Pizza Time, All the Time

Not only is pizza one of my favorite meals by far, creating pizza was among my first experiences as a professional cook. I started tossing and flipping dough at the tender age of 15 in my father’s pizza shop here in the Finger Lakes. Since then, I’ve cooked in several upscale restaurants in Rochester, New York City and Paris. Now I teach pizza and calzone classes (among other tasty dishes) at the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua.

Use bread flour for pizza. It has the most gluten – 12 to 13 percent compared to 7 to 8 percent in cake flour and 11 to 12 percent in all-purpose flour. Gluten helps keep the dough elastic, and causes it to rise before it is baked by keeping in the gases that are released during fermentation.

The dough can be rolled, spread or tossed, then baked in an oven with sauces, cheeses and more on top. Bake it on a pizza stone, but be sure to heat the stone before using.

Pizzas may also be grilled so that a flavorful char forms a crust on each side. After a grilled pizza is topped, it’s placed in the oven to melt the cheese. Here’s a grilling trick I use to avoid also having to use the oven: I turn only half the grill on, and heat one side of the pizza there. I then flip the dough over and place on the “off” side of the grill. To avoid burning the crust while still cooking the dough I put on the toppings and close the lid.

Basic Pizza Crust
(4 to 6 servings)

• 1 package (about one tablespoon) dry active yeast
• 3/4-cup warm water, divided
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 2 cups flour, plus a few tablespoons for rolling out the dough
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In small cup dissolve yeast in 1/4-cup warm water with sugar. Set aside until yeast foams. Place 2 cups of flour in a bowl. Add salt and stir to mix. Add yeast mixture, the remaining warm water, and vegetable oil. Stir to make stiff dough. Flour a board with the remaining flour and turn dough out. Knead until smooth, about five minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough to oil all sides. Cover with towel. Place bowl in a warm spot and allow dough to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Roll, spread or toss the dough and spread sauce on top and cover with toppings of your choice. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes in preheated oven.

Quick Pizza Sauce (1-1/2 cups)
• 1 cup onion, diced
• 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 1/4-cup tomato paste
• 1 cup of your favorite New York State red wine (see article on page 29)
• 1 cup whole peeled tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
• 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
• Kosher salt
• Fresh black pepper to taste

Over low heat, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until they’re soft but not brown. Toss in the tomato paste and cook for about three minutes until soft and the onion and garlic are coated. Add the red wine and simmer until it gets thick. Pour in the whole peeled tomatoes along with the fresh herbs. Simmer, covered, over very low heat for 30 minutes to an hour. Use a stick blender to purée. (A regular blender can be used, but hot food has been known to blow the top off the blender’s pitcher.) Season to taste with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Pizza is probably a mispronunciation of the word “pita,” the common flatbread topped with olive oil and seasonings enjoyed by Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians and other middle-eastern cultures. During the 16th century in Naples, Italy, bakers used dough as a tool to determine the temperatures of their ovens. They sold the resulting baked “pizza” on the streets. Pizza first appeared in the U.S. with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. In the cities with big Italian populations, like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, it was sold on the streets in the Italian neighborhoods. Gennaro Lombardi claims to have opened America’s first pizzeria in New York City’s Little Italy in the very early 1900s.

by Chef Eric K. Smith, New York Wine & Culinary Center

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