Archives for category: pizza

In the early fall when tomatoes are piling up on the counter and the temperature dips lower a few times a day, I naturally turn to making pizza. If I put together the sourdough crust first thing in the morning I can have three pizzas ready by 6:30 or 7:00 PM in the evening. I keep a jar of sourdough starter in my refrigerator in a big glass former pickle jar. I use to to make biscuits and waffles and occasional batches of wolverine rolls, but my favorite thing to do with it is make pizza dough. If you use your sourdough starter at least once a week it stays in good shape to help your dough rise.

Original  unfinished watercolor painting of pizza with fresh figs.

Fig Pizza. 12″ x 12″ gouache on paper (unfinished painting). Sharyn Dimmick.

Because I bought a lot of figs on Saturday I pretty much knew I was going to make a fig pizza, or a pizza featuring figs and other seasonal ingredients. I had some corn, some fresh arugula, lots of red Jimmy Nardello peppers from last week’s farm box. This seemed like a good combination to me: a little sweetness from the corn, a little bitter and peppery green taste from the arugula, a little savoriness from the pepper, more sweetness from figs that would roast in the oven as the pizza cooked, the contrasting flavor and texture of mozzarella and Pecorino cheese.

Because my go-to pizza recipe makes three pizzas, I asked my family what they would like on their pizza. Bryan voted for a pesto pizza with fresh spinach. Mom likes more traditional pizzas: for her I used a spoonful or two of Prego, topped with a little mozzarella, a little Pecorino, some feta. She liked it but said that it tasted blah after the rich taste of the pesto pizza.

The fig pizza? I loved it. I loved having all those flavors going on in one slice of pizza. Was it an entree? Was it a dessert? Was it breakfast? It can be all of that. I have eaten it for dinner, for lunch, for a late-night after-rehearsal gotta-have-it meal. I ate the last of it for breakfast this morning. If there had been more I would have eaten another piece or two.

If you want to make this seasonal pizza, you will need sourdough starter. You can stir up sourdough starter in a few days, so if you do it today you might be able to make pizza by the weekend. The recipe that I got from the Cheese Board Collective Works calls for  3 and 1/4 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup of starter, 1 and 1/2 cups water and 1 and 1/2 tsp salt. I prefer to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour in the flour mixture (I sometimes feed my starter some whole wheat flour as well) and a scant tsp of kosher salt. Because I don’t usually have bread flour on hand I have to add extra unbleached flour, sometimes several times, but eventually the dough comes together.

You can also make this with any other pizza crust that you like. For more details about working with sourdough pizza dough, see my previous post, “How to make thin-crust sourdough pizza.” Once you have your pizza dough risen, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then you need to divide the dough into three pieces, cover it and let it rest for twenty minutes. I form mine into a baguette-shaped log and cut it into even thirds, then shape each third into a small round.

While the rounds rest covered on the cutting board I grate or chop cheese. Frozen mozzarella slices more easily that it grates and the cheese gets crumbly from its time in the freezer. I grate hard cheeses, including Parmesan and Pecorino with a microplane. I mix the pound of mozzarella with a quarter to half-cup of grated cheese.

Taking one round at a time I make typing motions with my fingers, dimpling the dough. I rub my pizza pans with a little olive oil and transfer one round to each pan. Then I reach my wrists under the dough, pulling and stretching until I get a ten-inch circle.

Then it is time to assemble the pizza. I used green figs with pink centers, preparing them by cutting them into quarters and removing the stems. I started by putting a layer of the mixed cheese on top of the pizza crust. Then I cut the corn directly from the cob onto the cheese layer, sprinkled the arugula over it. I topped it with another layer of cheese, dotted with quartered figs.

I bake the pizza for about ten minutes on the top rack of the oven, then for ten minutes on the middle rack. Then I use a peel to transfer it to the hot pizza stone for its final ten minutes. I made the other kinds of pizza at the same time, rotating them through the oven racks as needed.

If you pizza as much as I do, make a recipe of sourdough pizza dough and have yourself a pizza party. If you can’t abide figs in pizza, top it with something else. I can’t get enough fresh figs in their short season.

Painting Note: The light faded from the sky before I had time to finish this painting. I decided I could show you a work in progress rather than a finished painting. When I finish it I’ll update the post. — Sharyn

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“Spring green” is a common phrase and color name. The spring in California is rich with greens: before we get to the reds, blues and yellows of summer we have pea green, asparagus green, artichoke green. And in the farm box we have beet greens, Swiss chard, kale, green garlic, spring onions, lettuce,  bok choy and peas. It is little wonder I was drinking my greens recently, shoving some spinach into a smoothie to make way for new rounds of greens.

Painting shows calzones on pizza pan and ingredients.

Green Calzones. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have made pizza for many years and somehow never made the leap to calzones. The dough is the same, the famous Cheese Bread sourdough recipe made with a cupful of whole wheat flour. The technique for shaping calzones is the same: you begin with eight small disks instead of three larger ones and go through the dimpling and pulling process.

