Pizza (About)

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

By Cat, July 2008, updated Jan 2012 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

My first introduction to real Italian pizza was at a small, locally owned pizzeria and sandwich shop in Portland, called La Macchia (not sure I’m spelling that right).  Its owner, Luigi, was very Italian and his pizza was to die for.  Unfortunately, La Macchia is no longer there.  But he did share with me the ingredients for my favorite of his recipes (lox, capers and caramelized onion pizza), which I include below (under Topping Combinations).

The French have a version of pizza which is called Pissaladiére. Generally, this version uses more vegetables and herbs, as well as olives and/or capers. It does not typically include tomato sauce, and may or may not include cheese.  The crust can be a traditional yeast dough (or sourdough), pate brisée (French pie crust), or phyllo (filo) dough. Salade au Lardons Pissaladiere from Fine Cooking (2) is a great example.

Reheat cold pizza

Use a heavy cast iron skillet with lid. Heat dry skillet over medium-high until hot. Add pizza slices, cover and lower heat to medium. Warm 5 minutes or so. Then remove lid and let heat a minute longer, to crisp. (From Cookie Madness Blog (14) & Chow Hound Forum (15))

Pizza: Notes on Ingredients

(see below for Sources of Equipment & Ingredients)

Crust/Dough

Recipes: See Savory Pies & Tarts Menu or Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, Spanish) Menu for several pizza dough recipes.

Another option if you like a thick, bubbly crust is to use  whole wheat Focaccia (Italian flatbread) dough. Potato Focaccia is also authentic as a pizza crust from Taranto (in the instep of the Italy’s boot). Other yeast doughs, phyllo dough, or even pie crust can also be used.

I’ve not yet mastered the method of “throwing” a pizza crust — tossing it into the air from your fist, to stretch it into a nice round — so I use my fingers to stretch it onto a round.

Oven: The best oven for baking the pizza is a wood-fired cob or brick oven that can reach temperatures approaching 800°F. Home kitchen ovens cannot get hotter than 500°F, but set it as high as you can. Baking time depends on how hot your oven is; 8 – 20 minutes (depending on the recipe) in a 500°F oven.

Shaping & Equipment: Ideally, you shape the crust on a wooden pizza peel (like a wide paddle), add the toppings, and then transfer the whole thing to a preheated baking stone placed on the lowest rack of your kitchen oven (or 1/3 of the way up from the oven floor), or the clean floor of your outdoor wood-fired oven.

However, you can also shape the crust onto an oiled jelly-roll pan or cookie sheet, add toppings, then place the sheet on the lowest rack of your oven. It takes longer to bake when using a baking sheet, about 15 – 25 minutes.

I don’t recommend using glass baking pans as they are not tempered for high heat.

Sauces:

Tomato sauce is the most common; my preference is the fresh (raw) Crushed Tomato Sauce for Pizza. Cooked tomato sauces suitable for pizza are Basic Meatless Tomato SauceMarinara with Balsamic Vinegar or Wine and Rich Tomato Sauce with Sage or Basil.

White pizza (pizza blanco in Italian) uses an herb-oil sauce. My favorite is from Peter Reinhart, which I’ve adapted on Herb Oil for Pizza Blanco (White Pizza). You can pick from the listed herbs and spices, or use all in the recipe.

Cheese:

Mozzarella

This is the most common cheese used to top a pizza. But the “part-skim mozzarella” you find in your grocery store is more like a glue paste than a real cheese.  Look for whole milk mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo for the real deal (see sources, below).  It has a high moisture content and is typically served the same day it is made; but it can be kept in a brine (salt and water) for up to a week without spoiling (see below for sources).

You can also make your own fresh mozzarella in your kitchen; see cheesemaking.com (2, 3, 4) for the culture and instructions.)

Feta

Feta is another excellent cheese for topping a pizza.  A Greek cheese, feta is salted and cured in a water/whey brine for up to 6 months.  It is crumbly, and easily dries out if left out of the brine. Many other countries around the Eastern Mediterranean also make a version of feta.

In Greece and the surrounding Balkan states, it is typically made from sheep or goat milk.  Indeed, the European Union has protected the term “feta” as meaning at least 70% sheep’s milk and the remainder from goats.  But outside the EU, feta is often made from cow’s milk, and is much less flavorful (see below for sheep and goat feta sources).

Hard Cheese

Hard cheese like Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago are used, grated, to garnish the pizza after it has been baked. I highly recommend grating them yourself.

Some recipes may also use these cheeses in the crust.

Tomatoes:

Tomatoes should be vine-ripened; the most authentic for pizza are of the plum tomato variety. Roma is a good choice, but any vine ripened tomato is better than a Roma that is ripened after picking.  Sun-dried (or home-dehydrated) tomatoes, reconstituted with water, is another option.

