Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easy Cheesy Pizza

I apologise for the cheesy (there I go again) alliteration, but it's too true: pizza is one of the easiest (not to mention most delicious) things that you can throw together on a whim. This may sound contradictory given what deters most people from homemade pizza: the dough, which, in order to achieve that fluffy, crispy, full-o-flavor crust, needs a lot of time to rise and rest. Luckily, it's just this time that gives you complete and total flexibility to make pizza on the fly.
My pizza dough consists of a dollop of sourdough starter, some water and enough fresh whole grain flour stirred in to create a pasty dough consistency (when the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl)...no kneading necessary! I just put this mixture in a corner to rise for the day (or overnight) then knead in some salt (an easy salt ratio is 1 tsp per cup of water used), and throw it in the fridge until I have that pizza urge. Any leftover can be added to next week's batch for additional flavor. If you don't have sourdough starter laying around, you should make some.
my sourdough bubbling away

The easiest way I have found to do this was to go buy some organic raisins (non-organic have pesticides that will inhibit yeast growth) and fill a jar a quarter way up with them. Fill the jar with water, cover with plastic wrap (so you don't completely seal the gasses in) and let it sit for a few days to a couple weeks (depending on temperature) until it starts bubbling. At this point pour off the water into a bowl and add enough whole grain flour to make it a stirable paste. The paste should bubble and rise over a day or so. Now you just have to feed your starter by taking out a bit and adding a bit more water and flour each day (easy if you use it often), or you can throw it in the fridge and only remove/feed once a week.

Ok, back to the pizza. Tonight's toppings included:
-Roasted garlic tomato sauce (laying around in the fridge)
-Broccoli (torn up into tiny pieces)
-Vermont Cure sweet Italian sausage (cooked, split, seared and chopped)
-Caramelized onions
-Sweet potato (itty bitty little cubes)
-And of course, cheese (sharp cheddar and mozzarella 50/50...my favorite combination)

Cooking is much less about quantities and much more about ingredients and technique...exactly why so many chefs have a living today. Everyone has their own opinion on what style of pizza rules the lot, but for me it involves an ├╝ber thin crispy crust topped with lots of delicious stuff. To help achieve this flatbread-style pie, you want the oven hot (400 to 500 degrees)...or go build yourself a nice brick or earthen oven in your backyard. To get that base nice and brown before the juices trickle down and make it soggy, put the pizza pan right on the bottom of your oven, if you can, or as low down as possible to get that direct bottom heat that helps simulate the environment of a brick oven that conducts tremendous amounts of heat directly into the crust. Bam! In any case, keep cooking until you lift up the edge (very carefully) and can see significant golden browning on the bottom of the whole pie. Take out, let rest (at least until the cheese stops sizzling) and enjoy!...yum.

Anyway, that's all for this first night of freestyle cooking. Send in your comments and suggestions for future posts or other dishes you'd like to see made without a recipe (disasters are good fun to watch). I'm always up for a challenge. Until then...