I might have gone another few years without making calzones, except that Betsy’s recipe for calzones caught my eye and lingered in my imagination. Betsy made hers with fresh kale. I made mine with leftover cooked chard. I followed Betsy’s guidelines for the cup of feta and the 1/4 cup of dry cheese, but I used pecorino Romano where she used Parmesan.

Most of you know the drill for sourdough by now: if you want sourdough pizza, bread, waffles or biscuits you have to make up a sourdough starter. You need to feed it occasionally, but if you use it once a week or more it doesn’t take much care and feeding. I fed my starter yesterday morning with a half cup of water and a half cup of unbleached flour, shook it a few times and left it out on the counter. Come afternoon I came back and made pizza dough with a half cup of starter, 2 and 1/4 cups flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour and a generous teaspoon of kosher salt. Read the gory details here.

This morning I took my pizza dough out of the fridge at eight. At 10:22 I removed its dish towel, formed the dough into eight small rounds, floured the damp towel and let the dough sit while I made filling. I also put my pizza stone in the oven and cranked the heat up to 450, deploying three racks: one for the pizza stone, two for the trays of calzones.

First step: dump cooked chard from frying pan into pizza dough bowl (Why do more dishes than you have to?). Heat same frying pan over medium heat while you slice the white of a small leek and the shoots of some green garlic, wipe 3/4 of a pound of mushrooms with a clean damp cloth and slice them. Add olive oil to the skillet and saute your leeks and garlic while you continue to slice mushrooms. Add leeks and garlic to chard. Saute mushrooms in two batches, adding oil as necessary. While you have the oil out, lightly oil two pizza pans. Add sauteed mushrooms to chard, leeks and garlic. Crumble 1 cup of feta into the vegetables. Use microplane to grate 1/4 cup dry cheese over top. Grate some nutmeg to taste and add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

At this point, the faint-hearted or fanatically germ-phobic might give this mixture a stir, but I like to work with my hands, so I plunged my hands into the bowl and mixed. Then I washed and dried my hands before turning to the dough.

Using the dimpling and stretching techniques detailed in the pizza post I made my eight disks into eight five-inch circles, one at a time, so that I could fill and fold each calzone before making the next one. Again, I used my hands to scoop filling onto half of each calzone, but the fastidious may use a spoon and the precise may use a scoop or measuring cup, but you will need to use your hands to fold the crust over the filling and seal the edges.

Once your calzones are filled, folded and sealed, give each one slash with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. I use a stainless steel steak knife. If you keep a clean razor in your kitchen that will work, too.

I put one tray of calzones in while I filled the others. When the second batch was filled and folded I switched the first tray to a higher rack and started the second one on the middle rack. In ten minutes, I switched them again. We like things toasty and brown so the first tray was probably in the oven about thirty minutes. When I took the first tray out I turned off the oven and let the second tray finish cooking from the residual heat of the oven and the pizza stone.

By the way, I did not make the dough green. It is not St. Patrick’s Day. If you eat your spring greens you will see plenty of that color.

Food Notes: Betsy serves her calzones with marinara, which I’m sure is good. We ate ours plain to get maximum crust effects. Variations are legion: you can use any cheese you like, although the combination of a creamy one and a dry one produces a nice texture and flavor without a grease factor. If I could only have two cheeses for cooking they would be feta and Parmesan so Betsy’s choice worked for me, but you could use goat cheese and dry Jack or ricotta and Asiago. If you won’t eat or drink your greens, stick to mushrooms or pile in some meat. I badly wanted to add some roasted red peppers, but I didn’t want the mixture to be too wet, and I would have added sun-dried tomatoes if I hadn’t eaten them all by March. The same dough that makes crisp thin crust pizza transforms into a breadier dough you can hold in your hand when stuffed in this manner. Enjoy.

Blog Notes: Twice in the last week kind persons have nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award, an award for blogs with under 200 subscribers. While “The Kale Chronicles” fits that size, it has been previously nominated more than once. Because it can be difficult to establish how large or small a blog is, I will merely encourage you to visit the folks who nominated me, Peri’s Spice Ladle (Indian specialties) and artratcafe. (original art and occasional wonderfully illustrated posts of food descriptions from literature). I will further encourage you to visit Susartandfood. (I go for the stories).

painting of pizza with red peppers and olives

Sourdough Pizza with Red Peppers and Olives. 8″ x 8″ Gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

I mentioned in my last post, A Sunday in the Kitchen, that I had made sourdough pizza dough and put it in the refrigerator. Sourdough produces a thin, crispy crust as long as you don’t overburden it with too much sauce and cheese. Sourdough pizza dough needs to sit for around nine hours so the easiest way to make pizza is to make the dough the night before you plan to make the pizza. Monday afternoon I pulled it out at about 2 PM. At 4:30 I divided the dough into thirds and shaped each third  into a round. I then let it rest for twenty minutes, covered — sourdough is a lazy dough and it likes a lot of rests between steps. While the dough was resting I stacked up three racks in my oven from the lowest position to next to the highest, placed a pizza stone on the lowest rack and preheated the oven to 450. The oven needs 45 minutes for the stone to get good and hot.

