Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Part 11 of Italian (Pizza) Cooking

I'm not sure about it in Italy or the rest of the world but in the USA, when you mention Italian food it's "Pizza" that first comes to mind.  My first memory of pizza form a pizza shop/restaurant was in the early 60's in high school.  It's a great memory too.  The place was called Elfredo's and it was the only one in town.

Now I remember eating pizza at home growing up.  My mother would make it on cookie sheet pans and we would have cut squares of pizza for a slice.  I don't remember if she made the dough from scratch or not.  She baked just about everything we had at home so I believe so.  It was good pizza and I believe that's when I got hooked.  Pizza is one of my favorite foods today and so I need to control myself not to over do it.

There are all types of pizzas and everyone has their favorite and I'm just talking crust for so.  New Yorkers like their thin and want to fold it over.  In Chicago it's deep dish. I think most pizza joints usually offer it 3 ways, thin crust, hand tossed (an in between thickness) and deep dish.  Over the years I've loved all three.  Today, however, I'm prone to a thin crispy crust.  But I won't turn down a thicker crust if offered.

Crusts are really pretty easy to make and most are made of the same basic ingredients. That's yeast, water, flour, sugar and salt.  I know of some recipes for pizza dough that include shortening too.  Some people even flavor their dough with garlic, cornmeal and other fresh spices and herbs.  I'm more of a basic pizza dough person.  The thing is to fine the dough recipe you like for ease of making and because it taste good to you.  Then stick with it.  The recipe I use for pizza dough is already on the blog.  It's the Homemade Pizza one from the "Entrees" recipe file.

Pizza sauce is another ingredient to a pizza that runs the gamete for variety.  Most old school Italians just use fresh tomato puree.  Of course they pick the best tomatoes to make it.  Other tomato based sauces will have olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil or other ingredients in them.  Again it goes back to what meets your taste desires.  Usually the simpler it is the better.

But you are not limited to just tomato based sauces.  People today use Alfredo sauce, pesto, olive oil and garlic sauce (or each alone) and even no sauce.  In fact, one of the recipes this week calls for no sauce.  That recipe is for "Pizza with Onions & Olives" and it will surprise you.  Here again use your imagination and find ones you like, as you don't have to use only one sauce your whole life.

Once you have the crust you like with your favorite sauce, you have to start thinking toppings.  In the USA the number one pizza topping is "Pepperoni" and for me it's the only one I don't care for.  Actually it doesn't agree with me so I avoid it.  Your crust with it's sauce is like your own canvas to paint.  If you are into meat, pick the ones you like.  However, with meats it is best to use cooked as apposed to raw.  The raw ones can cause your pizza to be extra greasy.  As for vegetables to put on a pizza, fresh are better than canned or frozen by far.  The trick to the meats or vegetables is to make them small in size.  Pizzas cook quickly and so you want the toppings to be able to cook in that same time frame.  Remember some toppings can go on after the pizza has finished baking.  The "Taco Pizza" would be a great example of that.

You can't have pizza without cheese.  I suppose you could but why would you want to do that (vegan only in my mind).  Mozzarella is far and away the number one cheese of choice on a pizza.  But you're not limited to just that.  Try other cheeses as you experiment to find your ultimate personal favorite pizza.  You don't have to stick to just one cheese either.  Mixing cheeses is a good thing.  Remember that some cheeses go better with certain ingredients than others.

The baking of pizzas is just as important to a successful pie as any of the ingredients. First, what type of oven are you using for your pizza?  There are several choices although the standard oven in a normal kitchen accounts for the largest percentage.  But more and more people are putting pizza ovens in their backyards.  Even with these ovens, are you using a wood-fired one or some other fuel source?  A lot of people are also using their backyard grill to cook the pizza.

I'm going to say that 425 degrees is about the lowest temperature you should use for any pizza.  You are really better off baking thin crust pizzas around 475 to 525 degrees. These pizzas should be placed directly on the oven rack or a pizza stone that has been in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes.  This helps give you that crispier crust you look for in a thin pizza.  Those wood burning ovens get even hotter and usually have the heat coming from one side.  You need to watch those pizzas closely and turn them during the baking process as needed.  Deep dish pizzas should go at the lower end of the heat range.  You don't want to burn the outside before getting the inside done.  Recipes have cooking times on them but with pizza you want to keep checking on them.  It doesn't take long to go from almost done to over cooked and burnt.

My second recipe this week is for a calzone.  That is basically a covered pizza or an Italian sandwich.  This recipe is for a "Ham & Cheese Calzone" and it is good.  So "Happy Cooking" until the next time.

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