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I LOVE PIZZA!  But I think that is clear.  One of the things I love so much about this food is that there are infinite possibilities for how you can top a pizza.  We mathematicians have a fascination with infinity.  So here are some instructions for recreating a recent pizza I made…it was kinda an experiment but it turned out really good! If you are bored with the usual toppings, give this a try or let it inspire you to create your own combination.

Mushroom, Grape Tomato and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Ingredients: (feel free to adjust proportions of the topping depending on how you like it, but remember not to over-top the pizza or you may have some problems when it bakes…)

  • 1 ball of pizza dough
  • ~ 1/3 cup of tomato sauce
  • sliced mozzarella (enough to thinly cover your pizza)
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • handful grape tomatoes
  • 4-5 Crimini mushrooms
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • salt and pepper
  • a couple torn up basil leaves
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon, about 2 tablespoons. (this is optional, but it adds really great flavor!)

Directions:

Place a baking stone in the lower third of your oven and preheat it to 500 degrees.

Thinly slice your onion. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add your onion and saute for 5-10 minute. Add some salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and lower heat.  Add lemon juice and cook on low for about 30 minutes until deep golden brown.  Cut your grape tomatoes in half and throw in the pan.  Turn the heat up and cook for a few more minutes until the tomatoes are steaming. Remove from heat and let cool (you do not want to put hot toppings on a pizza…they will make it soggy).


Peel you mushrooms and remove stem and slice thinly. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil (or butter) in a sauce pan and add your mushrooms.  Add a little salt and pepper and cook for about 6-7 minutes, until soft and browned.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Stretch out your dough to make your pizza according to the directions in my pizza dough recipe.  I like to do it on parchment paper to prevent any mishaps (the pizza won’t stick to the stone or your peel or even your baking sheet). Brush on a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt near the edges.  Spread on the sauce, add your cheese in a thin layer and add your cooled toppings. Slide the pizza onto stone using the peel or bake directly on a baking sheet.


Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is turning golden and the cheese is bubbling and turning slightly golden brown  Take out of the oven (durr) and top with the basil leaves.  Let the cheese set for a couple minutes and then cut up and dig in!

How do you like to top your pizza?? I’m always interested in delicious and unique toppings! Let me know in a comment!

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Ever since my last post on pizza dough, I spent a whole year making pizza with different doughs in a quest for the very best one.  My roommates and boyfriend ate so much homemade pizza during my junior year of college that I was accused of making them fat. But it had to be done, even at the expense of the waistline of those nearest and dearest to me. (Who, by the way, are beautiful and not fat at all!) I strongly believe that the quality of pizza rests in the quality of the crust.  You can top a pizza with the most delicious toppings ever, but if the dough is crappy, or your technique for baking the dough is no good, then the whole pizza kinda stinks.

Ya ya ya, you can just buy a really good pizza somewhere.  I know this.  I live within walking distance from one of the best pizza places in San Diego.  So why waste all my money on bread flour, yeast, pizza stones, and pizza peels?  Not to mention all of the cheese, tomatoes, basil and other toppings that each pizza requires?  Pride.  The answer is pride.  Because in my world, nothing beats the satisfaction of creating a pizza, from start to finish, that is just as good, if not better, than any pizza you can buy in a 50 mile radius.  It is an amazing feeling.  The funny thing is, I was never a big fan of pizza growing up.  I didn’t hate it.  It was just another food item that my family occasionally ate.  But after going to Italy and experiencing pizza as it was intended to be, I am completely obsessed.    It is really the perfect food item.  It is bread topped with anything you like.  Anything.  Plus cheese. (I love cheese). Then baked.  Perfect meal.  But I digress.

