I hadn't thought about this distant memory for many years until yesterday. As I was making my own pizza dough, the aroma of flour and yeast suddenly brought me back to my childhood. It's safe to say that the scent of fresh dough is one of my favorites, right behind the smell of warm butter and sugar.
Although it's hard to believe, there was a brief time a few years ago when I didn't even like pizza (gasp!). Thank goodness my tastes have adapted, because good pizza is really one of my favorite foods. And when you can make good pizza at home? Even better.
It's my goal this summer to make homemade bread and this pizza was a successful foray into yeast breads. The dough itself was incredibly easy to make. Kneading the dough by hand really allows you to experience the transformation from a shaggy, floury amalgamation to a smooth, elastic ball of dough. After a leisurely rise, the dough was ready to be stretched and adorned with toppings.
I think my favorite thing about pizza is how creative you can be with the toppings. This batch of dough made enough for two medium-sized pizzas and I wanted to make one classic pizza and one that was a bit more whimsical. For the classic pizza, I took inspiration from one of my new cookbooks, Molto Gusto by Mario Batali. There are dozens of pizza recipes in the book, and one that looked particularly delicious combined tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, anchovies, and capers.
Romana pizza with tomato, fresh mozzarella, anchovies, and capers
While that pizza is decidedly savory, the other has several sweet components. The pizza has a base of sweet caramelized onions; fig jam, mascarpone cheese, balsamic reduction, and chopped pistachios finish the pizza, offering contrasting tastes and textures.
Pizza with caramelized onions, fig jam, mascarpone, pistachios, and balsamic syrup
Both of these pizzas are equally delicious (my mom enjoyed the caramelized onion and fig pizza, while I was fonder of the tomato and anchovy one) and their brief sojourn on a baking stone in a searingly hot oven rendered the crust crisp yet chewy.
We couldn't stop "mmm"-ing and "ahh"-ing over this simple yet satisfying meal. With pizza this good and this easy, it's safe to say we will be for a good while longer.
Pizza so good you'll eat half a slice before photos have been taken (*cough* mom! *cough*)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
If you want to make a plain (not whole-wheat) pizza dough, simply use 3 cups of all-purpose flour. The dough may not need as much water (as whole-wheat flour absorbs more moisture than all-purpose) and may not need as much time to rise, so adjust accordingly. You can use dry active yeast instead of instant yeast. Simply use the same amount of yeast but add lukewarm water (about 105 to 110 degrees F) to the dry ingredients.
Yield: enough dough for 2 medium-sized thin crust pizzas
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cornmeal, for dusting
2 recipes of pizza toppings (see two variations below)
Mix flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Add water and olive oil and mix until just combined and the dough is shaggy. Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface (I used a large Silpat baking mat) and knead, folding the dough into itself, until the dough is smooth, about 2 to 4 minutes. Form the dough into a ball.
Pizza dough before the rising period
Spray the bowl you mixed the dough in with non-stick baking spray (or drizzle with olive oil). Add the ball of dough to the bowl and coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free space for about 90 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size.
Pizza dough after the rising period
Pizza dough after being shaped into two balls
Once the dough has doubled in size, preheat a baking stone (or an overturned sheet pan) in the oven to 500 degrees F. Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and gently press the air out of the dough with the palm of your hand. Take half of the dough and pat it into a round with your hands. Using your fingertips, poke dimples into the dough, slowly pushing the dough outward. Once the dough is about 8 inches in diameter, begin to gently stretch the dough thinner. Placing one hand in the center of the round, use your other hand to stretch the dough outward. Turn the dough as you go to evenly stretch the dough.
When the dough is stretched very thin (about 1/8 inch thick), dust a pizza peel or a sheet of parchment with cornmeal. Carefully transfer the dough round to the peel or parchment and add the toppings.
Once the toppings are added, transfer the dough to the oven. If the dough is on a pizza peel, slide the dough onto the baking stone or overturned pan by quickly jerking the peel forward and then pulling it back. If the dough is on a sheet of parchment, simply transfer the parchment to the baking stone or slide the dough off of the parchment and onto the stone.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and crisp and the toppings are bubbly and delicious.
Carefully remove the pizza from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two before cutting into slices, serving, and devouring.
Romana Pizza Topping
Inspired by Mario Batali's Molto Gusto
It's important to use fresh mozzarella here and not the the low-moisture, pre-shredded stuff, which won't melt as well and taste as creamy as the fresh kind. Anchovies often get a bad rap for being overly fishy and salty, but the heat of the oven really transforms them. Here, they are not fishy at all but subtly salty and savory; in a word: awesome. However, if you're still worried about an unwelcome fishiness in your pizza, white anchovies are much more mild than the more common brown anchovies, and you may find that they are less offensive to you. The capers add a welcome brininess that complements the creamy cheese and slightly sweet tomato sauce. If you have a favorite pizza sauce, feel free to use 1 cup of that.
Yield: enough topping for 1 pizza
About 1 cup canned tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (or a mixture of dried basil, thyme, and oregano)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed
2 tablespoons capers, drained
The finished product: pure deliciousness
Caramelized Onion and Fig Pizza Topping
Although this topping has several components, all of the elements are easy to prepare. In this recipe, I use my favorite way to caramelize onions, which uses no oil or sugar (I promise you don't need it!). You can make the caramelized onions ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator for several days. The measurements in this topping are not exact. If you want a sweeter or cheesier pizza, for example, add more of the fig jam and mascarpone cheese. Instead of mascarpone cheese, a creamy cheese like Fontina, Brie, or Gruyere would also be incredibly delicious.
Yield: enough topping for 1 pizza
1/2 large onion, sliced into half-inch rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 tablespoons fig jam
3 to 4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions in an even layer. Leave the onions alone for about a minute, until they begin to slightly brown around the edges and stick to the pan. They'll begin to get sticky. Season them liberally with salt and pepper and stir with a spatula. After another minute or so, you'll begin to see a brown film develop on the bottom of the pan (these are the sugars from the onion). Add a few tablespoons of water and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits. The onions should begin to take on a golden brown color. Continue stirring until all the browned bits have been released from the pan.
Again, leave the onions alone for a few minutes, until they start to stick to the pan and more browned bits develop on the bottom of the pan. Add more water as before. Continue this process as necessary -- adding more water, scraping, and leaving the onions alone -- until the onions are soft, deeply brown, and sweet. It could take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes longer. When the onions are fully caramelized, transfer them to a bowl and either store in the refrigerator for up to a week or use on the pizza immediately.
To top the pizza, spread the dough with the caramelized onions in an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Next, dot the pizza with the fig jam and mascarpone cheese. Drizzle the balsamic syrup evenly over the pizza. Finally, sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the top.
The finished product: sweet and savory pizza heaven