Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pizza Panda Style

Let's just come right out and address the fact that there was no post last week. You know why? Because everything went totally and completely wrong in my kitchen, that's why. I broke the new photostudio thingum (Mr P fixed it), burned the chicken (which wasn't really thawed anyway) and just generally screwed everything up. And yeah, I could have written it up as a "don't do any of this" kind of post, but I've been so tired I couldn't be bothered. I hope you're not feeling too neglected.

This week, I'm still really tired, and I'm sick. Again. Rather than leave the dust gathering on this blog experiment though, I've got a guest cook this week! Mr. Panda made us some homemade pizza! In fact, he did such a good job y'all might want him permanently instead of me. Well. Too bad. But you get him this week! Enjoy!

:::Mr. Panda Enters Stage Left:::

Pizza.  What image does the word conjure in your mind?  Cardboard boxes that arrive at your door in 30 minutes or less?  Late night fuel for college study sessions?  The inevitable thin crust "soda and a slice" so beloved by New Yorkers?  Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet that it represents convenience and simplicity.  Today, Yours Truly, Mr. Panda, brings to you the anti-pizza.  Neither convenient nor simple.  But gosh-darned tasty.

When Mrs. P asked me to provide a pizza-based blog post, I knew I wanted to try something new.  I knew I needed to provide something that the thousands of readers of Not Just Bamboo would approve of.  As a man who worships at the altar of Mr. Alton Brown, I immediately hied me to my copy of Good Eats: The Early Years for suitable recipes (a present from the lovely Mrs. P and a cookbook I can't endorse enough, btw).  I found two to provide the foundation of the pizza adventure: Pizza Pizza dough and tomato sauce.

The pizza dough calls for an 18-24 hour rise time, so this is the perfect meal to prep everything the day before and then just pop it in the oven the day of.  In my case, I prepared the pizza dough and the tomato sauce ahead of time and did the pizza toppings the next day right before baking.  In retrospect, I would have done everything the night before.  Tip # 1: from me to you.

I'm going to present this process in the actual order I went through it: make the sauce, make the dough, make the toppings, bake the pizza.  A more talented and coordinated cook (such as you, Gentle Reader) could no doubt have done several of these tasks all at once.

Day 1, Step 1: The Sauce!

I've never made sauce from scratch before, so this was an experiment conducted entirely for your amusement.

First, gather the ingredients:

We, who are about to become tomato sauce, salute you!

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I omitted these for Mrs. P's sake)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery (I hate celery, so I also omitted these)
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Strain the tomatoes over a large saucepan, setting the tomatoes aside to use later.  Add the vinegar, sugar and spices to the tomato juice and bring to a boil.  Once the surface starts to bubble, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until it loses about half its liquid content.

Liquid on the stove: ready, set, simmer!
While the liquid is cooking, dice the carrots and onions and put them in a roasting pan, along with the tomatoes, olive oil, capers and garlic (this is apparently known as a mirepoix in cooking circles).  Place the roasting pan on a rack in the middle of the oven under the broiler for 15-20 minutes (mine broiled for 20 minutes), stirring every 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have started to caramelize and brown on the outside.  Don't cheese out on the roasting!  I believe this process is what really gives the sauce its depth of flavor.

Roasted mirepoix goodness
 Be careful here - after coming out of the broiler, the pan is really freakin' hot.  Take the liquid off the heat and carefully add the mirepoix.  Stir in the wine and, voila, sauce!  Now, Alton claims that you can use this sauce at different consistencies for different foods.  I don't know about that, but I do know that if you blend it all the way down it becomes perfect for pizza.

Using a blender (I used Mrs. P's awesome Cuisinart hand blender), blend to an appropriate consistency for pizza sauce.  Let the sauce cool and place in the refrigerator for tomorrow's pizza extravaganza.  Note: this makes waaay more sauce than you need for pizza.  Alton says it freezes for up to a year.  We now have two freezer bags full of leftover sauce in our freezer.  Who knows?  It may show up back here on the blog as part of a future project.
Homemade pizza sauce is home made
Day 1, Step 2: The Dough 

This dough is, as they say in Boston, wicked easy.  First, gather the ingredients together:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt*
  • 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour (Alton's original recipe called for 9.5 ounces by weight - wtf???)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast

Place all ingredients in a stand mixer bowl.  Mix on low with the flat beater until it just becomes a ball.  Next, attach the dough hook and need on medium for 15 minutes.  Tear off a small piece of dough to test for proper consistency.  If it stretches to translucency prior to breaking, the dough is ready.  If not, knead for 5 - 10 more minutes.

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a bowl.  Pour two teaspoons of olive oil over the dough and spread it around to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or an eco-friendly lid if you happen to have one) and place in the refrigerator to rise for 18-24 hours.

One note of caution here: our refrigerator runs very cold at the top.  I put the dough on the top shelf and when I took it out on Day 2 it was near-freezing temperature and hadn't risen at all.  I recommend placing it somewhere in your refrigerator with a more moderate temperature to give the yeast a chance to be active.

Day 2, Step 3: The Toppings

Ahhh... the toppings.  While dough and sauce are the foundation of a pizza, the toppings are what really defines it.  For this pizza, we opted to do sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.  I really like the flavor of sweet Italian sausage and I think it lends itself exceptionally well to pizza.  You, of course, are welcome to try any toppings you think appropriate.  Since this is my blog post, though, you get to read about sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella.