While I learned a lot about mastering pizza dough from the school of hardknocks, I finally purchased Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This is a must have for anybody interested in baking bread.  Inside this wonderful book is a recipe for “Pizza Napoletana”, and my quest for the perfect pizza dough ended.  I will provide you with the bare bones of this recipe, just what I believe you need to make this recipe.  In the book, this recipe takes up 6 pages and it is chock-full of tips and hints to make a perfect pizza dough. If you just want to try out pizza dough, just use this blog post.  But if you are as serious as I am about pizza making, I highly recommend buying this book!

Here is the recipe, but BEWARE: THIS CALLS FOR MAKING THE DOUGH THE DAY BEFORE!! If you want the pizza the same day as you make the dough, you will not get the same results.  One of the most important things I have learned is that most pizza dough recipes call for very similar ingredients, so this cannot be the most important part of pizza dough making, considering some turn out like crap and some are divine.  It is how you handle the dough that matters.  How you knead it, how you let it rest, how you allow the natural chemistry of flour+salt+yeast+water+oil turn into a delicious crust, and lastly, it’s how you bake it.  Remember this, my grasshopper.

Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Napolentana from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (with all first person commentary added by me, plus a little more additional editing)

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, chilled (I don’t always remember to chill it, and it turns out fine)
  • 1 3/4  teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups water, ice cold (40°F) (this is really important)

Directions:

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a large bowl (or in your stand mixer bowl). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil. Using a metal dough scraper (or large sharp knife), cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (I cut mine into 4, because I like mine to be a little bigger). Don’t saw at the dough, simply place knife on top of the dough and press down til it pinches off.  You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it. Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. This is the right way. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag (I just covered mine with “press and seal” cling wrap…because who has food-grade plastic bags?)

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Before letting the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. I just placed a tea towel over mine.  Now let rest for 2 hours. (It may take a little longer depending on how cold your kitchen is).

my pretty little dough

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). I put mine at 500F. However, for my potato pizza, I put it at 450F, because it needs to cook a little slower for the potatoes to cook right.  If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with flour. However, I have began to assemble mine on parchment paper that I place on my peel and then dust with a little bit of flour. This is a surefire way to prevent disasters, such as pizza not coming off of your peel or the pizza being too thin and then coming apart and sticking to your stone in the oven…not that this ever happened to me, of course. It has. Many times. Then, make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. I like to just pull and stretch mine until it’s as thin and large as I want.  If it tears, you can patch it up.  But this dough should be really easy to work with .  Please don’t use a rolling pin on this dough (or any dough), but if that’s the only way you can do it, so be it.  But know that the texture of the final crust will not be as good.

my favorite kind of stretching

work that dough

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough flour to allow it to slide. (Or just place on the parchment paper that you will slide onto the pizza stone along with the pizza or keep on the pan that you will place in the oven). I always brush mine with a light coat of olive oil and then sprinkle on some seasoning, such as salt or dried herbs, especially along the edges so that the crust browns and is tasty. Spread on a thin layer of sauce and then your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American “kitchen sink” approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient. Because this is a thin crust pizza, keep the toppings light, (and remember to remove as much moisture as you can from fresh cheese and veggies that are high in moisture, such as tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, because they can cause a soggy pizza, yuck). I then like sprinkle on a little more seasoning, like a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

streched and oiled

topping the pizza with sliced mozzarella

one potato pizza ready to go in the oven

spicy salami pizza ready to go

mushroom, tomato and carmelized onion pizza all dressed up and ready to go

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so with your peel. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. If appropriate, top with some fresh torn basil leaves. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly. Then scarf it down like there is no tomorrow.

potato rosemary pizza!

mmmmm....

this one was good enough that I will post on it later!

(all pics taken by my handsome boyfriend Kevin)

I know you all are dying to see how you can incorporate your undying love for mathematics into your obsession with baking….so here is some inspiration:

As you can see, I’m a big fan of Sierpinski’s Triangle…but I also managed to make Cantor’s Dust, and a Fractal Tree! I know what your thinking…but really, I’m not that cool. I just love what I do.

