Fresh yeasty bread
Magic is defined here as
outcomes that exceed expectations beyond the degree to which excess outcomes
i.e. Things that work better than you think they would.
* All About CRUST *
For each pizza:
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (if necessary, 2 packets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 2 cups Bread Flour (1)
2 tablespoons olive oil
The water should be very
warm but not hot. Stick your finger in
it. If it stings, cool it until you could just barely stand a
bath in it. Pour the water in a bowl of at least 8-cups
capacity, dissolve the sugar in it and sprinkle on the yeast.
Let this sit until the yeast rises to the surface, which should
occur in five minutes or less. Add a cup of flour and the salt.
Stir it up and add more flour a little at a time until the dough
starts to grab the sides of the bowl. Use a stout wooden spoon
to stir the dough some more. It is finished when it is stiff
enough to hold its shape, but still a bit sticky on the surface.
Roll the dough into a ball
in the bowl and pour in the olive oil.
Turn the dough over a time or two so it gets oiled all around.
Cover the bowl with a dinner-plate or any suitable cover, put it
in a warm place (2), and let the dough rise until it is at least
doubled in volume.
If you are making more than
one pizza, each crust should rise in
its own bowl. You may mix all the dough at once, just divide it
up into multiple olive-oiled bowls to rise.
(1) Bread flour is
best. Unbleached white flour is OK. Plain
all-purpose flour isn't too bad. Do not use self-rising flour.
I do not use whole-wheat flour. Try it if you must.
(2) Dough will rise very
slowly if it gets cool. If you are in a
hurry, preheat the bowl by filling it with hot water.
* Yeast Magic *
Once the dough is in the bowl, set it over a large saucepan of
warm water. This is very helpful in cool weather, but make sure
the water isn't too hot. Give it the finger, as before. If it
is uncomfortably warm for you, the yeasts will not like it either
and they will spite you by dying. Ultimate revenge, for sure,
but yeasts are simple-minded creatures, not much smarter than
fungi, I'm told.
* SAUCE *
1 small onion, finely
1/4 cup olive oil
28 oz. can Progresso "Crushed Tomatoes with Added Puree"
10 large cloves garlic or 15 small ones, pressed or minced
5 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce (2-3 teaspoons if Tabasco)
4 tablespoons sugar (don't wince, do it!)
2 cups water
Place the onion and olive
oil in a stainless or enameled frying-
pan or shallow saucepan and turn up the heat. Saute until the
onion turns yellowish, but don't let it brown much if any. Add
tomatoes and everything else. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and
simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover,
and let it sit until ready to use. Reheat to boiling before
applying to crust. The sauce should be fairly thin. If it holds
its shape, add more water.
The Progresso tomatoes listed
are the best for this recipe. If
you can't get them, then use what you have, and some adjustments
can be made. If the tomatoes are whole or in big chunks, chop
them up before adding to the pan. If they are in a watery
liquid, supplement them with 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
to make it a tomatoey liquid. Actually, you can make a
functional pizza sauce with just tomato paste and water, provided
that you add plenty of garlic, hot sauce and sugar. Your guests
will say it is great, but you will know better.
Do taste the sauce to ensure
its flavor. It should have a bite,
tempered with sweetness. If it doesn't sting a bit, add more hot
sauce. Remember that you will be using only a thin layer of
sauce along with a lot of other things, and if it isn't strong it
won't come through. Hot pepper mellows out as it cooks, so taste
the sauce shortly before assembling the pizza.
This recipe makes enough
sauce for about five normal-sized
pizzas. It freezes well. Don't throw it away. To use frozen
sauce, place a chunk of it in a pan with a little water, another
clove of mashed fresh garlic and a dash of hot sauce. Bring it
to a boil before the crust is cooked. Freezing sauce seems to
deplete the flavors of garlic and hot pepper, so freshen it up.
