Flour and Water, hold the butter

This started on my way back ironworks with Sarah the other day. As we were driving back, she looked at me and asked: “Wanna grab some post work-out pizza?” My answer? “Of course.” And so began… the quest for more pizza.

The two slices from Gioia (I still don’t know how to pronounce this… joy-a?) were magnificent–bubbly brown cheese and chewy crust in all of its decadent glory. But it left me craving the Roman pizzas I had earlier this summer. (For those of you who don’t know, Roman pizza is a very thin crust pizza unlike Neapolitan pizza which has a thicker, chewier crust.) What I missed was the simple elegance of Roman pizza–don’t get me wrong, I love cheeseboard as much as the next person, but sometimes I miss the devolved pizza– an almost rustic combination of bread, tomatoes, and cheese.What I truly love about this pizza is the balance of all of the components.

The Crust:  
The crust that I used is a Mario Batali pizza crust recipe, which uses a bit more flour than some dough recipes. When rolled out thing enough, it creates a cracker-like crust with a nice crunch to it.
•    1/4 cup light red or white wine
•    3/4 cup warm water
•    3 tablespoons fresh yeast
•    1/2 tablespoon honey
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
•    3 1/2 cups flour

This recipe is quite simple and can be done both by hand or by machine. I personally think a mixer fitted with a dough hook is really easy a lot more time efficient than doing it by hand, but there definitely is a strange sort of satisfaction doing this all by hand. First mix the wine, water, honey, yeast and half the oil together. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and briefly blend together. With the mixer on medium-low speed, pour in the water in a constant stream.  Keep the mixer on until all of the water has been incorporated and the dough is smooth and not sticky to the touch (add a tiny more water if all of the flour doesn’t get incorporated). Place the dough in a bowl coated with the rest of the oil; cover it loosely and put it in a warm place in the kitchen (in our kitchen, the shelf above the stoves/grill works very well) and let it sit for about 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

The Sauce:
While the dough is rising, you can start the sauce. I don’t really have any particular recipe that I use, but I like one that is a bit on the herby and balanced side (as opposed to being more acidic). I’ll list out some generic ingredients for a simple red sauce, but any red sauce you guys make would probably be just as good.

•    1 medium onion, chopped
•    4 cloves of garlic, minced
•    4 1/2 cups of diced tomatoes
•    2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste
•    1/4 cup dry red/white wine (or vodka)
•    herbs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

Saute the onions on medium heat with a small amount of oil and salt for about 8-10 minutes or until they become slightly translucent and smell sweet. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic becomes fragrant, but not browned. At this point, I usually add a pinch of dry crushed red chili flakes, but that is entirely optional. Add the tomatoes and the alcohol to the pan and let it the mixture come to a simmer. The reason the alcohol is there is to extract alcohol soluble flavors inside the tomatoes; but while we’re at it, we may as well add some nice wine-y flavor to it as well. Let this sauce reduce until the liquids are about half gone. Take the sauce off the stove and blend it until it becomes smooth. Return the puree to the pan and the stove. At this point, add the tomato paste to the sauce (intensifying the tomato flavor), starting with a little bit and more if necessary. At this point, you can add different herb combinations and adjust the seasoning. As for herbs, the most common ones in pizza sauces is oregano, thyme and basil. I personally like tarragon in the sauce, but there are plenty of other herbs that can be used–use your imagination! As for seasoning, the common salt and pepper is something that most of you should know how to do (I would say to over-salt slightly since the toppings themselves do not have any salt in them), but the tricky part is balancing the sauce. What this means for this sauce in particular is that you don’t want it to be too tart. To accomplish this, I tend to add a bit of olive oil to the finished sauce and mix it in (this is useful for making many things, since fats will generally “soften” flavors that are too distinctive, adding it to something that is too acidic or bitter will help smooth out the flavors), but too much oil will form “puddles” in the sauce, which is a bit unsightly; so if adding a bit of olive oil doesn’t make the sauce balanced enough, I add a bit of sugar to counteract the acidity.

By this time, the dough should be finished rising. Preheat the oven to 500F or as high as it goes. For a medium pizza, take about 1/4 of the dough and form a spherical dough ball. Let this ball rest for about 15 minutes (this will make it easier for you to roll it out) and roll it out on a well floured area until very thin (By very thin, I mean maybe about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch). Transfer this dough to a baking tray lined with parchment paper and on the baking tray, “stretch” the dough some more. By “stretching”, take your fingers and just gently pull on the edges of the dough. Once the dough is prepared, put on a very small amount of sauce, just enough to cover the surface of the dough (the dough should still be mostly visible underneath the sauce). Add any fresh herbs you want to put onto the pizza on top of the sauce (the cheese and toppings protect the herbs from drying out too much).

The Toppings:
Now for the fun part: the toppings. There are a near infinite combination of toppings you can put onto pizza. I personally prefer simpler, more tradition ones (these tend to be on top of a red sauce with mozzarella cheese) to more modern, Californian ones (these tend to not have a traditional red sauce and often tend to have mozzarella cheese mixed with other cheeses). I tend to focus my toppings around a single vegetable (common ones in the house are summer squash, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and zucchini) and a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. I put the cheese on first in a sparse layer (allowing steam from the sauce and dough to be let out so the crust doesn’t become soggy) and then put the vegetables on top of the cheese. Put this into the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is golden and the crust is crunchy (turn the tray once near the end of baking). Once the pizza comes out of the oven, top with some fresh chopped basil/parsley and serve!

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