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Neapolitan Pizza with Homemade Ricotta

Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com

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.

Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com

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.  

Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com
Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com
Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com

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.

Neapolitan Pizza | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com

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Homemade Ricotta | Lisa Samuel | www.Simmstown.com

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