Oh sweet Italian sausage, how I do love thee
To prepare the sausage, I used a technique I learned whilst living among the sausage-loving peoples of upstate New York.  I bought the best sweet sausage I could find and used a knife to split the casings.  The meat inside the casing can be put in a frying pan and browned like ground beef or loose ground sausage.  While browning the sausage, Mrs. P made a most brilliant suggestion and I put the sliced mushrooms in with the sausage to saute in the sausage grease.

Cook the combination, stirring to brown the sausage and keep it from burning.  Remove from heat when the sausage is brown (the mushrooms will bake on the pizza).  In retrospect, a larger pan is better, but the outcome in my case was still exceptionally tasty.
Sausage/mushroom saute
Three words on cheese: I love cheese.  A few more: get good mozzarella and shred a pile of it for use as a pizza topping.  That's really all there is to cheese on the pizza.  (Okay, full disclosure: I used pre-shredded cheese for this pizza.  It still tasted good, but I didn't respect myself in the morning.)

Day 2, Step 4: Putting it all together (or, a pile of stuff becomes a pizza)

To properly cook a pizza, it should be cooked in a brick oven at something like 800 degrees.  If you happen to have one of those I hate you (that's the jealousy talking) and you can skip to the end because you already know what you're doing.  If you're a mere mortal and making due with a regular oven, you'll have to improvise.  Alton has actual tiles he uses to line his oven to create a faux-brick oven.  I haven't reached his level of geek Nirvana yet so I use an ordinary Pampered Chef pizza stone (mine is old, though, so it doesn't have handles).  Put your stone in the oven and preheat it as high as it will go.  Mine goes to 550 degrees, so that's what I got.  Warning note: put the stone in the cold oven and then preheat to make sure you don't break your stone due to thermal shock.

While the oven is preheating, take the dough out, split it into two equal-sized balls and let it rest.  Actually, you should do this very first, since the dough needs to rest for about 30 minutes.  Take one of the dough balls and place it on a lightly floured pizza peel.  Press it into a disc, creating a lip on the edge.  The lip will become the outer crust of the pizza.

Now for the fun part: stretching the dough.  Rolling pizza dough is just unsat.  The dough won't taste right, the outer crust won't form, and it wouldn't be pizza.  Real pizza dough is stretched to reach the right proportions.  There are several methods to do this.  You can stretch it by hand on the pizza peel.  You can pick it up, run it through your fingers and rotate it to let gravity stretch it.  Or, you can use the magic of centrifugal force to stretch the dough by spinning it and throwing it in the air.  Clearly, that last is the way to go.  Come on, people - centrifugal force!

Okay, so... here is the point in the narrative where you would rightfully expect a beautiful picture or video of me twirling pizza dough in the air.  Sadly, this is not to be. We tried; we really did.  Instead of pizza twirling, we have a considerable library of pictures of our kitchen cabinets and open air conspicuously free of twirling pizza dough.  We aim to please here at Not Just Bamboo, though, so in lieu of pictures of the actual event, we scoured the internet and found this video, which is a pretty close reenactment of my pizza twirling performance:

Once you've stretched your pizza dough, now it's time to turn it into pizza.  Place the dough on your peel and apply the pizza sauce.  Use a ladle to place a cupful or so in the middle of the dough and then spread it around.  The goal is to get an even layer of sauce over all the crust.

Pizza sauce and ladle
Time for toppings!  Top the pizza with the sausage and mushrooms.  Take the shredded mozzarella and sprinkle it over the toppings.  There's no science to this.  Put as many toppings as seem right and top with as much cheese as you think you want.  Finally, brush a little olive oil over the edge of the crust.

Transfer the pizza from the pizza peel to the stone in the oven.  Alton had some suggestions on how to do this.  It was still a messy transaction for me.  Hopefully, your dough isn't stuck to your peel and you can put the edge of the peel against the back of the stone and just give it a couple jiggles and a quick snap back to put it on the stone.  I have faith in you - you're smarter than me and you'll figure this out.

Bake in the oven for 7 minutes or so.  You want the dough to be golden brown and cheese bubbly.  Keep an eye on the dough, it might bubble.  If it does, pop the bubbles with a fork.

Once the pizza is done, slide your peel under it and pull it out of the oven.  And that's it!  Perfect pizza.

Trust me - it's awesome
This recipe makes enough dough for two pizzas.  If you're hungry enough to eat both, then make them right away.  If not, I highly recommend keeping the second ball of dough in the refrigerator (it should keep for 6 days) and only baking it when you're ready.  The toppings, cheese, sauce, etc should all last just fine as long as the dough.  This pizza is really really good when it's fresh.  It's okay as a leftover, but if you have the luxury of making it fresh - why not?

Happy pizza-ing!

1 comment:

  1. ~2 cups flour (Alton's original recipe called for 9.5 ounces by weight - wtf???)~

    Bread doughs are known to be particularly fickle. Also, a lot of people don't have different wet and dry measures and for dough that can make a difference. Then there's the level, level but not settled, not quite level version of measuring. By doing things by weight, you'll have exactly as much flour as Mr. Brown did. :-) Also, now I want to make pizza in my hilarious toaster oven.