I love pizza. Oh my god do I love it! Even when it is bad it is good. It is bread. It is melted cheese. It is an amazing concoction of textures and flavors. If I could be allowed to eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would have to be pizza! I now make pizza. My pizza is better than any pizza I have ever had. Hands down. The only problem with my pizza is that it takes all day to make and it can be an exhausting pain. But ooooooh. It is soooo worth the time and effort.
On Sunday, I decided that Herbert hadn’t been shown any love in too many weeks. He had been sitting in the fridge, neglected, belching up hooch for way too long. Our grocery trip was imminent and I had leftover homemade spaghetti sauce and leftover homemade pesto both needing to be used up in the fridge. Pizza was the logical conclusion to how to deal with these situations. I grabbed Herbert and fed him warm water and flour. Within an hour, Herbert was awake and bubbling away in his crock. We took off for the grocery store and the farmer’s market. I would comb the market for yummy things. I tend to like a pizza with lots and lots of toppings. This tendency is often my undoing. I end up locked in the kitchen, slave to pizza and the perfection it can be.
When we got back, I made the sponge for the pizza dough. I went for a walk and dilly-dallied until an hour and a half went by. The sponge looked good, so I added the rest of the bread ingredients and used my mixer to mix and knead the dough. Now, bread baking and sourdough in particular can be finicky. Bread dough will either come together well or it won’t. I’m not really sure why. It could be temperature, humidity, the phases of the moon, a leap year, Friday the thirteenth or just karma, but every once in a while, you have dough that just won’t cooperate. My dough decided to be wet, wet, wet. When this happens, add flour to your dough one tablespoon at a time until it finally wants to play nice and form a ball in the mixing bowl. I added flour, added flour and repeated and repeated. I got it to ball up but it was still very wet. What a pain. I wasn’t too worried. Wet dough can be nice because the dough will get airy and form holes when it rises and bakes, it can just be challenging to work with.
I left the dough to rise for an hour. It should have doubled. It didn’t. Ok. I figured I could go to the gym and come back. I came back an hour and half later and it looked very similar to when I left. Sigh. I wasn’t worried. Pizza is flat bread. My Pita’s don’t rise the way bread should either and they turn out fine. If I was really making bread, I would have been more concerned. I dumped the dough onto the counter and added more flour while gently folding the dough hoping to dry it out a little but not deflate it. I cut the dough in half. The recipe I use is the Alton Brown Country bread recipe from the Herbert post with a tweak or two. It makes amazing Pizza dough. Absolutely delicious! It is crunchy yet chewy with a flavor that is nutty and wheaty. Yum. The good thing is that it makes enough dough for two pizzas. One for the red sauce and one for the pesto. Anyway, I digress. After cutting the dough in half, I went to roll it out. Sticky, sticky, ew! I had to dust the board, the dough and the rolling pin liberally with flour. Roll. Scrape. Move to a liberally corn meal doused pizza peel. Repeat. The dough could now rest and continue to rise because after so many hours, the work would just begin.
The pizza stone was warming in the oven and I set about to make the toppings. Pizza #1: Red sauce, mozzarella, four cheese blend, spinach, red onions, kalamata olives, red peppers, sautéed shitake mushrooms, chopped fresh garlic and chicken basil sausage. Pizza #2: Same as #1 to help with sanity except substitute zucchini for spinach, and pesto for red sauce. Normally, pizza #1 and #2 will have some similarities but other huge glaring differences. Maybe a salmon pizza and a kielbasa pizza this time, with a combo of different veggies. Shrimp pizza with a Canadian bacon pizza next time with different sauces and combos of veggies. Whatever will cause me the most headaches but the most bang for my buck. So I start chopping onions, olives, peppers, garlic, and zucchini. The kitchen is becoming hell because the oven has been on for a good half hour and the temperature is getting awful. Chop shitakes, sauté in olive oil, garlic and red wine. Transfer to a bowl. Spinach has been simultaneously rinsing. As the mushrooms are removed from the pan, chopped spinach goes in. When it is cooked down, I remove it and in goes the sausage. The heat in the kitchen is becoming stifling but I have ingredients coming together now.
By now my boyfriend is getting the kind of post gym hunger that encourages him to help the process go faster. He starts to open packages of cheese while I start to lovingly spread pesto on one pizza and red sauce on the other. I squeeze the liquid out of the spinach and add it to the red sauce pizza. We add cheese to both. Next we just start tossing ingredients on both pies. Once they are groaning under the weight of too many toppings, we decide the red sauce pizza looks perkiest so we toss it in the oven. This is a two-person operation. The dough is sticky and immobile. I shake the peel, he uses a large wooden spatula to coax the pizza off of the peel and onto the stone. Success. The pizza bakes for thirteen minutes and we are ready to start eating. We repeat the two-person operation and get pizza two in. Did I mention that I made salad sometime after the bread dough and before the toppings? I did! Aren’t you impressed with me? I quickly dress the salad with oil, vinegar and herbs. We open a nice bottle of wine and flop down at the table exhausted but happy and eat the best pizza we have ever had.
Crust adapted from Alton Brown’s Country bread recipe on Epicurious.com, Makes 2 pizzas
1 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
3/4 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/3 cups (or more) stone ground whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Spaghetti sauce or pesto sauce (or both) about a quarter cup for each pizza
8 oz mozzerella cheese
4 oz Quatro Fromaggio (4 cheese blend from Trader Joes)
3 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and wine
2 small red peppers sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
about 20 pitted kalamata olives, chopped
One large head of Spinach, sautéed, cooled and liquid squeezed out
4-5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 chicken basil sausages, removed from casings and sautéed in olive oil 15 minutes.
Mix first 3 crust ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups unbleached white flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
Using dough hook, mix in 1 1/3 cups stone ground whole-wheat flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat a rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten (be careful not to press too hard and deflate the dough). Divide in half. Roll each half of the dough into a ¼” thick round and transfer each round to a pizza peel or baking sheet coated in cornmeal. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for at least a half hour.
An hour before making pizza, place a baking stone in your oven and preheat to 500°F.
Spread sauce on pizzas. Add spinach to top of sauce (one or both pizzas). Sprinkle mozzarella and four-cheese blend onto pizzas. Add remaining toppings. Bake pizzas one at a time for 13 minutes each. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving.