Making City Pizza
Tips for Making One of NYC's Favorite Foods at Home
Making pizza at home is not complicated but there are some tricks and tips to make the process less stressful and the result more delicious. After testing equipment, doughs (home-made, pizza shop-bought, store freezer-case bought), and toppings, here are some things that can make a difference in a city kitchen.
- A pizza can be made on a simple rimmed sheet pan or cookie sheet. But be sure your pan is sturdy enough for a very hot oven.
- If you make pizza often, you may want to buy a pizza stone (about $25 to $30). When heated as hot as your oven (450 to 500ºF), a stone helps produce a crispy golden bottom crust because when it makes direct contact with the raw pizza, it cooks its surface by conduction, removing moisture from the dough.
- Always use corn meal sprinkled on any surface on which the raw dough will sit because it will provide an edible way to prevent the dough from sticking.
- An idea from Alice Waters in her book, The Art of Simple Food, is to use either a rimless cookie sheet or an upside-down sheet pan instead of a peel (the long-handled paddle used in pizza parlors) to transfer raw pizza to a hot oven. Sprinkle corn meal on the clean bottom of the sheet pan, position the raw, rolled out dough on top of the corn meal, apply your pizza toppings, and when ready to transfer to the oven, place the rim of the pan against the rim of the hot pizza stone. Using a spatula, just slide the pizza from the pan into the hot oven.
- If using a pizza stone, use a large spatula to slide a finished pizza off the stone and onto a platter or pizza tray.
- If you decide to buy a pizza stone, you can store it in your oven in between uses. Leaving it in place while cooking other foods will not affect the oven's temperature or operation. But remember that if you cook anything messy in your oven, the stone may get messy as well, even without a pizza on top. And because the stone is porous, it can absorb flavors from other cooked foods.
- Most pizzas are simple to make and bake: Roll out the dough into a disc. Transfer it to either the pan in which it will be cooked or else the peel or sheet pan you'll use to transfer the disc to a pre-heated pizza stone. Brush a little olive oil on the raw dough. Place your toppings on the dough, leaving about 3/4-inch of plain dough around the edges. Place in your very hot (450°F) oven and bake for 10 to 20 minutes -- the time will vary depending upon the thickness of your dough and the cooking time of the toppings.
- When using a pizza stone, it's essential that the stone be completely pre-heated to blazing hot. If the stone isn't as hot as the oven, your pizza will not cook evenly, resulting in a crust that's still raw while your toppings are getting scorched.
- Some toppings should be completely or partially cooked before putting them on top of a raw pizza. For example, vegetables that take some time to cook including potato, squash, or pumpkin, should be almost completely cooked in advance of being put on top of the pizza to finish.
- The same goes for meats like pork sausage. Pre-cook them first and add to the top of the pizza either at the last minute or even after the pizza is completely cooked.
- For the best flavor, pizzas should be served immediately after coming out of the oven.
- Home-made pizza dough can cook more quickly than ones bought at a pizza parlor. Until you know the cooking pace of your dough, watch and test carefully as you cook.
- Homemade pizza is a great way to use up leftovers, such as cooked vegetables or pieces of chicken or fish or meat that can be shredded.
- Certain toppings should be added only after the pizza is cooked. This includes salad greens and cooked meats and cured hams like prosciutto. They will only wilt and burn if placed in a very hot oven for any period of time.
- Onions should be pan sautéed with a little olive oil until soft and caramelized before putting on top of a pizza. Raw onions contain a lot of moisture and will not cook evenly if baked on top of a raw pizza dough. One exception is red onion which can be sliced very thin and placed raw on the pizza to cook in the oven.
- Artichoke pizza can be made with fresh, canned or frozen artichoke hearts. Fresh hearts, however, must be precooked before being used as a topping. To make artichoke pizza, prepare your pie, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with small cubes of fresh mozzarella and bake at 450ºF for 10 minutes. Place halved or quartered artichoke hearts on top of the partially baked pizza, sprinkle with two tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and return to the oven to bake an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until golden.
- Be adventuresome with glazes and sauces. Instead of a traditional tomato sauce, consider a reduction of balsamic vinegar (great with caramelized onions) or barbeque sauce with cooked chicken.
- Make a simple tomato sauce by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauce pan, add 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic and cook until soft. Add the contents of a 14 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, squishing the tomatoes in your hand as you add them to the pan. Add a pinch of salt, one of dry oregano, and a tiny pinch of red pepper flakes. Simmer over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Use a food mill or emersion blender to completely purée and cook an additional 15 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened. Makes enough for two 10-inch pizzas.
- Based on a recipe by cookbook author Donna Hay in which she used cubes of fresh pumpkin, an easier alternative is to steam cubes of butternut squash until they're tender. Pre-cook a pizza that's been brushed with olive oil for about 10 minutes, then scatter the cubes of cooked squash over the top of the partially-baked crust, as well as pinches of goat cheese and a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves. Bake an additional 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the edges of the squash have begun to brown. Drizzle with a little olive oil when out of the oven.
- Oven-char red and yellow bell peppers to remove their skins. Once cooled and peeled, remove their cores and seeds and slice into half-inch pieces. Use in combination with pieces of the amazing sage-scented herb sausage made by Flying Pig Farm that have been pan cooked as the topping for a simple mozzarella pizza that's been pre-cooked for 10 minutes before adding the sausage and peppers.
- A simple but very flavorful topping is a surface of tomato sauce on which globs of fresh ricotta have been placed. For the best result, buy the ricotta from a cheese monger instead of the kind that's sold in little plastic tubs at the supermarket. The difference in flavor will be significant.