If you cannot find vine-ripened tomatoes, choose a canned variety of vine ripened tomatoes such as San Marzano (see below for sources), but note that cans may introduce heavy metals or toxic plastics that leach into the acidic tomatoes. If you can find commercially canned tomatoes in jars, that would be the best.

Muir Glen is a good brand of organic tomatoes available in most organic or health food stores. However, be aware that the epoxy lining of the cans will release toxic substances,such as BPA into the acidic tomatoes. So my preference is either to can my own summer-ripe tomatoes or chop and lightly cook them for freezing.

Tomatoes can be chopped and arranged over the cheese before baking, or they can be crushed into a simple uncooked sauce.

Resist the urge to use too much tomato sauce. Peter Reinhart says, “The sauce should just kiss the dough.” (from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine February 2012 issue)

Baking the Dough

If you don’t have a wood-fired brick oven, bake your pizza on a baking stone.  It can be easily removed using a Pizza peel (check the links for sources).

While you could use a steel baking sheet or jelly roll pan, the results will not be as good.  Use the lowest rack in your oven.  Do not preheat the baking pan.  Do oil it with olive oil before shaping the dough in the pan.  It could take a bit longer for the pizza to bake, that if you used a baking stone.

A significant issue is oven temperature for baking the crust. Ideally, you would have a wood-fired oven that can reach close to 800° F. Home ovens just cannot approach this (most can’t go above 500° F), so the crust won’t be the same. I hope to have an outdoor cob oven built in my yard for baking pizza and rustic breads, but until then, will be using my baking stone in my gas oven.

Pizza Topping Combinations:

This section moved to Neapolitan Margherita Pizza, & Other Pizza Topping Combinations

Sources for Equipment and Ingredients:

You will need some special equipment and ingredients for making pizza (recommendations are from Food & Wine magazine (7)):

  • Pizza peel and Baking stone: Refer to Baking Stone and Other Pizza Equipment.  Alternately, you can use an oiled jelly-roll pan or baking sheet, but the result will not be as good, and it takes longer to bake.
  • San Marzano tomatoes:  La Valle brand of canned San Marzano tomatoes available from Lavalle Foods Usa (8).  Other brands are available from Forno Bravo (9), San Marzano Imports (10), or CyberCucina (11).
  • Buffalo Mozzarella:  Bufalus brand is available at Whole Foods; another brand is available online from iGourmet (12).  You will want a tangy, salty mozzarella for this recipe.  Note, this is from water buffalo, not American bison. If all you can find is flavorless part-skim mozzarella made from cow’s milk, try adding a bit of real feta (see below) crumbled over the mozzarella (or on its own).
  • Feta: Sheep and goat’s milk Feta are available at iGourme (13).  I recommend Authentic Barrel-Aged Greek Feta (13) or Bulgarian Feta (13), but Dordoni Feta is also good; and also Montana-made Almalthea goat’s milk feta available in many Organic or health food stores, or from iGourmet (13).

References

  1. Fine Cooking, Salade au Lardons Pissaladiere recipe: finecooking.com/recipes/salade-aux-lardons-pizza.aspx
  2. Cheesemaking.com: Thermophyllic culture for Italian cheeses (cheesemaking.com/store/p/137-Thermophilic-Italian-1-packet.html)
  3. Cheesemaking.com: Starter Special Kit (cheesemaking.com/starterspecialkit.html)
  4. Cheesemaking.com:  Ricki’s 30-mInute Mozzarella Magic includes great photos of the process (cheesemaking.com/includes/modules/jWallace/ChsPgs/1Mozz/Index.html)
  5. A Passion for Vegetables, by Vera Gewanter (see Beloved Cookbooks for more about this book)
  6. Food & Wine online (foodandwine.com/articles/march-2007-perfect-pizzas)
  7. Food & Wine Magazine, March 2007
  8. lavallefoodsusa.com (lavallefoodsusa.com/products.html)
  9. Forno Bravo (fornobravo.com/store/San-Marzano-Tomatoes-p-1-c-254.html)
  10. San Marzano Imports (sanmarzanoimports.com
  11. CyberCucina (cybercucina.com/cgi-php/CSSBridge.php?source=gaws&ccag=AGSanMarzanoDynamic&ccq=san%20marzano%20tomatoes&ccssq=san+marzano&gclid=CN6O7qHjq5QCFSD8iAod03kU0Q
  12. iGourmet, Mozzarella (igourmet.com/Shoppe/search.aspx?qry=mozzarella
  13. iGourmet Feta, Authentic Barrel-Aged Greek Feta (igourmet.com/shoppe/prodview.aspx?prod=823S) or Bulgarian Feta (igourmet.com/shoppe/prodview.aspx?prod=189S), or Amaltheia Dairy, a Montana company (igourmet.com/shoppe/prodview.aspx?prod=5012)
  14. Cookie Madness Blog (cookiemadness.net/2007/10/how-to-reheat-cold-pizza/)
  15. Chow Hound Forum (chowhound.chow.com/topics/299630)

About Cat

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