If you start the pizza dough right now, you could be eating this for dinner tonight.
When I’m teaching classes, many people tell me they are afraid of making pizza dough at home. What is the worst thing that could happen? It might not be perfect the first time, but you’ll get better at it. Like anything else in life, it just takes a little practice and patience to learn the technique. Find the baker in your life and make pizza dough with her the first time, so you can absorb the rhythm of kneading and understand how to listen to the dough. And if you struggle with practicing meditation, kneading can help. You’ll find your mind empties as you concentrate on the soothing cadence of rolling and turning the dough. It’s one of the most satisfying cooking experiences.
When I was little, Mom made a deep-dish homemade pizza in a cast iron pan, with heavily seasoned ground beef, tomato sauce and oozy, melty mozzarella. I can still taste that pizza. In high school, we had Papa John’s pizza at every slumber party, dipping the salty crust in the garlic-y, buttery sauce as we giggled through the night. My first taste of true Italian pizza was in a small pizzeria in Pisa, and I’ll never forget it. The blistered crust, the perfect chew, the sparse toppings. I was hooked. After that, I was on a quest to recreate the perfect pizza at home.
At first, my dough was bad. Tough, under-kneaded and under-hydrated. But I practiced, making dough again and again until I learned the proper technique, the right ratios to making a good home pizza. Over the years, I massaged the recipe to make a soft, supple dough using a whole wheat flour, the one that has become my standard. But my pizza game changed recently when I learned to make this Neapolitan pizza dough from Mataio at Ciao Thyme. The secret is using 00 flour from Italy, which is a very finely milled flour–almost powder-like–that hydrates more easily and creates that beautiful tender chew that makes Neapolitan pizzas so irresistible. True 00 flour from Italy can be hard to find, so you may need to mail order it. If you’re in the Bellingham area, Ciao Thyme carries this one. The other secret to this recipe is the long knead time–25 minutes, to be exact. That’s my kind of strength-training. Don’t skimp on the kneading, because that’s what creates this beautiful, soft, supple dough.
Of course, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, that helps as well. A true Neapolitan pizza cooks at 900 degrees F for only 60 to 90 seconds, achieving a perfect rise and char. You can approximate this by using your grill as your pizza oven, preheating it for about an hour until it reaches 700 or 800 degrees. I place a baking steel on the grates to increase the heat even more.
You can put any toppings you like on your pizza, but I would gently suggest keeping the toppings sparse, so as not to weigh down the pizza. In my humble opinion, a great pizza is as much about the dough as about the toppings. For this pizza, I roasted a can of San Marzano tomatoes with good olive oil, sea salt, red pepper flakes and whole cloves of garlic in a 350 degree oven until caramelized, about an hour. I also made homemade ricotta, but you could substitute fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella. Homemade ricotta is infinitely satisfying, and so easy. It’s a great project to do with kids. (See my recipe, below.) Top it with fresh basil and a little Controne hot pepper, and it’s pizza nirvana. This one gets Elie’s approval, and he’s picky. He once took a train from Rome to Naples just for a slice of pizza.
I hope you enjoying creating your own perfect pizza. Remember, don’t be afraid. It’s just pizza. If it doesn’t turn out, there’s always take-out.
- 2 cups water, heated to 105 degrees
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 850 grams of 00 flour, about 5 cups
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- In a large bowl, combine the water with the yeast. Dissolve the yeast in the water by swirling it around with one hard. Begin adding the flour to the water, using your fingers to incorporate the flour into the water until a very loose dough has formed. Add the salt and incorporate the salt into the mixture. Continue to add the flour until a very soft dough begins to form and you start to see the strands of gluten developing. You may not use all of the flour.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 25 minutes, until the dough is completely smooth and taut. Knead the dough in a consistent, circular fashion by pressing forward with the heel of your hand and then drawing back, turning the ends in as it grows. When you are done, the dough should be smooth, soft and elastic.
- Place the dough in a large bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place (not warmer than 75 degrees F) and leave it to rise for about 2 hours. Because of the very small amount of yeast in the dough, don't worry if it doesn't quite double in size during that amount of time.
- Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into about six pieces, about 180 - 250 grams each. Pull the dough around itself to form into a smooth ball. Place these on a baking sheet, cover, and let them rise for another 4 - 6 hours. You may then make the pizza, refrigerate it for later, or freeze it for future pizza parties.
- To bake the pizza, heat your grill as hot as it will go. Place the pizza dough on a lightly floured board and begin pressing from the center to the edge, pressing out any air bubbles. The pizza dough should be 11 or 12 inches in diameter and about 1/2 a centimeter thick in the middle.
- Place the dough on a floured pizza board and add your desired toppings. Using a back and forth motion, slide the pizza from the board to the grill or baking steel. Cover the grill and bake the pizza for anywhere from 3 minutes to 10 minutes, depending on how hot you get your grill. If the bottom starts to burn before the top is done, move the pizza to the top rack of the grill away from the direct heat. A little practice makes perfect!
- 8 cups whole local milk
- 2 cups cultured buttermilk
- Sea salt
- Add the milk and buttermilk to a large, heavy large pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, until bubbles are just starting to form and you can see the curds separating. Turn off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes. Using a mesh skimmer, lift the curds out of the pot and place them in a colander lined with cheesecloth. Let the curds drain for about 5 minutes for a soft ricotta or up to 20 minutes for a firm ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, add a pinch of sea salt and stir. Cover the cheese and place in the refrigerator to chill. The ricotta can be made one day ahead. Don’t throw away the leftover liquid. I freeze it and then use it in soups or as a substitute for water in making bread or pizza dough