 

So this is my first recipe in a really long time! And I’m prepared to put up a few more soon! Look at me….so productive.  Don’t get your hopes up just yet though.

Anyways, rather than trying to convince you all that I love to cook, here is a recipe that I make often because 1) Pizza and pasta comprise most of my diet, and this sauce works on both 2) it’s so easy and 3) it tastes way better than the stuff in a jar.

This tomato sauce is one that is not cooked down very long, unlike a bolognese that is cooked for hours until it is super rich (eventually I’ll post a recipe for the bolognese I like to make).  This recipe is a culmination of all I have learned from studying food blogs and experimenting with many different tomato sauces.  It is light and has a bright tomato-y taste that is perfect for pizza or a quick pasta dinner.  I have also used it for baked pasta dishes, with a little alteration, like sauteing some onion before adding the garlic.  Adapt it to your hearts content, because it’s really versatile.  But don’t get too crazy, because I really think the more simple and fresh the ingredients, the better sauce you have.  It freezes well too, so don’t worry if you are only cooking for one! Here’s how it goes…

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (this time I used a can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes…I splurged)
  • 3-5 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried basil or a few fresh basil leaves, torn

    Your Ingredients

Directions:

Finely chop your garlic, and heat your oil in a saucepan over medium heat (you’ll know it’s nice and hot when it gets a sheen/shiny-ness…I don’t know if that made sense….this stuff doesn’t translate well in writing).  When it’s ready, throw in your garlic, salt and pepper.  Keep it moving by stirring with a wooden spoon for about a minute until it becomes super fragrant. Be careful not to brown it, or worse, burn it. Then add your can of crushed tomatoes and the basil.  Stir and heat til it comes to a simmer.  (If you added whole tomatoes like I did, use your spoon or fork to gently “smoosh” them against the sides of the saucepan until they are all pretty much crushed. This may mean cooking the sauce a little longer). Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.  If you are feeling extra fancy, you can add some lemon zest…it really brightens up the sauce. Enjoy!

Chop the Garlic

Heat the Garlic in the Oil

Add the Tomatoes

Let Simmer

Add Basil and Enjoy!


pizza

Okay, so I have been cooking up a storm here in my apartment in San Diego, and half the time I am trying to recreate some of my favorite flavors from Italy….mostly in the form of pizza! I finally made a pizza that I am proud of, and would love to share the recipe with anyone who would like it! It is a recipe for Potato Pizza…one of my favorite things to eat in Rome, because you can’t get it at your average pizza place in the States….I have heard of only a couple places (not in California though) that serve it. But in Rome, almost every pizzeria would have it for sale. The pizzas were rectangular shaped and they would ask you how much you wanted, and you would show them. Then they would use scissors to cut it out and determine how much you pay by weighing it. So you could get a little of each kind of pizza you wanted without paying a ton of money! This was one of my favorite aspects of the pizzerias! Anyways, I would almost always try their potato pizza! It was always on a thin crust (but not too thin), with a layer of mozzarella, a hint of garlic, thinly sliced potatoes, a little bit of salt and pepper and olive oil, and a couple leaves of rosemary. Really simple flavors that come together beautifully! After making it homemade about three times, I finally found a recipe I really like! The dough isn’t exactly like the kind I had in Rome, but still very good! It’s the kind where you eat the crust just because the dough is tasty too! So the recipe isn’t too hard to follow but it can take a little bit of time! Give yourself about an 1hr and a half for the dough to rise once, and another 40 minutes to prepare the toppings while the dough rises again! Enjoy!

Dough Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast (or one package)
  • 1 1/3 cups of warm water (about 105-111 degrees…just above body temperature which is 98)

(Mix the above first in a large bowl and let it sit for five minutes…I mixed mine right in the bread machine I used…this dough can be made by hand too though!)

