Pizza can be easily overwhelmed with toppings and the result can be a soggy crust, a greasy mess or flavors that hide one of the true stars of a pizza…the crust. The key is not only the number of ingredients, but the volume of those ingredients. A cheese pizza with too much cheese can be a disaster. A pizza with sauce, mozzarella cheese, sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and spinach can work as long as the pizza preparer has a light hand with those delicious ingredients. So, just be aware of how much you’re loading on the pizza and when in doubt use less than you think you need.
Two years ago I would have cringed at the thought of making my own pizza. I had always found anything involving yeast to be too daunting. My first attempt at pizza was OK, but I found the dough recipe for that crust to be a little too thick and chewy. I like thin crust pizza. The recipe I used tonight is one I have used before and that I will use from now on. It is from “The Breadbaker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart. I like that I can make this dough the day before and use it up to 3 days later. Last minute dinner date? Save the dough for tomorrow! Freedom. I love it.
The only problem I had was getting the dough to form that perfect round shape by tossing it. An attempt at tossing got me nowhere. All I really needed to do was pick up the dough round and stretch it just a bit and it was round. Work pretty quickly or else your dough will stretch too much and develop a nice hole that is not easy to repair. I was unable to recover from my holey dough.
A tip for pizza making: have all your toppings prepped and ready to go before your dough is ready to use. I like to have my toppings in cute little bowls so that I feel like a TV chef. This will make the topping process quicker and easier. This is also a great thing to do when you have people preparing their own individual pizzas or calzones. Everyone can see their options and choose their own toppings. My small counter requires me to make good use of my space when I’m cooking, so all the cute little bowls were crammed together here.
Ben and I love a simple margherita pizza, so I made one of those.
I also decided to try something different without using a recipe…yikes! I had some ricotta cheese, so that was the beginning of the recipe. The other ingredients came into the mix because I just like them. I sauteed some spinach in olive oil and garlic, sliced some sun dried tomatoes and toasted some pine nuts. Seemed like a good combination, so I went with it.
We liked the clean and simple flavor of this pizza. There isn’t a lot of cheese, so there is very little grease. The salty sun dried tomatoes were a great compliment to the creamy ricotta. The spinach was perfect on this pizza. I will try using chopped artichoke hearts in place of the spinach for a different flavor next time.
Ricotta, Sun-dried Tomato and Spinach Pizza
- 1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 6-8 sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and sliced
- 4-5 generous cups spinach
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- One nine inch round pizza dough (recipe above)
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and spinach and stir occasionally for 3-5 minutes until spinach is wilted. Set aside to cool.
- Prepare dough on pizza peel dusted with plenty of cornmeal.
- Brush olive oil sparingly all over the dough with a bit more on the outer 1/2 inch of the dough to make a yummier crust.
- Dollop teaspoons of ricotta on the crust spacing about 1/2 inch apart.
- Scatter spinach and sun dried tomatoes over the pizza and then sprinkle pine nuts on top.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Slide pizza off the peel onto the hot pizza stone.
- Bake for 9-12 minutes.
- Let cool for a few minutes before slicing.
- Eat up!
- 4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
- 1 Tsp Instant yeast
- 1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
- 1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
- 1 Tb sugar
- Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).
NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan (or pizza peel) with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan (or pizza peel), making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.
13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.
NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.