Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: Pizza

Friends, I am hosting Thanksgiving this year.  This is the first holiday dinner (of many, I hope) that I'll be cooking and serving as the executive-chef-extraordinaire.  I'm so excited to pull this off... A little nervous about the turkey though, and the sheer amount of food I'm making, but I've got it under control.  You should see my master planning spreadsheet, good lord.  It's beautiful.  It has tabs for the prep schedule, guest list, menu and ingredients, grocery list, and all the odds and ends it takes to make a holiday meal for 9 people.


I'll be roasting my first turkey ever (!!!!!) and serving it with mashed potatoes, apple cider cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sage and onion dressing, sweet potato biscuits, gravy, brussels sprouts salad with brown butter vinaigrette, and roasted root vegetables.  My parents will be preparing a ham, hors d'oeuvres, and beverages.  And let's not forget that my friends will be baking lots of goodies too as post-dinner fare: kourambiethes (a family recipe for a kind of Greek cookie from the one and only Tor), apple crisp, and pumpkin pie.  Ohhhhhh boy.  This is gonna be good.

I'll share my Thanksgiving escapades next weekend... We'll see if I mess up the turkey or not.  But for today, let's talk pizza.  Now, if you've looked below at the recipe, you may have noticed that there is salsa in the pizza sauce.  Okay, calm down.  It's going to be alright.  Apparently this is a thing, and while I was also skeptical when Jimmy told me his family always does pizza this way, it turned out to be really yummy.  A little unorthodox perhaps, maybe a little blasphemous, but who cares if it tastes good... Am I right?  Can I get a hell yeah?

Errr anyway, we caramelized a bunch of onions, and fried up some Italian sausages and bacon for toppings.  I also had some leftover pesto from dinner earlier in the week, so we pulled together the makings of some epic pizza.

Here's the kicker though: Jimmy doesn't like cheese.  Like at all.  Like, as I grabbed hunks of cheese that had been destined for the pizza and stuffed them in my mouth instead, he sort of gagged a little.  I mean, more for meeeee!  But I am baffled by this.  He tolerates it on pizza, since it holds the toppings in place, but not too much.  Just enough.  Now me, I want the cheese to be oozing all over the place, and stretching into long steaming strings when I try to take a bite.  So we made 4 small pizzas, one of which I could cheesify to my heart's content, and the others we sparsely scattered such that we could share them.  The thoroughly cheesified pizza was a simple margarita-style, with just the fire roasted tomatoes sans salsa, and we also made a pesto with bacon and caramelized onions.  The other two had the salsa-tomato combo with the toppings piled high and interspersed with slices of mozzarella.  For all my heckling about his disdain for cheese, and the blasphemous nature of our pizza creations, they really did turn out well.  I'm very happy.


Pizza Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoon (1 packet) instant dry active yeast
1 c warm water (~110 degrees F)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
~3 c bread flour
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the bowl
1/2 tablespoon salt
~3 tablespoons cornmeal

In a large bowl stir together the yeast, water, and sugar gently, then let bloom for 20 minutes (it'll puff up).  Add the olive oil and salt, then stir in 2 c bread flour.  Once it's come together in a sticky mass, dust a clean counter generously with flour and knead 10-20 minutes, adding ~1 c dough over to create a soft, supple dough that's tacky but not sticky, and smooth.  Oil a large bowl with some more olive oil, then coat the dough with oil by turning it about in the bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, wrap with plastic, and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.  Before making the pizzas, let the halves sit out on the counter for a couple hours covered with a kitchen towel, so that they return to room temperature.

Sauce:

1/2 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 jar medium salsa

Mix together equal parts of salsa and tomatoes, or to your liking.  It sounds weird, but it's good.

Toppings:

Caramelized onions
Sliced apple
Bacon
Crumbled Italian sausage
Pesto
Mozzarella
Basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  If you have a pizza stone, awesome, use it.  I don't have one (sadness), so we just baked them on sheet trays dusted with cornmeal (you should dust your pizza peel with cornmeal too if you're using it with your pizza stone).  To roll out the dough, either use a rolling pin and your fingers to create a thin center and thicker edges for the crust, or stretch it using your knuckles if you're a pro.

We made 4 small pizzas, 2 per sheet tray, baking them on the top rack until the cheese was bubbling and dark brown, and the crust sufficiently crusty.  I tore basil leaves over the hot pizzas right when they came out of the oven, perfuming the kitchen with lemon and licorice, which mingled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

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