Then I turned my attention to cheese. I sliced about a pound of mozzarella and then cut the small slices into small pieces. I could have grated it but my hand gets tired grating and it is just as easy to cut slices, stack the slices and cut small pieces from the stack. Plus, I don’t have to clean a grater. I then used my trusty microplane to grate Pecorino for flavor, 1/4 to 1/2 cup.  Don’t put it away yet — you’ll be grating some for the top as well. Parmesan is good, too. If you are out of hard cheese, consider adding some cubes of feta. A pound of mozzarella is enough for three ten-inch pizzas: you don’t want more, especially if you are trying to make thin crust pizza that stays in one piece.

By the time I have sliced all that and oiled some pizza pans, the dough is ready for shaping. I do this by hand, because it is fun. Take your first round and flatten it into a disc. Now poke your eight fingers into the dough as though you were typing, making concentric circles of dimples, leaving a small border at the edge. After your dough is flattened and dimpled, slide the backs of your hands under the dough and turn your hands, pulling the dough in the process. You will develop a feel for it. Stop before you make holes in it — it will need some thickness to support the toppings. Don’t pull it out to more than ten inches diameter, please. If you make a hole in it, it is best to collapse it, dimple it and pull it again rather than trying to patch it. Throwing it up in the air is completely unnecessary — I would only recommend doing this if you have worked in a pizzeria and are trying to impress your children. Place the pizza on the oiled pan.

Optional step: If you want a tiny bit of insurance that your pizza won’t leak or tear in the middle, you can put the pulled dough into the oven for a few minutes. I tried this for the first time the other day. The advantage is that my pizza did not tear. The disadvantage is that the crust rises a little and thus is thicker.

Now it is time to build your pizza. Sauce is optional. Sometimes I make pizza without it, sandwiching fresh vegetables between layers of cheese on the pizza crust. The advantage is that without the sauce you will have less likelihood of making a thin-crust pizza that develops a sink-hole in the middle when you try to transfer it between racks. If I am making a traditional pizza I usually take some sauce from the nearest jar of Prego marinara and spread it thinly on the pizza dough, thinly enough so that what I have is streaks of red with white crust showing. Do not glop on the sauce (Homemade marinara would perhaps be even better, but Prego is one of my shortcuts: my favorite is the Italian sausage flavor).

After I spread the sauce, I divide most of the cheese between the three pizzas, saving a little to drizzle on top of the toppings. For these pizzas I used sliced Spanish olives (the kind with pimentos inside), strips of roasted red bell pepper that I tore with my hands, and tiny cubes of ham from the freezer. I made one vegetarian pizza and two with ham. I sprinkled the reserved cheese over the vegetables and grated a little more Pecorino on top. I usually use whatever odds and ends of meats and cheese we have (ham, Canadian bacon, sausage) and vegetables, including peppers, cooked eggplant, mushrooms, olives or tomatoes. If you have parsley, cilantro or fresh basil, it is nice to garnish the pizzas with them when they come out of the oven.

To cook the pizzas, set the first pizza on the middle oven rack for ten minutes. Then rotate pizza number one to the top rack and start pizza number two on the middle rack. After another ten minutes, transfer the first pizza directly onto the pizza stone. I use a wooden peel to make the transfer and I pull the rack out a ways to make it easier. I highly recommend getting a peel and a pizza stone if you plan to make pizza frequently. Continue to bake the remaining pizzas in the same rotation. Please note: baking times are approximate — if your pizza is too soft to transfer to the stone, bake it a little longer before the transfer. If your pizza on the top rack is browning too fast, transfer it a little sooner.

Food Notes: You don’t need to buy fancy whole milk mozzarella for pizza. When I was first learning how to make it I asked the guy at The Cheese Board what cheese they used for their pizza. He sold me some plain part-skim mozzarella. Now I buy it in two pound blocks whenever I find it on sale and stash it in the freezer for pizza-making. I would normally caution you not to cook with cheese you would not eat out of hand, but I only use mozzarella in pizza and emergency cheese sandwiches and I always add some other cheese to add flavor.

I am not going to tell you what to put on your pizza. If you live in New York, you may choose to stick to cured meats, onions, peppers and mushrooms. If you live in California and you want to make pizza with gorgonzola and fresh figs or purple cabbage and walnuts, that is your privilege. It is nice to use fresh tomatoes in tomato season and things in jars in the winter.

I usually make all three pizzas at once. I like pizza a lot and it keeps well and reheats well. Sometimes I sandwich a cooled pizza between pieces of cardboard and put in in the freezer for later.

If you do not have sourdough starter, you can make pizza dough with yeast, water, flour and olive oil. I use The Cheese Board’s recipe from The Cheese Board Collective Works. You will find that recipe here. And, as I mentioned on Sunday, I like to substitute whole wheat flour for part of the flour. I learned a good deal of what I know about pizza-making from this book: if you would like step-by-step photos, plus several recipes for pizza, master sourdough, yeast breads and assorted bakery goods, I highly recommend purchasing the book. And, no, I am not on the payroll — I’m just a happy customer. If you can buy it from your local independent bookstore, I’ll be even happier.