Monday, February 12, 2007

Five Cheese Pizza with Baby Bella Mushrooms

A standard pizza consists of three lengthy steps: the dough, the sauce, and the toppings. If you have to make all of those things in one shot, boy are you in for some work. Fortunately for us, I keep some homemade sauce frozen at all times, so I was already 1/3 of the way finished with my pizza before I even left work last Thursday. Of course, if I weren't a sauce snob, I would have just used some canned red sauce, but... I'm picky when it comes to my sauce. So sue me: it tastes a lot better, it's cheaper, and it's not full of sugar and other insane things that I would never dare put in an authentic pasta sauce. This sauce from the freezer had roasted orange and yellow bell peppers in it, as well as a hefty dose of red pepper flakes, so the result was a nice, angry mixture of peppers and tomatoes. You can use any kind of tomato sauce, though, for this standard pizza -- the heart of this recipe is actually the crispy yet tender dough, which was a cinch to make, especially given that it was my first foray into baking with yeast. I know, I know... but I had a fear of ruining anything that had to rise. Until I made this dough.
I got the recipe from the most recent Bon Appétit Magazine -- I believe it's the March issue, but it could be April's -- which has a nice little feature on our friend, Giada De Laurentiis. Apparently she used to make pizza with her grandfather and has graciously passed on his recipe for a quick and easy pizza dough. It only takes an hour and fifteen minutes to make, which includes an hour for the dough to rise, and it's quite fun to get your hands dirty making authentic pizza dough, I must say. She likens it to Play-Do, but I kind of think it has the consistency of Gak. Remember Gak? In other words, this dough is a bit sticky, but it firms up well in the oven and has a wonderful consistency when baked. Not that I ever put gak in the oven....

Pizza Dough
Pour 3/4 a cup of warm (105º to 115º) water into a small bowl, then stir in 1 envelope of active dry yeast. You can find this type of yeast in the baking aisle of any major supermarket, and probably most minor supermarkets as well -- it's the most common type of yeast on the market, I think. Let the water mixture stand until the yeast powder has dissolved, which usually takes about five minutes.
Brush a large bowl lightly with olive oil -- not very much, a teaspoon or so should suffice -- and set aside. Mix together (in a new, non-oily bowl -- I almost messed this part up twice) 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon salt (or less, depending on how much sodium you're willing to digest.) I did about 1/2 a teaspoon, which turned out fine. You might be wondering: why all that sugar? Sugar helps the yeast grow by supplying energy to the yeast, which makes it grow at a faster rate. Hooray for science!
Giada says that you should make this dough in a food processor (including mixing the dry ingredients by pulsing them a few times) but I used my handy KitchenAid Mixer. I think that I talk about this thing too much, but so what: it is my best friend in the kitchen (besides D.) You really do need a machine to process this dough, though -- I don't think that you could get the proper results mixing by hand. It is worth a try, though, if you don't have any blending tools handy. I just would be concerned about the dough becoming too tough as you work to incorporate the liquid ingredients with the flour mixture.
By now, your yeast should be dissolved. With the mixer (or processor) on low, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and the water/yeast combo. Mix (or process) until the dough forms a sticky ball. Transfer said sticky ball to a lightly floured surface -- this is the time where I wish I owned a silpat, because I used floured parchment paper, which didn't work as well as I wanted it to -- and knead until the dough is smooth, which should take only one or two minutes, tops. You can add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky. I did not have to do this, but it varies from batch to batch.
Transfer the dough to your oiled bowl, turning over once to coat it evenly in oil. Wrap the bowl -- not the dough itself -- with saran wrap and let sit for one hour, or until the dough has risen to be about double its original size. The bowl needs to be in a relatively warm, draft-free area; otherwise, it will take longer to rise and may not rise properly. When the dough has risen to twice its size, punch down to remove air bubbles. You just made real pizza dough! Now to assemble the actual pizza...

Five Cheese Pizza with Baby Bella Mushrooms
Begin by preheating the oven to 475º and covering two baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. Never put waxed paper in the oven, by the way: it never turns out well. Take the dough from the above recipe and split in half. Roll one half into a ball, then place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out -- start in the center and move towards the edges, flipping every so often to keep the dough even -- until it is about 8x13 inches. The dough will be quite thin. Transfer the rolled out dough to one of the baking sheets and repeat for the other half.
Spread 1/2 a cup of marinara sauce over each pizza, leaving a border of about 1/2 an inch, and sprinkle with a mixture of cheeses. The recipe says to use 1 cup of grated fontina, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan, and 1/3 cup grated mozzarella per pizza, but I'm lazy so I bought a pre-packaged mixture of five "Italian style" cheeses: asiago, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and romano. I used about half of the package on each pizza.
Next, it was topping time. As I mentioned above, the sauce I used was pretty spicy, since it had nice chunks of roasted peppers in it. So that was kind of like using peppers as part of the topping. We went for a mushroom-only pizza in this case, but I'd like to try other things: olives, sausage, spinach, basil... the possibilities are endless. Y U M. We got a package of pre-cut baby bella mushrooms and used those as the topping. I put some on the pizza about halfway through putting the cheese on it, so that some mushrooms were coated in melted cheese after it was baked. I also put some red pepper flakes on the top of the pizza, along with some regular ground pepper, for added spiciness and flavor.
We baked both pizzas in one oven for 15 minutes, until the bottoms were browned and we couldn't stand the fantastic smell any longer. It's a very short cooking time for such a tasty dinner, mainly because the oven is on such a high temperature. We didn't even rotate the pizzas halfway through cooking: for maximum crispiness, we wanted to leave them alone. The one on the top rack got slightly burnt in the back, but it still tasted awesome. I'm definitely making this again, but next time? I'm thinking of using an olive tapenade instead of a red sauce, then putting mozzarella and whole tomato slices on top. Delicious!

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