The Eternal Search for Perfect ‘Za

Home made pizza that is…

If y’all hang here at all, you know that we believe home made to be best. That said, and just being honest here, if we were the best at everything, we’d never go out to eat. We do, of course, therefore, it stand to reason that there are folks out there better at some things than us. At least for the time being…

We love pizza, and we love to make it, because ours is really good, buuuuut; it wasn’t so good that we couldn’t find better out there.

Notice the past tense, wasn’t…

We’ve been working on our pizza for a long time, and I am happy to say that, truly, I think we’re there now. What we’re about to share is as good as almost anything you can find out there and way better than most, so here’s the scoop!

We’re making here what to us is as close to the genuine Pizza Napolitana as we can do. We are talking about, then, a pizza with a very thin crust across most of the pie, with a relatively thick and tall edge. For variations, there really are only two; either Pizza Marinara, (Tomato, garlic, basil, and extra virgin olive oil), or, as we’ll do here, Pizza Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella, Basil and extra virgin olive oil. That said, of course you can and should make pizza with lots more than this on it, but when you’re going for the best, you really do want to keep it simple and true to the deep roots.

CAVEAT 2: If you’re going to make really good pizza, then everything you use must be top notch. No, you don’t do this every time you make pizza, but when you’re out to make really, really good pizza, then it’s gotta be top shelf all around. That means from water to cheese and everything in between, no cheap stuff. And yes, it really makes a difference…

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups Antimo Caputo 00 Flour
1 cup GOOD water, (Spring water or, at the very least, filtered)
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 package active dry Yeast

Heat your water to about 100º F.

Dissolve yeast thoroughly in water, then add olive oil, salt and 2 cups of flour. You can either do this dough by hand or mixer, (As long as it’s done on low speed).

Thoroughly mix everything, and keep adding flour until the dough is still moist, but not sticking to your hands when lightly floured, (Or to the sides of the mixing bowl).

Knead by hand or mixer for about 6 minutes, until dough is elastic and smooth.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled, non-reactive bowl, cover with a clean, dry cloth, and place the whole thing into your fridge overnight.

“What?” you cry, incredulous, “Over night in the fridge??!

Yeah. Really. See, this is, in fact, one of the secrets of really good pizza dough and really good pizza.

First and foremost, yes, dough will indeed rise at refrigeration temperatures. it rises slowly, which lets you get away with overnight, but it will most definitely rise. It’s called a Cold Rise, and here’s why you wanna do it.

Mixing and initial kneading gets everything together and the process begun. The rest and first rise is when fermentation starts. The second rise, or proof, loosens up gluten. Baking finishes the magic, with a bunch of chemical reactions that makes that final, incredible pizza.

When dough is fermented/risen in warm conditions, it happens quite quickly; this is why you can make pizza dough in under an hour, start to finish. Doing so, however, has definite shortcomings. Rather than making great tasting and performing dough, what you get are some off flavors you don’t want, (Sour, for one), and a lack of complexity that, all by itself, can be the difference between OK and great.

A cold rise slows down the reactions, allowing more desirable and complex flavors to develop, and you end up with a much better texture to boot; and that, of course, is exactly what great pizza is about.

When you pull your dough and are ready to bake, either toss it or stretch it by hand but do not, ever. roll it out – You kill all that hard work when you do. 90% of your pie should be almost thin enough to see through; the edges should be left pretty much inflated from the rise and about 1″ high.

Plain and simple, you gotta make your own, period, end of story. Now, next thing; for sauce, good canned tomatoes are better than fresh, 9 times out of ten. Really. See, most of the year in most places, tomatoes just are not that spectacular. If you’ve ever grown your own maters, (And you’d better if you can, dang it), you know that any of those are far superior to anything you can find in the store. Unless you’re growing, or hooked up to Community Supported Agriculture, or a great farmers market, (And again, if you can do one of those, you sure better be!), buy good canned tomatoes for your sauce. And I mean the premium brands at your store, not the stuff in a white can with big black letters. If you can find genuine San Marzano tomatoes, definitely try them, but believe it or not, I like Trader Joe’s better.