* GETTING IT TOGETHER *
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
To assemble the pizza, grease-up
your fourteen-inch round pizza
pan or a 9 x 14 inch oblong pan by spreading 2 or 3 tablespoons
of olive oil on it. Use your fingers. Wash your hands. (Not
necessarily in that order.) Hold the dough-bowl over the pizza
pan, flip it upside down, and hold it there until the dough flops
out. Press the dough down in the middle with your fingers, and
keep pressing downward and outward to make a flat, even crust-
shape to the edges of your pan. Do not touch the outer edge of
the dough with your fingers if you can help it. The edge of the
crust will be edible if you leave it puffy, a tooth-breaker if
If you prefer a light, tender
crust, let the mashed-out dough
rise in a warm place for five to ten minutes. If you want a thin,
crunchy crust, put it in the oven immediately.
Put the pan with the crust
in the preheated oven. Yes, that is
right, you should cook the crust a short time before you put on
the sauce and toppings. And yes, that sounds strange but do it
anyway. Pre-cooking the crust is part of the magic of this recipe
and not knowing to do it is one reason most people can't make
good pizza. The degree to which you pre-cook the crust
determines how crisp it will be.
When the crust just begins
to brown at the bottom edge, take it
out and spread on the sauce. Sprinkle the sauce heavily with
sweet basil, a tablespoon or so. You might also sprinkle lightly
with oregano, a half-teaspoon or so, but I am not sure this is an
improvement. Then put on the cheese and toppings, as described
below. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or so
until the cheese becomes bubbly. Do not let the cheese brown.
Browned cheese tastes like death. Slice and serve hot with lots
of beer or red wine.
* HARD & FAST RULES *
> Warn your guests:
Hot pizza bites back! They may be accustomed to
the barely-warm pizza that is delivered in a restaurant or by
truck. Oven-fresh pizza is dangerous and may scald the
> Use only fresh garlic.
There is no substitute for it.
If you use garlic powder please do not blame the result
> The same goes for olive
oil. It adds a distinctive flavor to
the crust. Olive oil needn't be expensive. You can buy large
cans of Italian or Spanish olive oil for about $13.00 nowdays.
In general, Italian oil is lighter and more refined, Spanish oil
more pungent and aromatic. Exceptions abound. Extra Virgin
olive oil is more expensive but worth the cost, as it provides a
wonderful aroma and flavor. Introversion olive oil stays in the
can. Unless you will use it in a month or so, olive oil should
be kept in the refrigerator or it may become rancid.
* THE ORDER OF THINGS *
If you are starting from
scratch, start the dough first. It will
then be rising while you prepare the sauce and will reduce the
overall preparation-time. You should expect pizza from scratch
no sooner than 2 hours from the time you start. Once you have
polished your procedures you may reduce this time to an hour by
having sauce ready-frozen and using extra yeast in the dough.
The crust should be pre-cooked,
as described above. The sauce
should go on next, with a good sprinkling of sweet basil. If you
are going to add meat, do it now. Pepperoni or sausage should be
in direct contact with the sauce. If you have guests that are
vegetarian or just picky,
save a few pieces to decorate the top
so they can tell what is in each pizza. You might have to tell
them to look at the pizza in order to know what is on it.
Parmesan or Romano cheese
should be on top of the sauce and/or
meat, followed by the Mozzarella or Provolone. It is permissible
to mix the cheeses, but some of the distinctiveness of the
flavors is lost. High-moisture Mozzarella may heal back into a
lump after it is cut up. This may be averted by tossing the
chunks of mozzarella with grated parmesan, giving them a dry
Vegetable toppings go on
top of the cheese, to ensure that they
get cooked at least a little.
* TOPPINGS *
Minimum cheese is 1/4 pound
shredded mozzarella and 1 oz shredded
or grated Parmesan. Provolone and Romano cheeses substitute very
well for mozzarella and Parmesan, respectively. "Casino Brand"
mozzarella is not bad, but whole-milk cheese like "Polly-O" is
better. Fresh-grated Parmesan or Romano is both better and less
expensive than the pre-grated green-can kind. Packaged chunks of
Kraft or Stella Parmesan are usually available at Publix, but the
cheese specialty shops often have better for less. If you can
find a good pecorino (sheeps' milk) romano I heartily recommend
using it. It is rich; moderation is required. I like to mix
1 part pecorino romano with 2 parts parmesan. Locatelli Romano
is a very good brand, often available at Publix.
