Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pizza Party

I have a little annual Christmas party I like to throw at my house, and I always try and come up with a theme. We’ve done the usual Tacky Sweater party, and then I tried a bitch’n’swap (google it if you’re unfamiliar). I’ve even considered having my friends come dressed as members from the first Christmas, you know, some Wise Women, and a donkey or two. That one has yet to happen.

This year I waited until the last second and a stroke of genius hit me: pizza party. Not greasy, orangey Domino’s (I do love that every once in a while), but some homemade dough, with white mozzarella and fragrant basil. And the best part is, it involves people. I would make the food and prepare the toppings, but they get to put together their own pizzas. Brilliant. If you get your oven hot enough, and if you have a pizza stone, you’re in a good position to make some stellar pizza. I was surprised at how good ours turned out. I turned to Jamie and Martha. We’re all on a first name basis (Oliver and Stewart, that is). For the tomato sauce, all you really need is canned tomatoes. I kind of melded together their two recipes to come up with mine. The toppings are the best part, because you can throw on whatever (I’m not a pizza nazi, although I stick to standard ingredients, I’ll allow you to put barbequed chicken on your pizza, as much as it grosses me out). And one more thing I must say, that I can’t avoid thinking about as I type out “pizza dough.” A shout out to the Iron Chef where the secret ingredient was pizza dough. That chairman is unbeatable in his enthusiasm and precise movements.

Pizza Dough
From Jamie’s Italy (you’ll see, as I would never call something ‘stodgy porridge’)
6-8 medium size thin pizzas

1 ¾ lb strong white bread flour (if my math's right, just over 793 grams, which is about 6 1/3 c)
1 ½ c fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
¼ oz. envelope active dried yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
Just over 2 c warm water

Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 7-inch well in the center. Add your yeast and sugar to the warm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge—continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough by rolling it backward and forward, using your left hand to stretch the dough toward you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.
This is where I divert from Jamie and follow Martha a bit. She lets it rise a lot more (two proofings of 40 minutes each, punching down in between). And Jamie just says to let it rest 15 minutes. So I found that you can do what you want with it and let it rise up to a few hours, if you punch it down once or twice in between. Make sure and oil the top of the dough and a bowl to let it rest in, then cover with plastic wrap, but not too tight, and then with a cloth over the bowl, trying to keep in a warmish place.
This was a good thing for me to prepare for a dinner party because I could have most things set up before hand. I divided the dough into 7 balls and rolled each one out, stacking them between layers of parchment paper until time to assemble.

Tomato Sauce

¼ c olive oil
2 cans (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper

Heat a heavy saucepan over medium and all the olive oil. Then add the garlic, letting it fry but not turn dark brown or crispy. Add the oregano, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and let cook for about 40 minutes, until the tomatoes get soft. Crush them with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Set aside.

The beauty is the easy prep. You can get everything ready before and just have it all laid out for your guests, whom I employed to make the pizzas. As far as toppings go, you’ll most certainly want to have fresh mozzarella, freshly grated parmesan, and basil. Those are the bare minimum, so I also had: ricotta, roasted garlic, salami, black olives, and grilled mushrooms and eggplant. It’s a lot of fun with everyone getting to create their own. So when it comes to cooking, if you have a pizza stone (which we do), all the better. Heat the oven to 500F with the pizza stone in it (if you don’t have a pizza stone, use a baking sheet instead). When it’s heated, remove the stone, take one of your rolled out crusts, placing it on the stone and top as desired. Typically we did tomato sauce followed by mozzarella and parmesan, then whatever else, but there was also a pizza Bianca in there (sans sauce). Pop in the oven for 8-12 minutes until cheese is bubbling and browning, and then slide it off onto a baking sheet to cool and cut, while you prepare another. Enjoy!

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