  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour (I used 2 1/4 cups of bread flour, 1 cup of AP flour, and 1/4 cup of Semolina flour…this gives it good texture and a good amount of elasticity)
  • 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs of salt ( I used only about 3/4 of the tablespoon thought, because I didn’t want the dough to be too salty)
  • 1 tbs honey (this is optional if you don’t like any sweetness in the dough, but I like a little, so I used a couple good squeezes straight into the bread machine on top of the dry ingredients)

After yeast and water have sat for about 5 minutes, mix the flour with the salt and pour into bowl or bread machine, and then add the olive oil and honey. For bread machine, turn it on the dough cycle and let it do all of the work! (If doing it by hand, mix until the ingredients are all incorporated and then transfer the dough to a floured surface and kneed for about 10 minutes. Then form into a ball and cover with tea towel and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.) After risen, divide into two balls (unless you can make a humongous pizza!) I put one in the fridge for later, but do what you want! Then kneed the dough for just about a minute and then form into in a log shape, placed it on a well oiled baking sheet (I used my olive oil…better flavor!). Let it rise for another 40 minutes to an hour while you prepare the toppings!  Then using your hands, stretch the dough across the baking sheet…getting it as thin as possible! One portion of the dough should be enough to almost cover a 12″ baking sheet.

Pizza Toppings

Potato Pizza Toppings

  • 1 medium potato (for one pizza, 2 potatos for two pizzas). You can use red or gold…all taste great!
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • about 1-2 tsp minced garlic
  • shredded mozzarella cheese (enough for a thin layer…about a cup and a half for one pizza, I think)
  • fresh sprig of rosemary (optional, but oh so good!)
  • Also optional: 1 Italian Sausage, removed from it’s skin, and browned in small chunks. Placed on the very top before baking pizza….some pizzerias had this and it’s very good! but not necessary)

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Peel the potatoes and using a very sharp knife, cut rounds as thin as possible! (see-through, like potato chips). This is probably the hardest part, but not too hard. It helps to cut a small sliver off one side of the potato, so the potato is easier to hold down on the cutting board (like giving it a base to rest on). Place the potato slices in a bowl and give them a couple baths of ice cold water to remove any excess starch. Drain in a colander and place back in the bowl. Mix in about a teaspoon of salt (2 for two potatoes) and let sit for 10 minutes. After that, drain any more water in the bowl (the salt helps to remove the excess water). Then toss with about a tablespoon of olive oil (2 tsp if using two potatoes), and let sit while you spread the cheese over the dough. After the cheese, spread the minced garlic over it…use as much or little as you like. I like a nice hint of it, so I use about 1 tsp per pizza. Then finally place the potatoes on. One layer of the potato slices is perfect…you want them to be able to get softer in the oven, so don’t stack them. Then a pinch of salt and pepper on top of the pizza, and then the leaves from a small to medium sprig of rosemary. I also brushed a little olive oil on the edges to get the crust to have a nice color and taste. Bake on top rack (placed about 1/3 of the way down from the top) for about 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Zucchini Pizza Toppings

  • 1 medium to large zuchinni
  • same other ingredients as above, except minus the potatoes and rosemary

Using a cheese grater, shred up the whole zucchini, place in bowl and mix in about a teaspoon of olive oil. Follow the directions above for topping the pizza, but instead of the potatoes, spread the zucchini across the pizza, then top with a pinch of salt and pepper, and bake for same amount of time. This kind of pizza was also very popular in Rome at the pizzerias!

I made my pizza half and half! Also, experiment with other similar veggies and toppings! This is a great dough and I’m sure it would work great for any kind of pizza! It is thin though, so careful not to overload it with too many toppings, because it won’t hold up like a thicker crust would! Anyways, hope you can use this recipe and enjoy it! Let me know if you do! Buon Appetito!



(The recipe has parts borrowed from SmittenKitchen.com (http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/06/jim-laheys-potato-pizza/) and SavoryReviews.com (http://www.savoryreviews.com/2009/05/19/basic-pizza-dough/) but with my own tweaks and twists!