Friday, October 24, 2008

Pizza Fridays

Tradition versus routine...according to Webster's Dictionary tradition is an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior, and routine is a regular course of procedure. In my life I tend to consider myself to be a poor follower of routines and a master of tradition. To me, routine is something that one does day to day; washing clothes on Monday, marketing on Tuesday etc. and traditions are upheld throughout the years by celebrations, gatherings with family and friends, and seasonal influences.

Pizza on Fridays for us has been a routine for many years, which is why I am horrible about being consistent with it. Perhaps if I elevated it to the level of tradition, it would happen more often. Good pizza could very well be worthy of a tradition when it is made the way I like it with fresh, homemade crust from my sourdough starter, homemade mozzarella and seasonal vegetables from the farmers market. But more often than not, Friday is NOT the day to be messing with all that stuff. Friday is my "last day" of the week before the onslaught of soccer games, weekend trips, large school projects, or just having the kids around, so often times dinner is an afterthought after a very busy day of tying up loose ends (and finishing the laundry that was supposed to be done on Monday!)

But Pizza can indeed be a quick, nourishing, delicious and simple meal when a little planning is involved. And my children love to participate in creating their own personal masterpieces. Some of my favorite toppings for pizza this time of year are figs, caramelized onions, prosciutto, and goat cheese, or roasted fall veggies (butternut squash, onions, garlic, fennel etc.), mozzarella and ricotta. Of course the children usually just choose good ole' red sauce and mozzarella, but I am hopeful that someday soon they will branch out and try something new.

When my sourdough starter is in dormancy (as it is now), I make my dough using a recipe from Phoenix chef Chris Biancho. His secret is to leave lots of air in the dough; he never punches it down and handles it carefully when forming it, which results in a thin, crisp, blistered crust....heaven. It is also important to have a pizza stone preheating in the oven for an hour at 500 degrees. For those of us who live in warm climates, cooking pizza indoors is reserved for times of year when it is not 100 degrees outside, or else we can grill it. One item I absolutely covet is an outdoor, wood fired oven...someday perhaps. I double this recipe so there is enough for the five of us. Maybe you can make Pizza Fridays a tradition of your own.

Basic Pizza Dough

1 (1/4 ounce) package of active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 t),
approximately 1 3/4 C flour, plus additional flour for work surface
3/4 C warm water (105-115°)
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t olive oil

Stir together yeast, 1 T flour and 1/4 C of the warm water and let stand until surface becomes creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir together 1 1/4 C flour and salt in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture, oil, and remaining 1/2 C of warm water and stir until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (1/2 C or so) so dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. This dough is wetter than other pizza dough you may have made.

Knead on a dry surface with lightly floured hands until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form into 1 ball and put on a lightly floured surface and dust generously with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, free of drafts for about 1 1/4 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Do NOT punch down dough. Carefully dredge dough in a bowl of flour to coat and transfer to work surface. Holding dough in the air with both hands (like a steering wheel) carefully move hands around the edge to stretch it out to about 10 inches. Let the bottom of the dough touch the work surface. Lay the dough flat and carefully stretch the edges with your fingers until the round measures approximately 14 inches.

I like to stretch my dough on a sheet of floured parchment paper. Then I can slide the whole piece into the oven (on the paper) and not worry about it sticking to my pizza peel. I trim the paper around the dough, because if there is too much excess, sometimes it will catch fire (which quickly burns itself out). After about 10 minutes, I lift the pizza with the peel and slide out the parchment paper and finish the pizza on the stone for a few more minutes.

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