There’s nothing better than crisp-crusted, cheese-bubbling pizza fresh out of a brick oven. But, when that goes into a box only to lose its crispness as each minute passes while being transported to my house, it’s not the same anymore. So, for pizza at home, I’d rather make my own. Every other week or so, on Friday evening, I’ll whip up my usual dough recipe, let it rise while doing other things, roll it into a big pizza-ish shape, and top it with tomato sauce, mushrooms, olives, and maybe spinach, or whatever other vegetables are sitting around and seem like pizza material, and cheese. But, since reading A16: Food + Wine, I’ve wanted to try the method presented in that book. It’s classic Neopolitan pizza, and there are instructions for the dough, the very simple sauce, and just a few topping options. The idea of classic Neopolitan pizza was reinforced when I read April’s La Cucina Italiana. And, that meant it was time to change up my routine.
Following the A16 process, I started the dough a day early. The dough was mixed, kneaded, and then left in an oiled bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, the dough was punched down and turned in the bowl, and then returned to the refrigerator until ready to make pizza. The second refrigerated resting time can be anywhere from four to twenty-four hours, and I left it for probably nine hours. It was then turned out onto a floured surface and divided into four equal parts. Those were shaped into balls and left to proof for a couple of hours. I could tell right away that this dough was different than my usual. It had a nice, supple, springy feel to it. To shape the dough into pizzas, Appleman suggests flattening the ball of dough with your fingertips and then using the palm of your hand to press in the center. By pressing with your palm and turning with the other hand, you should get a flat circle with a slightly raised edge. Right. I couldn’t make it happen. I ripped holes in the dough and ended up with a raggedy, uneven, odd-shaped mess. I resorted to my rolling pin.
The next step in the process was the sauce. I don’t know why, but it had never occurred to me that the fresh, light sauce I’ve loved so much on pizzas in restaurants was uncooked. To make the sauce as described in the book, you open a can of San Marzano tomatoes and pour them into a bowl. Squish them with your hands until the tomatoes are broken into small pieces, and add a little sea salt. That’s it. If the canned tomatoes are watery, pour off some water before you begin squishing.
For toppings, I decided to try the pizza romana. The dough was spread evenly with some sauce, very thin slices of garlic were layered on top, some chopped anchovies were scattered about, pitted black olives were added, and a sprinkling of dried oregano finished it. This went onto a baking stone in the bottom of a 500 degree F oven for about seven minutes. When finished, it was drizzled with chile oil. Unfortunately, I did not locate good, salt-packed anchovies and had to get by with olive oil packed ones. Also, there were no jarred Calabrian chiles to be found, so I made the book’s version of chile oil with dried chile flakes instead. The last time I cooked from this book, I mentioned the wine pairings that appear with each recipe. This time, the suggested wine was a Falanghina from Campania which I actually did find. I even snapped a photo of the label (above) so I would remember the name.
This was definitely better than my regular pizza. The dough had developed more flavor from the longer, slower rising time. Of course, it lacked that amazing wood-fired flavor of a great pizza, but I’m just comparing it to my typical, homemade version. The chile oil was a knock-out. It was a rare pizza experience during which I didn’t miss the cheese. The simple sauce was perfect. That’s all a pizza sauce needs to be. And, the wine worked very nicely with the spicy, salty pizza toppings. The Falanghina was a balanced wine with a little crispness but also good body. It wasn’t as crisp as a Sauvignon Blanc and not as buttery as a Chardonnay, but it fell somewhere in between and deliciously so.
I may not think to start my pizza dough a day early every time from now on, but I’ll definitely be making this again. The sauce will likely become my new standard. Also, the remaining chile oil should last a few months in the refrigerator, and then it will, without doubt, be replenished. I used the remaining dough to make a few other pizza variations. One of my favorites, not from the book but just a combination I like, was thinly sliced summer squash with mushroom, dill, and mozzarella, and that one is shown below.