* HOW MANY & HOW MUCH OF WHAT *
Many new pizza-chefs overdo
the toppings. Perhaps this is
because of our exposure to commercial pizza establishments and
their glowing descriptions of the pizza "with everything." This
kind of hype tends to support the notion that a "kitchen sink"
pizza must be the best. It may be edible, but chances are it
would taste better if some of the toppings were put in the salad
instead. Many toppings conflict with each other and with the
My suggestion is that you
first make a few cheese pizzas with no
extra toppings. If you must have toppings, try just one at a
time or one of the combinations listed below. This will allow
a better evaluation of your efforts and encourage appreciation of
the pizza itself.
I like to use one meat and
one vegetable topping per pizza. Some
classic combinations include:
Sausage and Black Olives
Pepperoni and Green Peppers
Use Mild Italian Sausage. Do not use "Breakfast Sausage"
as it is seasoned with a lot of sage which is incompatible with
the other flavors common to pizza. Avoid "Hot" Italian Sausage, it
is seasoned with too much
red pepper. One-third pound of sausage
is enough for a pizza. Slit the skin and remove the ground meat.
Lay it in a frying-pan, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of sweet
fennel seeds and 1/4 teaspoon of fresh-ground black pepper. Turn
on the heat and mash up the meat with a spatula while it cooks,
breaking it into little chunks. When all the pink is gone, it is
done. Cover it and set aside until you are ready for it.
Italian sausage does not keep unless frozen. To use frozen
sausage, cut off as much as you want, slit the skin and run water
over it until you can remove the skin. Then cut it into thin
slices, like pepperoni. This procedure actually improves its
texture, as Italian sausage tends to be coarsely ground.
Pepperoni should be sliced as thinly as possible and cut into
four wedges. You can stack a bunch of slices and cut them in
unison with a sharp knife. You get better and cheaper pepperoni
from an open deli-case than in the sealed packages, as the close-
fitting plastic allows the packer to sell you more water.
Mushrooms should be as fresh as possible. Don't ever decide to
buy mushrooms before you look at them. Have an alternative in
mind in case you can't find any that are really fresh. Good ones
will be a bright grey-white color, plump and round with no
bags under their eyes.
Wash the mushrooms, slice
them about 1/4 inch thick or thinner
and put them in a stainless or enameled saucepan. Do NOT add
water or salt. They will produce their own juice. Adding salt
will make them lose too much juice, they will shrink and be
tough. Cover them and cook over medium heat until they just
begin to boil. If you must have your mushrooms salted, drain
them and sprinkle some on them just before they go on the pizza.
SAVE THE JUICE from the mushroom pan! It is primo mushroom
stock. Put in and a few of the mushrooms in a plastic container
and freeze it. Use it in your next gravy, or heat it with some
milk, butter, salt and pepper for an excellent cream of mushroom
Another fun way to prepare mushrooms is to "squeak" them. Wash
and slice as above. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying
pan, preferably cast iron, over HIGH heat. If you don't have
real genuine cow-salve BUTTER, use your best olive oil. Do not
use margarine. Heat the butter until it starts to brown, or the
olive oil until it starts to smoke, and throw the mushrooms in.
Keep the heat up. Stir them around frequently: If the pan is
hot enough, they will soon squeak when you stir them. Cook
several minutes until the juice has evaporated and they begin to
brown. Sprinkle with a little bit of thyme. Try one, being
careful to notice how good it tastes. Imagine what else you
could do with them, and who you might invite over to try your
invention. Me, for instance. Then distribute the mushrooms on
the pizza in a planfully random manner.
Jimmy Yawn * 7/26/85
rev again 11/19/94
and again 2/16/95
and once again 8-30-98