Last weekend The Artist and I attended a fun and inspiring event put on by the San Francisco Professional Food Society. One of our members took a trip to Italy to learn how to make pizza from the king of pizza in Rome. And then she came back and taught us!
Guess what, they don’t toss the dough in Rome unlike Naples, the crust is not cracker thin. This dough was unlike anything I have ever worked with – absolutely the most sensuous feel, like working with tender air. It is remarkable.
There were about 20 of us gathered around the enormous kitchen island, anxiously watching as our fearless leader, Terry nimbly maneuvered the enormous ball of dough, gently shaping it and then flipping it like a pro onto a baking sheet. There was a sigh of relief from the group when it was safely in the pan.
Terry explained that unlike the heavy handed method of dressing the dough here in America, in Italy the bakers use lots of chopped raw vegetables, a little sauce and the freshest cheese imaginable. Then it is popped into a wood-fired oven and cooked at about 750°F.
Most of us are not lucky to have a wood oven, but Terry and her darling husband do and we got to taste what a difference it makes in the final pizza. I asked The Artist to build me one, but he just laughed … we barely have a patio let alone enough room for a Forno!
This class was more about technique and ingredients than a recipe, so you can use your favorite dough recipe (here is a great one from Joanne Weir) and if you want, you can use my recipe for pizza sauce. And don’t forget that you can usually call up your local pizzeria and get a ball of dough from them if you don’t want to make it yourself.
Preheat your oven to 500°F or as high as it will go. Use a pizza stone or unglazed quarry tiles if you can for the crispiest crust. Form the dough in the shape and thickness you want (this will depend on the type of dough you make). Layer on whatever vegetables you like, spreading them out in a fairly thin layer. Saute anything that will not cook sufficiently in the oven on top of the pizza.
Some vegetables that work well are onions, peppers, spinach, fresh herbs, ripe fresh tomatoes, eggplant, olives, fennel, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, garlic, zucchini and corn. Get creative with the cheese if you like. There is nothing that says you can only use mozzarella! I love ricotta, brie, Manchego, Monterey Jack, and Muenster. If you want a Greek-style pizza, try some feta with fresh oregano.
Slice or grate the cheese and sprinkle it over the vegetables. Using a spoon, lightly spread the tomato sauce over the entire pizza, leaving the edges undressed. Slide the pizza dough into the hot oven and cook until the dough is browned and crispy.
Transfer to a cutting surface and cut into squares or triangles to serve. If appropriate for your gathering, serve a lusty Barolo or other Italian red wine and a tossed green salad is always a good accompaniment.
If you are hosting a party, make the dough ahead of time (you can use a slow rise in the refrigerator) and divide it into individual pizza size portions. Prepare a selection of topping options and let everyone make their own pizzas. Do it in stages so you have room in your oven (or on the grill). You don’t have to work as hard and everyone has a wonderful time. Besides, they get bragging rights with their friends and everyone will want to score an invitation to your next party!
As we sat back and ate our way through all the pizzas we made that day, enjoying the cool evening breeze, I looked around at the crowd of happy people. Food is a natural conversation starter and even the shyest ones were chatting animatedly. Get people involved and they can’t help but get acquainted and make new friends.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone – Happy Festive Friday!!
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