Sometimes here at El Rancho Destructo, the word pizza is a source of contention. Choo and I are from entirely different ends of the spectrum when it comes to our pizza likes. He loves the New York style, with its thin, chewy crust that has a bit of crispness on the very bottom and the light hand when it comes to toppings; I, on the other hand, am a sucker for Chicago-style deep dish pizzas, with their rich, buttery crusts stuffed full with cheese, meat, and sauce. Really, I was in pizza heaven on my first trip to Chicago (and sadly, the only at this point), and I was introduced to Lou Malnati’s. We could both see the merit in each other’s tastes, but we had our favorites, and boy, we couldn’t be any different.
Ordering a pizza is more often than not a situation that either one of us won’t really be all that happy. We did, however, find a New York style place that I don’t consider all that bad, so that’s usually our choice when we order out. Yet, in our desires to not only be thrifty, but to generally eat better in our day-to-day lives (don’t worry, we’re not giving up our bacon and butter!), I started making pizza at home. I often used my sourdough starter for the pizza crust, and while tasty, it caused… digestive issues with us. I had a pizza stone, but here I have two weak spots: one, my home oven is unable to reach the high temperatures as compared to a restaurant pizza oven, which helps create the crisp crust Choo loves. Secondly, I suck at using a peel–you know, that wooden/metal paddle used in transporting pizzas from counters to ovens to boxes. I roll out my pizza, put on toppings, then I’m never quite able to get it on the peel. Don’t even ask about some of the messes I’ve made in trying to slide that uncooked pizza onto the stone.
I looked to my beloved cast iron skillet (one of the two greatest things that came out of my first marriage) for the answer. I didn’t have to worry about using the peel, and I knew I could load up the pizza with the amount of toppings that I preferred. The only problem is that the crust still turned out rather soft.
The next time, inspiration struck: What, I asked myself, is one of the benefits of a cast iron skillet? Why… it can go from stove to oven! After assembling the pizza, I turned on the flame to a medium-high, and after a few minutes, I could smell the crust beginning to toast, and saw a bit of olive oil bubbling along the sides. I immediately tossed that hot skillet in a preheated oven and baked it for its usual time. What came out was just right–a top of bubbling cheese and sauce; a bottom crust that had a crunch that made my Choo happy (and me, I was relieved to finally have a solution).
Let’s start with the dough.
Pizza Dough, makes enough for one 12″ skillet pizza
1 envelope of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water, about 105-115°F
pinch of sugar
2 1/2-3 1/2 cups bread flour–up to 50% can be whole wheat flour if you choose
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine your warm water, pinch of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour, and let sit for 10 minutes. You’re checking to make sure your yeast is working, and if the mixture after 10 minutes is foamy like this:
You are good to go! It means your yeast is happy and chomping away. Don’t see any foam? Toss it and start over with a fresh envelope.
If you’re lucky in having a KitchenAid, use your dough hook attachment as you add the salt, olive oil, and the flour. Gradually add the flour, starting with 1 1/2 cups, and slowly work the rest in a half cup at a time until the dough is no longer sticky and is pulling away from the bowl. If mixing and kneading by hand, knead in the remainder of the flour until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes; if using a stand mixer, about 5 minutes.
In a clean bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and add your dough, rolling it over so the dough is lightly coated in oil, and cover bowl with a clean dishtowel. Set aside in a warm part of the room for about 1 hour, until dough is doubled in size.
While waiting for the dough to rise, prepare your toppings:
I had some Tomato Confit that needed to get used, so I threw that in the Cuisinart, with a pinch of sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of Nomu Veggie Spice Blend–it was on hand and quick; I could have gone outside to clip herbs, but I also had a clingy Kiddo so it was just best I stayed inside. A few pulses in the food processor until mostly smooth, and I had a passable pizza sauce. It was a bit wetter than I’d like it, and if I felt like dirtying another pan, I would have cooked it for a few minutes to reduce it a bit. I certainly don’t expect you to make your own, and I’ve bought Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce (the fresh in the tub, not the jar), which I’ve found to be rather good. If you do make your own sauce, do tell; I’ve made a decent one by using a can of tomato paste, a little olive oil, a spoonful of water, some fresh herbs and garlic.
There was a Portabella Mushroom that was once a part of a pair; I had used one, but the other lingered without purpose. This lonely mushroom’s destiny was to be chopped and sauteéd with garlic in preparation for this pizza. I’m not trying to be fancy, here, I just like my mushrooms to be cooked. Mushrooms contain quite a bit of water, and they have something of a ‘squeaky’ kind of texture when they’re not fully cooked that I find unpleasant on a pizza. Is that so weird?
Onions and peppers, of course. Pizza is such a great vector for eating vegetables.
Right about this time, it’s a good idea to preheat the oven to 450°.
Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s time to punch it down, roll it out to approximately a 14″ circle. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the skillet, and then lay the dough in, folding and pressing in the overlap to form a crust. Yeah, I know, I was kinda sloppy on this one.
Action shot of Kiddo helping with the toppings. I like doing sauce first, a layer of parmesan, all the veggies, then finish off with any meat (turkey pepperoni in this instance), and a good layer of mozzarella cheese on top–I’ve found that doing the cheese on top holds all the toppings in place, it cuts up rather nicely in the end, and it disguises those vegetables long enough that Kiddo eats most of his dinner before he realizes that he’s consumed something green.
When all the toppings are added, turn the flame to a medium-high setting, and let the pan heat up for about 3-4 minutes. When the oil bubbles up along the edges and the dough starts to smell toasty, it’s time to go right into the oven. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, when cheese is fully melted (I like it a little browned, to tell the truth) and sauce is bubbly. As much as you might want to cut into it right away, let it sit for about 10 minutes to settle. It’s going to be lava-hot, and you know it.
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