Here’s what we do for a basic 16″ pizza.

1 12 oz. can crushed or ground Tomatoes, (try Trader Joe’s, they’re surprisingly good)
6 – 8 leaves Fresh Oregano, chiffenade(1 teaspoon if dried)
2 – 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
A few twists of fresh ground pepper

That’s it. Put everything in a bowl and motor boat it until it’s nice and smooth; you can use a blender if you don’t have a boat motor, (AKA, immersion blender). Put in a non-reactive bowl and allow to blend for at least 1 hour, and overnight is much better. If you feel things are too liquid, put your sauce over medium low heat and gently allow it to reduce. Low and slow for that, as in barely a simmer. Don’t get things too dry; keep in mind, you’re going to cook very hot long enough for that to have some affect on your sauce.

Make your own mozzarella, and if you’ve never done that, then definitely make your own! It’s easier than you think and oh so much better! If you can”t do that, get premium fresh mozzarella, as local as you can.

Fresh, from your garden, or a friends garden, or a neighbors garden or a farmers market or CSA; anything else just don’t cut it…

Same as above. We used some gorgeous locally grown heirloom ‘maters for this pie and they were Put it all together.

For great pizza, you need a stone of some kind. You just do, unless you have your own pizza oven like my friend Mr. Z.
Crank your oven up as high as it will go. Seriously, pedal to the metal, all you’ve got Scotty.
Put your stone in the oven and leave it there for 45 minutes, until there’s no doubt in the world that sucker is hot.

Assemble everything lickity split and get it in the oven. 5 minutes at full bore will do the deed.

Now, enjoy. Have seconds. Smile at each other.

Yeah, it’s that good…

Author: urbanmonique

I cook, write, throw flies, and play music in the Great Pacific Northwet.

4 thoughts on “The Eternal Search for Perfect ‘Za”

  1. Monique and Eben
    Thanks for an interesting and informative blog (Eben, I actually found your site from clues on the Luthier Community forum: guitars and food go well together, although not necessarily in the same container).
    My wife and I have long been fascinated by some US dishes, and last night we tried out your cheesy corn bread recipe. ‘Corn flour’ and ‘Corn meal’ mean different things here in Adelaide, South Australia, but we do have plenty of ‘polenta’ brought here by Italian immigrants and used lots in restaurant cooking. We figured from a bit of Googling that the two substances were the same and used some fine ground polenta for the corn bread, following your recipe. We were a bit surprised at how thick the ‘batter’ was (the polenta sucked up the cup of milk in an instant), but it worked out fine and was very tasty.
    We think ours was a bit heavier than in your photograph, judging from the crumb size we can see, but we’ll certainly be trying it again.
    By the way, we are Yorkshire pudding enthusiasts to an extreme, and will usually produce it whenever we have a roast (baked?) dinner which involves gravy made from pan juices, for lamb and pork loins and chickens as well as beef.
    Thanks again,
    Kym (and Nerida)

    1. Hey, Kym & Nerida,
      What a treat to hear from you! We are absolutely thrilled to connect, and as noted, food and guitars are indeed wonderful bridges!
      Your comments on corn meal, flour and polenta really piqued our interest – I propose another layer to the experiment; we’re gonna send you some wonderful corn meal from a local mill, and then we can really see what’s what!
      Shoot me a mailing address and I’ll get it on its way!

      Big Cheers,

      E & M

  2. E~
    I did some experamenting of my own. I enjoyed your refrigerator dough very much. I did the overday version instead of the overnight, but it worked just fine. A Few more folks got invited over at the last minute. So I had about 2 hours to make a second recipie. The second had to do a quick rise rather than the slow rise in the frige. Both seemed to work fine. The quick rise puffed more in the oven, but both tasted great.

    I modified the pizza sauce a little. Hard not to when you have toms in a pot on the stove. I added a handful of fresh basil, two roasted red peppers, a couple of teaspoons of red pepper flakes, and 5 roasted garlic cloves. Put the motor boat to it after is simmered for an hour or so and WOW it was great. It was like having all the veggies on the za without all the weight on the dough.

    Thanks for sharing the fixins!

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