Pizza, made with a light hand, California style
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NEW YORK, Jan 29 — By mid-January, I often long for something brighter than the decidedly wintry vegetable offerings at the farmers’ market. I need a reminder of summer’s sweetness. And sometimes I give in to that longing. Does that mean I’m not a seasonal cook? Or is this simply a lapsed locavore’s quandary?
Most of the year, the hothouse bell peppers from the supermarket don’t tempt me at all — too perfect-looking and certainly lacking the full flavour a sun-ripened pepper has. But right now I want some, and it’s OK. I’m going to make a bright, colourful pepper-topped pizza, seasons be damned.
The first step is mixing the dough. I like to give the dough a refrigerated rest, for a few hours at least, preferably overnight. I find the cool resting time gives the dough a more complex taste and texture. (In a pinch, however, I’ll make it and use it straightaway.) I also think it makes sense to produce enough for four pizzas. Unused dough will be fine if used within a few days; otherwise, a well-wrapped ball of dough in the freezer is like money in the bank.
Making pizza dough is a great way for beginners to understand the nature of yeasted breads — for what is a pizza but a type of flatbread? It’s also a good introduction to the process of kneading — and to the oft-used term “smooth and elastic.”
And why are people so fearful of kneading anyway? It’s actually a pleasant little chore and, for a small batch of dough, not physically taxing at all. Use a mixer or food processor if you must for the initial mixing (I don’t find it necessary), but hands-on kneading is essential for forming the dough balls destined to become pizzas.
One crucial bit of advice, though: The best pizza dough is a fairly soft one. Resist the temptation to add extra flour to the dough, or the result will be stodgy.
Another tip: Forget the phrase “heavily floured” and replace it with “lightly dusted.” You should have just enough flour sprinkled on your work counter to keep the dough from sticking to it, no more.
As for the peppers, I like them sliced thinly, thin enough to cook in the short time that the pizza is in the oven. I toss them with thinly sliced onion, garlic, jalapeño pepper, salt and olive oil, then leave them to sit and soften slightly.
This pizza is in the light-handed California style, with no tomato sauce. (Don’t get me wrong, a New York slice is excellent, too, but I’m after something different here.) The seasoned pepper mixture is simply strewn over the stretched dough, along with a bit of fresh mozzarella, before the pie slides into a hot oven.
The result is crisp and fresh tasting. A basil leaf hits the pizza’s surface as the scent of late summer wafts through the room.
And to drink ...
Italians reflexively reach for bubbles with pizza: a good lager more often than not, or even soda. I’m all for that, although I gravitate toward sparkling red wines like dry, earthy Lambrusco. But this pizza, with no tomato, calls for something different. Beer, of course, still works perfectly. But if you want wine, I’d recommend a white, including white sparklers, like Champagne. It would go beautifully. If you want Italian, Franciacorta is a good Champagne facsimile. A less expensive choice would be pétillant naturel, a very old form of sparkling wine. These pétillants, products of just a single fermentation rather than Champagne’s two, come from all over: France, Italy, California, even Vermont. They often have a hint of sweetness that will blend well. — Eric Asimov
Yield: 4 dough balls (8 ounces/225 grams each)
Total time: 20 minutes
5 grams dry active yeast
625 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
5 grams kosher salt
30 millilitres olive oil
1. Put 420 millilitres lukewarm water in a mixing bowl (use a stand mixer or food processor if you prefer). Sprinkle yeast over water and let dissolve, about 2 minutes.
2. Add flour, salt and olive oil and mix well until flour is incorporated and dough forms, about 5 minutes. It may look a little rough or pockmarked.
3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn dough out onto surface and knead lightly until it looks smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces, about 225 grams each.
4. Wrap dough pieces individually in resealable zipper bags and refrigerate for several hours or, for best results, overnight; you can also freeze it for future use. (You can skip this rise in the refrigerator and use the dough right away, but this cool, slow rise makes it easier to stretch and gives the pizza a crisper texture and more nuanced flavour.)
5. To use dough, form each piece into a smooth, firm ball and place on a flour-dusted or parchment-lined baking sheet. (If you froze the dough, leave it at room temperature for several hours first, or defrost overnight in the refrigerator.) Flour lightly, cover loosely with plastic wrap and top with a kitchen towel. Leave to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Each dough ball with make a 10-inch diameter pizza.
Pizza With Sweet and Hot Peppers
Yield: 4 10-inch pies
Total time: 1 hour, using prepared dough
6 cups thinly sliced bell pepper or other sweet pepper
2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1 jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 balls of pizza dough, ready to stretch and bake (see recipe above)
All-purpose flour, for dusting
225 grams low-moisture mozzarella or Fontina, grated
450 grams (1 pound) fresh mozzarella
225 grams (8 ounces) Italian fennel sausage (2 sausages in casings), cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
Basil leaves, for garnish
1. Prepare the pepper mixture: Place peppers, onion, jalapeño, garlic and oil in a mixing bowl. Season well with salt and toss to distribute seasoning, then set aside.
2. Heat oven to 500 degrees and place a baking stone or heavy baking sheet on middle rack.
3. Shape the dough: Pat 1 dough ball to a flat circle, lightly dust both sides with flour and stretch by hand to a 10-inch diameter. Alternatively, lightly dust dough with flour and roll out with a pin. Place dough circle on a parchment-lined rimless baking sheet (or use a rimmed baking sheet turned upside down, or a pizza peel).
4. Sprinkle each pizza evenly with 2 ounces of grated cheese, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top each with 4 ounces sliced fresh mozzarella. Arrange the pepper mixture over the cheeses and dot each pizza with 2 ounces of sausage meat in very small pieces. Sprinkle with a pinch of marjoram.
5. To bake, quickly slip the pizza, still on the parchment, onto the baking stone. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until dough is well browned and pepper mixture is slightly charred in spots. Use a large spatula to remove pizza from oven, discard parchment and place on a large cutting board. Garnish with basil leaves and cut into slices. — The New York Times