I've always loved pizza. I mean who doesn't? Pizza is brilliant. Even when it's bad it's great. I love it all. Several weeks ago at work, my editor Diana and I had a sudden, unexplainable craving for that really bad, greasy, thick pizza that Pizza Hut is known for. I called in an order, went and picked it up and together we ravenously devoured it as we worked late into the night. Where I live in West Hollywood, there is a joint called Greenwich Village Pizza, that serves pizza by the slice, perfect for soaking up the alcohol after a few too may cocktails at one of the many bars that line Santa Monica Blvd. I don't recall if I've ever been there sober. Back home in Missouri we have Imo's. It's the quintessential St. Louis style pizza, very very thin crust, toppings spread right up to the edge, and cut into squares, not wedges. The sauce is very sweet, more like tomato paste, and the cheese is Provolone rather than mozzaralla. I love getting it with bacon. In college in Ithaca there were of course lots of great pizza places. One of my favorites was called Pizza Aroma, and in addition to the great New York style crust and gigantic slices, they had some really interesting toppings. They might have been the first place that showed me that pizzas could be more innovative than cheese and pepperoni or "supreme." At that time, a pizza with artichokes and feta, pesto, or roasted red peppers and eggplant seemed exciting and unexpected.
What really changed my ideas of what a pizza could be was dining at Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's acclaimed pizza Mecca Pizzeria Mozza. Pizzas are about the size of a dinner plate, rimmed with a thick but light, bubbled crust. Toppings include a melange of cured Italian meats, beautiful handcrafted cheeses (Nancy makes amazing cheese), things like slices of fingerling potatoes, radicchio, escarole, chanterelle mushrooms, squash blossoms and egg that has been cracked over the top and allowed to cook until barely set, so that when you slice into the pie, the golden yolk pools out. Mamma Mia!
Taking a cue from Mozza, for Annie and Pierson's housewarming a few months back, we made a trio of pizzette each with a different, unique combination of flavors and ingredients. As I mentioned before, I was unable to snap any pics of the process or finished product, but since the results were so outstanding, I vowed that I'd have to replicate them to post. This one was my favorite.
(For the dough)
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 ounce package (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
(For the pizzas)
2 or 3 1/4 inch thick slices (about 8 ounces) of pancetta, diced into small cubes
2 large onions, halved and then thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
freshly ground black pepper
12 ripe figs, quartered lengthwise
1/2 cup Kalmata olives, quartered lengthwise
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
cornmeal, for dusting (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
red pepper flakes (optional)
First make the dough. Combine the warm water, sugar and yeast. Using a fork, stir the mixture until the yeast is dissolved and the water has turned tan. Let the yeast stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a food processor, combine 2 3/4 cups of flour and the salt and pulse 3 or 4 times. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil. Pulse until the dough comes together, adding more flour as needed until the dough is smooth, not tacky, when squeezed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 or 5 turns, forming a ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat and placing the smooth side up. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap and place your fist in the center of the dough to punch it down. Fold the dough back onto itself 4 or 5 times, then turn the dough over, smooth side up, cover again with plastic wrap and let rise again in a warm place, until the dough has doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Use right away or cut the dough into 4 pieces and place into separate oiled resealable plastic bags for later use. But remember to let the dough come to room temperature before rolling it out.
Next make the pizza toppings. Saute pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat until golden brown and crisp and most of the fat is rendered, 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove pancetta from the skillet, and set aside to drain on paper towels. If the pancetta has given off a lot of oil, pour off all but 3 tablespoons.
Add onions to skillet, sprinkle with sugar, and season with pepper; raise heat to medium high. Saute onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, and set aside. The toppings can be made in advance.
Finally assemble the pizzas. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion of dough to make a 6-to-8-inch rough circle about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough isn't completely round, you can fold over the edges a little to for more of a circle. This also helps make a more thick, significant crust at the edge, something you can really hold on to, if that is something you enjoy.
Sprinkle two heavy baking sheets with a generous amount of cornmeal. Arrange pizza dough on baking sheets. Alternately you can line the baking sheets with parchment paper, instead of using the cornmeal. Prick the crust with a fork leaving a half inch border around the edge. Top each pizza with some of the cooked onions, and spread out over dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border between the onions and the edge of the dough. Sprinkle with cooked pancetta and olives, arrange the sliced figs over the onions, and then dot the pizzas with ricotta cheese. Brush the edge with a little olive oil.
Transfer to oven, and bake until pizza dough is crisp and golden and the ricotta is just starting to brown a little, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven, slice into quarters and enjoy or let sit while you proceed with more pizzas.
Alternately, if you have a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven. Then assemble the pizza on a piece of parchment paper and then simply place the pizza along with the parchment, right on the pizza stone. The whole placing the pizza on a peel and then trying to shove it onto the pizza stone is bit tricky. Even if you use parchment, the crust still gets crispy, plus it's easier.
Serve the pizzas hot or warm, showered with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.
I have to say, this latest attempt at home made pizza was much easier and more satisfying than previously. The dough, which I was sort of nervous about, turned out well. It's very easy to work with especially when making smaller pizzas. It's easier to handle. Cooking the pizzas on a baking sheet works perfectly fine. I think the secret is to have a very hot oven. I've made them using a pizza stone and a regular baking sheet and I don't see any difference. Either way, the crust turns out nice and crisp. Using the corn meal gives the bottom of the crust a fantastic, grainy texture. Next time I might try adding herbs to the crust.
As far as the toppings go. Oh honey! This is so not a pizza you could order out for. The sweet, jammy caramelized onions are the perfect base for the soft, sexy figs, crisp, smoky pancetta, salty olives and creamy ricotta. Like seriously, try to find fresh ricotta. It makes a huge difference, although if you can't track it down, the kind you find in a regular grocery store works well too. But the fresh is better. It's got more of a creamy, milky flavor and a very delicate texture and when it bakes, it gets a really pretty golden crust on the tops.
Now that I know how easy pizza at home is, I think I'll be experimenting with more flavor combinations. I still want to replicate the escarole pizza we served at Annie's housewarming. I want to try cubes of roasted butternut squash, goat cheese and maybe some rosemary or sage. I'm dying to try a recipe showcasing clams. I think there is one in the Nancy Silverton sandwich book. I want to try doing one with sauteed leeks as a base. Come summer I'm thinking squash blossoms. I'd like to experiment more with different crusts as well. As serviceable as this one was, I'd like to find one that has more of a crisp exterior with a chewy inside. Any suggestions?
Yields 4 8-inch pizzette or 8 6-inch pizzette