Pizza is as misunderstood as it is desired.
Who doesn’t love pizza? But who doesn’t think it is hard to reproduce the steaming plate of saucy, spicy goodness that comes from your corner pizza joint, to say nothing of what pizza nerds produce in a wood-fired oven. Please. kill that defeatest thinking now.
By adding detail to the promise of possibly the easiest pizza recipe, I declare your kitchen, and yours, and yours to be totally suitable for making a pizza that you, your family, and guests will enjoy and quite possibly swoon over.
And if you need inspiration, read this powerful bit of writing from Sam Sifton of The New York Times. You should never listen to the deadbeats who tell you that it’s hard, that it can’t be done at home, that if you are baking pizza at home then what you are making is somehow not pizza because you don’t have a professional pizza oven that burns at 800 degrees. Here’s what to think of that argument: It’s wrong. Your pizza may look a little funny. It may be ovoid, crackly in parts. It may have soft spots. But it will still be pizza, and it will still be delicious.
Let’s do this, yes?!
The fun and important elements of this recipe are that that it’s quick to assemble, requires no long waiting period for the dough to rise, and your kitchen won’t look like a battle zone when the pies come out of the oven.
I can say this because I have already committed all the sins on this path to a simple and good-tasting pizza. My kitchen has resembled a post-apocalyptic operating room. I’ve made pizzas and then haven’t had the time to sit down myself and enjoy them. I’ve cooked soggy and I’ve cooked concrete. I have made pizza and gone to bed angry. In short, pizza has long been an aspirational goal of this chef-wanna-be — and I have always played second fiddle to my dreams.
Until last night when I really, really nailed it. So here goes…
The macro steps are easy. And occur is quick succession. I’ll have you reaching for ingredients and in a mere 35 minutes you’ll be eating piping hot pies and hopefully also guzzling red wine or a pint’s worth of beer.
Game plan as follows: Mix up a dough, let it rise, shape it and partially cook it. On that foundation we’ll add a topping of sauce, mushrooms, purple onion, arugula and grated cheese. Then it’s into a 500 degree oven for cooking.
Ingredients for the dough: One cup of hot water. A heaping tablespoon of yeast. A tablespoon of granulated sugar. One heaping tablespoon of Italian-ish spices such as oregano, basil, tarragon, or a mix of all. No salt.
Method: Yeast and sugar in the bowl first. Pour in your water. Stir to dissolve. Cover with a tea towel and let sit five minutes. Do not stir. Then, into the bowl goes two and a half cups of bread flour. Directly from the flour bag. One cup in. Second cup in. Half a cup in. Toss in the spices. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. Then stir with a large wooden spoon and when incorporated, discard the spoon and mix, then knead with your hand. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour one heaping tablespoon at a time. Knead by rolling the dough in a ball and pressing down hard with the bony part of your lower palm. Do this a hundred times, in the bowl not on a counter, and you will have properly kneaded dough.
(I use one hand to ball up and press into the dough with the other hand turning the bowl a quarter turn at a time. This is an orderly and effective way to get total coverage and a complete knead.)
After about three minutes of kneading, cover the bowl and place on top of your oven so the bowl is near some heat. (Best is to use a metal bowl so it more easily picks up heat from your oven.) So far zero mess, yes?
While the dough rises (approx. 5-10 minutes), clear an area on a kitchen counter where you can roll it out the dough. A two by three foot area should work.
Now it’s time to roll out the dough.
Dust your hands with flour. Split the now-puffy ball of dough into two. On a counter top sprinkled with flour, gently form the first half amount of dough into a ball, flatten gently on the countertop and press out to maintain a uniform circle. Press out to a thickness of an inch (or less). Now with a rolling pin, and working the pie’s various quadrants, roll away from your body and thin out the dough, flipping the thinning pie every six or seven rolls (always dusting the pie or the countertop when you flip so the dough doesn’t stick to the counter), roll until the dough is uniformly about an eighth of an inch thick.
Your rolled dough should be about 14 inches in diameter and you can then carefully lift and place it on your pizza pan (see photo for my recommendation). Flipping about every four minutes, you bake the pie for a total of 12 minutes or until the bread is starting to toast and form a crust. It may resemble a giant pita bread, and sometimes you will have to pat down an air pocket or two.
Bake both pies until toasted. Now think about toppings.
You can go simple and use a prepared jar of either a tomato-based red sauce or prepared pesto sauce. Or drain a can of San Marzano tomatoes and break up just the tomatoes to be used on the pie. No need to spice – prepared sauces have plenty of spice already and the San Marzano’s are so flavorful you can skip spicing until your pie is served to add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh or minced garlic.
Don’t over sauce your pie or it will get soggy. It’ll only mean you’ll have to cook longer and risk burning the edge of the crust. Less is definitely more in this case.
With a thin sauce applied, or after your lightly toasted dough is dappled with the San Marzano’s, sprinkle sliced, fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced purple onion, arugula (completely dry when added) and grated cheese, in that order.
Then it’s into the hot oven for about 15 minutes of cooking, watching your beautiful pies darken, bubble up, and crisp around the edges. Rotate 180 degrees every five minutes to compensate for hot and cold spots in your oven. And be sure to adjust cook times so your pie is cooked the way you like it. Get a little OCD about the cooking and additionally alternate the position of the pies on the upper and lower shelf.
I slice the pies while still on the metal baking pan, careful not to press too hard to mar the pan. And serve directly off same. No one seems to mind.
Remember: Your pizza may look a little funny…but it will still be pizza, and it will still be delicious.