Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

You may have noticed that we don't give very specific quantities of toppings in our pizza recipes. That's because we have found that the measurements listed in many pizza recipes aren't actually helpful. We can understand a pound of sausage or four ounces of cheese, but what does one bell pepper mean anyway? Or three leeks?! Vegetables grow in so many shapes and sizes it seems silly to try to quantify how many you might need. Plus, to a large extent, the proportion of toppings is determined by each person's taste buds, and should therefore be adapted as you like.

We DO recommend not overloading on toppings, however, because if the crust gets too full it is much harder to move around and much more likely to get soggy. We also advocate a low-cheese, high-veggie, meat-as-flavor-accessory approach to pizza-making, which produces a much healthier pizza.

All of that to introduce this standard but always delicious pizza that has just a few basic ingredients (with some added tips and explanations).
  1. The crust, of course.
  2. Thin spread of strained tomatoes. Pomi is my preferred brand, since it comes in BPA-free cardboard containers, avoids the flat flavor of canned tomatoes and contains only tomatoes and nothing else (no salt!). It is soooo worth the extra price.
  3. Sprinkle of Italian herbs and seasonings. I usually like to apply my own combination of dried basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder and freshly ground black pepper, but sometimes I use a decent spice blend like Mrs. Dash's Italian Medley instead. If you take my advice and use Pomi tomatoes, you won't need to add any salt or sugar, but if you skimp and buy some cheap canned variety, you might want to add some of each to taste.
  4. Grated mozzarella
  5. Sliced baby bella (a.k.a. crimini) mushrooms
  6. Sausage, removed from the casings and browned. It's also definitely worth paying extra for really good sausage. We have the good fortune to shop regularly in Philadelphia's Italian Market, and we LOVE Fiorella's sweet Italian sausage with fennel. (I also love their antique cash register... )
  7. Since ML is addicted to spicy food, we often add chopped cherry peppers to at least part of the pizza, but that's entirely optional.
After baking it all in the oven until the cheese is melted and the crust edges are golden brown, we drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Shoot, now I'm hungry all over again.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Very Best Pizza Crust Ever

    You'll never need another pizza crust recipe.

    • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
    • 1 cup warm water
    • 1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 3 tablespoons milk
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 4.5 cups bread flour (the more protein-rich the flour, the better)

    1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water. Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.
    2. Stir in remaining sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, until smooth. 
    3. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise in a warm location. Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume, about one hour. 
    4. Punch down dough. Separate it in thirds and reshape into balls. Cover again with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
    5. During the second rising, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. If using a pizza stone, place the stone in the oven for preheating. If using a baking sheet, lightly flour it (but don’t preheat).
    6. On a well-floured surface, roll out one ball of dough until it is approximately the size of your pizza stone or baking sheet.
    7. Par-bake the crust until barely brown and rigid, about 3 minutes.
    8. Remove the crust from the oven and let rest on wire racks to avoid sogginess. Top with your favorite toppings and return to the oven for an additional 5-10 minute (depending on toppings), until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden brown.
    Recipe yields three crusts. Dough can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month. 


    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Potato-Leek Pizza

    Unfortunately, we can't take credit for this recipe.  But the Pioneer Woman's Potato-Leek Pizza remains a household favorite — the sort of pizza we make for foodie guests who we want to impress with our culinary ingenuity and... erm... good taste.

    And boy, does it taste good.

    As the name suggests, the two main toppings are leeks and potatoes.

    But then you throw on some bacon, mozzarella and goat cheese, and you get this perfect balance of salty, savory, earthy amazingness. You can follow the actual recipe above, or use our approximate list of ingredients:
    1. One pizza crust, rolled very thin with chopped garlic and fresh or dried rosemary pressed in to the surface, then par-baked. (That's our contribution to the improvement of the original recipe.)
    2. A layer of very thinly sliced red or Yukon gold potatoes. Raw. And did I mention thinly sliced? These potato varieties work best for pizza because they have a firmer texture than, say, russets and can hold their own with the other ingredients. But the slices need to be paper thin so that they cook before the rest of the pizza burns.
    3. Grated mozzarella
    4. Sliced leeks, sauteed for a few minutes ahead of time to soften them. You can use both the white bulb and the green stalk of leeks, but be sure to wash all of the layers well to get rid of dirt and grit.
    5. Several slices of bacon, pre-cooked (but not too crispy) and chopped. We like to cook the bacon first and then use some of the leftover grease to saute the leeks. (optional, of course)
    6. Chèvre (a.k.a. goat cheese) crumbled across the top
    Bake the pizza in a fairly hot oven (450-500˚ F) for at least 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and then sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan.

