pizza night ritual. It just so happens to make the process of devouring an entire pie of pizza that much more pleasurable.
1 ¾ C bread flour
¼ C whole wheat flour
2 ½ tsp dried yeast
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp kosher salt
¼ C olive oil
2 C Sicilian tomato sauce
1 large ball fresh mozzarella
1 bunch of fresh basil
Dissolve the yeast in 4 Tbsp. of lukewarm water. Place the flours in a food processor then add the yeast, olive oil and honey. With the mixer running, slowly pour enough lukewarm water in to form a wet ball of dough that cleans the sides of the bowl. Add the salt and mix to combine. Allow the dough to rise in a greased bowl at room temperature for 3 hours. Then punch back the dough to its original size and allow it to rise again for another hour or two. Place a pizza stone in the bottom of your oven and preheat to at least 500 degrees (or the highest your oven will go) for at least one hour prior to baking the pizza.
Divide the dough in half. Dust a large square of parchment paper with flour then place half of the dough in the center. Lightly dust the top of the dough and a rolling pin with flour. Starting from the center and rolling out clockwise to the perimeter, create a circle that is as thin as your can get it without tearing the dough. Repeat with the second half of dough and allow each to rise for about 20 minutes. Drizzle each pie with a tablespoon of olive oil and use your fingers to thoroughly coat the surface of the dough. This will help with browning and also give the surface of the pie an extra layer of flavor.
Spoon on four tablespoons of tomato sauce and smooth with the back of a spoon so that there is an even layer across the top. Shred or cube half the ball of mozzarella and scatter it evenly over top. Tear several basil leaves and dot the pie with them. Use a pizza peel to slide the pizza, parchment and all, onto the pizza stone. Bake for about 5-7 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.