This morning, while working on a badass Google Sketchup of our new apartment (pics forthcoming!), I mulled over my dinner plans. I had planned on pasta with kale and sausage, in order to use up a lone link of Italian sausage in the freezer and a bunch of dino kale in the fridge. But I’ve been missing homemade pizza ever since I packed up my pizza stone. I told myself that making pizza would be a good way to use up the last little bits of cheese we have lingering in our cheese drawer.
Normally, I make pizza on a pizza stone, with prefab dough. But without a stone and premade dough (thanks to some self-imposed grocery shopping austerity measures), I turned to Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “Hacker-Free Neopolitan Pizza”. This is an incredible method. The idea is that instead of blasting the pizza in a superhot oven (since even the hottest home oven never gets as hot as a wood-fired oven in a pizzeria), you hit it with heat on the bottom and top separately, using the broiler and the stove. I’m a big fan of the broiler – it’s an excellent way to get a lot of heat quickly – so this looked intriguing.
If you’re interested in the thought process behind this (I’m looking at you, Mom), check out the accompanying article here: How to Make Great Neapolitan Pizza at Home Kenji has a PhD from MIT and worked at Cook’s Illustrated for several years, so he approaches recipe testing with a keen scientific perspective.
I should also point out that we’re talking about Neapolitan-style pizza here, which is different than most pizza that you’d get in the US. Neapolitan pizzas are smaller (10″), topped very sparingly, and feature an uncooked tomato sauce, cheese (usually fresh mozzarella), and rarely anything else. FYI, Seattleites: Tutta Bella makes Neapolitan-style pizza.
A lot of pizza
nerds enthusiasts get really worked up about the differences in pizza styles (here’s a list of 21 if you want to really bone up: Regional Pizza Styles), but I think it’s more important to make something that you enjoy eating. Just go light on those toppings, since this thing is gonna get soggy if you don’t.
I know that making smallish pizzas seems like a big pain in the ass if you’re cooking for a crowd. Remember, though, that these babies take about 4-5 minutes to make, so you can pump a couple of them out in no time, especially if you have help in the kitchen.
One last note: normally I make pizza and bread in our KitchenAid mixer (registering for a KitchenAid is seriously one of the best parts about getting married). But ours is already packed up! So I kicked it old school today and kneaded by hand. The results were excellent, and a good reminder that you don’t need to have a $200 appliance to make flatbread, something that people have been making for thousands of years.
Let’s look at some pizzas:
ricotta, bacon, and caramelized onion:
kale and sausage:
Skillet-Broiler Neapolitan Pizza
adapted from Serious Eats
makes 6 10″ pizzas, each serving 1 person (easily halved!)
- 20 ounces (about 4 cups) bread flour (preferred) or all-purpose flour
- .3 ounces (about 1.5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- .2 ounces (about 2 teaspoons) sugar
- .3 ounces (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) kosher salt, plus more for baking
- 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) water
- olive oil
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and pureed with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a food processor or with a stick blender
- 12 ounces cheese, either fresh mozzarella or shredded mozzarella (fresh mozzarella is more traditional, but pre-shredded mozz will also work)
- toppings for each pizza (some ideas: a few slices of pepperoni, some pre-cooked crumbled bacon or sausage, a few thin slices of zucchini, a few strands of caramelized onions, a few olives, etc. Don’t use more than one or two toppings, and don’t use too much!)
- more olive oil and salt
- thinly sliced basil leaves (optional)
Make the Dough
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and year. Stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a shaggy ball, about one minute. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 10-30 minutes.
Add the salt and transfer the ball of dough to the counter. Knead for about 5 minutes. The dough should be a little tacky but easy to work with. If it feels too wet, you can add a little flour, but try not to add too much or your pizzas won’t be as tender later on. Put the dough back in the bowl, recover with plastic wrap, and let sit another 10 minutes. This resting lets the dough autolyse, which basically means that the gluten strands are relaxing and re-aligning. This is the same idea behind the No-Knead Bread recipe that kicked around online a few years ago.
After the second resting, knead the dough another 10 minutes (I know!). Then lightly oil a clean bowl and put the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2-3 hours.
If you have an unpacked stand mixer that can knead bread dough, you can skip the second resting step (I would still do the first one), and just knead the dough on low or medium for 8-10 minutes.
After the dough has doubled, divide it into 6 even chunks and shape them into balls. Transfer the balls to lightly oiled bowls, cover again with plastic wrap, and let sit until doubled again, about an hour. If you aren’t going to make your pizza right away, you can stash the balls at this stage in the fridge (you can leave them in the bowls or transfer to oiled ziploc bags) and they can wait there for up to 2 or 3 days. If it’s going to be longer, you can freeze them for up to 6 months.
Make Your Pizzas
When you’re ready to make some pizza, place a rack in your oven at the highest position and turn the broiler on to high. Place your largest non-nonstick skillet (got that? no nonstick! Nonstick pans under the broiler are going to get wrecked) on high heat and set a timer for three minutes.
While you’re waiting, remove one dough ball from a bowl and toss with flour (I like to do this in a medium-sized bowl, then shake off the excess). Shape into a 10″ round, leaving a little bit of a lip along the edges (note: I recommend doing this by hand, not by tossing or rolling with a pin). Get your toppings all lined up and ready to go, because things are going to happen fast.
Once the pan is super-hot, quickly and carefully place the dough round in the pan. It may flop and/or fold a bit (mine did the first time) but it will all work out; don’t worry. Spread 2 tablespoons of tomato puree and top with 1/6th of the cheese. If you’re using toppings, add them now, too. Carefully place the skillet under the broiler and cook until the crust is all blistery, about 2 minutes (it may take up to 4). There will be some blackening: this is OK (in fact, this is sort of the point).
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to the stove. Brush or drizzle the outer crust (the part with no toppings) with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Turn the heat back on high and cook, peeking at the bottom occasionally, until the bottom is also nicely charred. This will take anywhere from 30 seconds to another 1 or 2 minutes.
Transfer to a cutting board or pizza peel, slice, and serve to your first hungry guest while you finish making the other pizzas.