    It's a keeper.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    French Bread Pizza

    One of the especially great things about pizza is the ability to combine leftovers in a way that is tasty and fun. Take this French bread pizza for example. We had purchased a huge loaf of bread to accompany our romantic cook-in Valentine's dinner (which was NOT pizza, by the way) and then had way more remaining than we could possibly use before it would go stale. The solution? Cut it in half, top it with similarly leftover veggies and pop it in the toaster oven until the cheese melted and the edges of the bread were crispy. Voila! A quick and delicious dinner!

    The ingredients:
    1. Leftover crusty bread, sliced in half and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garlic powder
    2. Sprinkle of grated mozzarella
    3. Sliced bell peppers, tomatoes, baby bella mushrooms, parsley and scallions
    4. Dusting of grated Parmesan on the top

    The toppings also contributed to a nice side salad with spring greens and balsamic vinaigrette. Mmmm.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Pesto Pizza

    Not every pizza can be perfect, right? Especially when we're using whatever old ingredients we have lying around, whenever we suddenly feel the urge to make pizza.

    First, there was the shape:

    ML decided he would rather make a larger pizza with a weirdly shaped crust than aim for a perfectly round pizza that would inevitably be smaller. Unfortunately it doesn't make for attractive photos.

    But we are making REAL pizza here.

    Then we gathered miscellaneous toppings for our whole-wheat crust:
    1. A spread of pesto (homemade last summer and frozen in ice cube trays for use through the winter)
    2. Grated Parmesan
    3. Slices of fresh mozzarella
    4. Sliced baby bella mushrooms
    5. Chunks of roasted garlic (left over from a baked chicken and garlic dish last week)
    6. Roasted red peppers
    7. Pieces of bacon (mostly cooked)

    Here's how it looked before baking:

    And after:

    Meet the sinister guardians of the pizza:

    In the end, we gave this one 3 out of 5 stars. The pesto was tasty, but with everything chopped so small, the flavors didn't fully mesh. And call me shallow, but it just wasn't that pretty. Next time, we would use prosciutto instead of bacon for a broader covering of salty meat; leave the peppers as long, dramatic strips; and add some sliced fresh tomatoes. A dusting of garlic powder and hot peppers would also add a nice kick.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    On Pepperoni

    Just read this New York Times article about pepperoni.  Although I've never been crazy about its greasiness on pizza, I am now tempted to track down some homemade, artisinal pepperoni and give it another chance.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Hummus Platter Pizza

    You've been waiting for the next pizza, right? I know, us too.

    Turns out that yet again we are lacking pizza toppings. All this East Coast winter weather is severely cramping our Italian-Market-shopping style and leading to shortages of mozzarella. It was a "what combination of things from our fridge will make good pizza" kind of night.

    Our friend JM happened to show up right when we pulled the pizza out of the oven. Lucky him. He is a self-proclaimed "picky" eater, and his reaction was "This is amazing, and I'm not just saying that." He went on to elaborate eloquently about how the unusual addition of cucumbers added just the right freshness or zest or something Idon'treallyrememberwhathesaid.

    We then tried to come up with a catchy name. "Mediterranean Sunset" and something with "California" were both contenders. But since I'm writing, I get to decide, and it reminds me of a hummus platter you might get as an appetizer at a restaurant, with pita triangles, bell peppers and cucumbers.

    The ingredients:
    1. Whole wheat crust, par-baked for crispiness and ease of moving around
    2. Thin spread of garlic hummus
    3. Dollops of crushed tomato
    4. Sliced red bell peppers
    5. Sliced baby bella mushrooms
    6. Chopped fresh parsley
    7. Crumbled feta
    8. Grated Parmesan
    After a few minutes in the oven, we added some thinly sliced cucumbers, another sprinkle of Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. The result was a very healthy, fresh-tasting pizza with a well-balanced combination of flavors.  (Was that how you put it, JM?)

    We're currently working on a rating system to self-critique our own pizzas, but JM gives this one 5 out of 5 stars.