Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Pizza

I, like most people in the USA, like pizza. Actually I admit it, I love it. I considered it partly a pilgrimage to go to Italy for the pizza. When we moved here one of the things that I was looking forward to was the the large Italian population. (They have an all Italian channel instead of the Spanish Univision I am used to.) If I had to give up good Mexican food I felt I was at least going to get good pizza in return.
So one of the things that I have picked up is the search for good pizza. We have been lazy and ordering pizza is a nice way of being on a quest instead of just to lazy to make something for dinner. I found newspaper/web articles on who was supposed to be the best and why. We tried a lot of them. I drove high and low comparing them all, and frankly I was really disappointed with all of them. I realize I may be picky but I am not unsatisfiable. In little Italy in NYC there is Lombardi's Pizza. It's been there since 1905 and they keep winning awards for best pizza. (If going to NYC, go there.) The problem is that they are to far away for the dinner "quest".
I had been tinkering with the idea of trying to make my own. On Earth Day our company gave everyone a plant. I requested sweet basil. Now I just had to try it. The problem was that one of the things that got lost in our move was our pizza pan. While at a cooking store I saw a pizza stone that fits in the oven and bought that instead. With no more excuses I started looking up recipes.
In my mind making dough was a tedious all day affair. I guess it is just from growing up and helping my Mother make 16 loaves of bread, my arms tired from kneading bowl after bowl. In reality when only making one pizza really the only hard part of this recipe is planning far enough in advance to let the dough rise. The hallmark of an excellent pizza is the simplicity of the ingredients; this translates into really easy to make. I was amazed at how easy it all was. No really, as in anyone that can turn on an oven can make pizza better than 99% of the pizza places. I guess it is like cheese cake, it's only tastes good and is easy to make in small batches, it's scaling it up that makes it hard.
So now that I have tried it about 10 times now or so what are the secrets? Well here is what I have learned. More than anything else use fresh ingredients and more than that make sure to use fresh chopped basil. Seriously, having that little basil plant in the window made all the difference. Outside of that... the pizza stone really doesn't help that much, I don't have to spin the dough above my head for less handling, the sauce really is just a tomato, olive oil, and garlic in the blender, and as long as I clean up afterward my wife is OK with the whole obsession. I personally like the crust crusty on the outside with a chewy center and I found that if I short circuit the rising by getting rid of the second kneading then that helps too.

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