Pizza, (also known as ah beetz’ in Napolitano, or as my dad says in Rhode Island lingo, pete-sir) is a weekly staple in our family.
We made the standard family recipe for years. We emptied a five-pound bag of flour on the counter, added unmeasured amounts of salt, water, yeast, and sometimes olive oil, and had more than enough dough for pizza and doughboys. Our toppings were few: pepperoni and Parmesan cheese and sometimes anchovies. It was good thick crust pizza.
I tried numerous recipes (including celebrity chef recipes and those that advertise to be authentic Napolitano), altered the ingredients, and baked the pizza at temperatures ranging from 450° to 510° with and without a pizza stone. I also grilled the pizza once but the dough was too thick in some areas and too thin in others so it burned. The crispyness was just right though. Too bad it was burned.
I started by using different brands of flour, then I tried substituting bread flour and wheat flour for all-purpose flour, and once I added a bit of cornmeal to the dry ingredients. I kneaded the dough by hand most of the time, but sometimes I kneaded the dough with a mixer and a dough hook. I also experimented with the other ingredients. I foamed the yeast in warm water. I added the yeast to the dry ingredients. I increased the yeast and salt. I decreased the yeast and salt. I mixed the dough with warm water, then cold water, and finally water that was at room temperature. I used fresh tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, and sauce.
Eventually I came up with a combination of ingredients that made an awesome pizza.
To make the perfect crust, I keep my flour refrigerated until I’m ready to make the dough. I add the yeast to the dry ingredients instead of letting it foam in warm water. I usually bake my pizza at 500° when I make it at home. If I make it elsewhere, I’m generally safe baking at 450° and don’t run the risk of burning the crust. I rarely use a pizza stone. I find that pizza crisper pans—those with perforated bottoms—make a a crispy crust and keep the pizza from getting soggy when baked at temperatures of 450° or higher. Instead of sauce I use canned whole Italian peeled tomatoes. I drain the tomatoes and crush the whole tomatoes with my fingers, leaving little chunks of tomatoes on the dough without leaving extra liquid that could form little pools of liquid on the pizza while it’s baking.
The toppings I put on pizza depend on what I have on hand, but the dough recipe I use is the same one that I use to make doughboys. Lately, I’ve replaced the part skim Mozzarella with the whole milk kind because my grandson likes the stringiness.
For the dough:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups of cold water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the pizza:
- 1 35 ounce can Italian peeled tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus a little for drizzling
- 4 cups whole milk shredded Mozzarella
- sliced pepperoni
- mushrooms green pepper, onion, black olives thinly sliced
- 2 perforated crisper pizza pans about 13 or 14-inch size
Combine flour, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl. Add water and mix until dough forms a sticky ball. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour until it pulls away from the sides and forms a smooth ball. If too much flour remains in the bowl, add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a smooth ball.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is firm and no longer sticky. Shape the dough into a ball.
Coat the sides and bottom of a large glass or ceramic bowl (not plastic). Place dough in bowl and turn to coat all sides with oil. Seal the bowl tightly with plastic wrap; cover with a mappina (one or more dish towels). Place covered bowl in an area free of drafts.
Let the dough rise for about 1½ - 2 hours. Uncover the bowl and punch the dough with your fist. Re-attach the plastic wrap and cover with dish towels. Let dough rise for about 45 minutes more.
Preheat oven to 500ºF. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to each pan, and wipe evenly with a paper towel. Divide the dough in half. Roll out dough, or shape by hand, a circle of dough about 13-inches in diameter. Put each round of dough on a pan.
Pour tomatoes in colander, and squeeze with your hand until all juices drain and the tomatoes are in small pieces. Cover the dough with a handful of the drained tomato pieces. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, if desired. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt and oregano evenly over the tomatoes. Cover with 2 cups of the Mozzarella. Add pepperoni and other toppings. Vegetables should be sliced thin.
Place the pizzas on the middle and lower rack of the oven. Swap the pizza on the lower rack with the pizza on the middle rack when the crust of the pizza on the lower rack is brown, generally about 5 minutes if the oven is at 500ºF. Bake until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.