Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Although pizza is not generally considered Southern, in recent decades it has become as ubiquitous as hamburgers. I was very fortunate to grow up in a small resort village in the Appalachian mountains of NC, where Italian-Americans were perhaps 1/3rd of the population. I grew up on good pizza, homemade dough, homemade sauce, home made sausage, herbs and tomatoes from the garden. Over the past few years, I have had the remarkable misfortune to lodge in a "village" comprised of at least 90% yankees, with the worst pizza on earth. They all claim to be experts on pizza... and most everything else, but there is only one restaurant in town that makes fresh dough... and that is Little Caesars - the rest all use frozen dough, canned sauce and other abominations! Here, in this "village" (I put it in quotes, because one cannot have a village comprised entirely of rude and/or unfriendly retired yankees... a village denotes community), I must make even what is generally considered a yankee dish, from scratch, because these yankees have no taste. I have very much tailored this recipe to my tastes:
Pizza dough is flour, water, salt and yeast. But, I add beer for a buttery richness.
Proof one packet of dry, active yeast in 1 cup of hot water, in which has been added and dissolved 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 cup beer. Let stand until foamy and active... about 10 minutes.
Mix the yeast liquid into a bowl containing 5 cups all purpose flour (I find the Food Lion house brand to be the is a rather "hard", unbleached AP flour). Knead for 15 minutes or until you have a firm, smooth, elastic, just slightly damp/tacky ball of dough (10-12 minis a stand mixer once it has come together). Add more flour or beer if necessary, but lean to the dry side. The consistency should be such, that tif you were suddenly attacked, you could pick it up and whomp someone in the head with it like a black-jack or sap. Put some olive oil in the bowl and return the dough ball to it, toss it to coat with oil, cover with plastic and let rise 2 hrs in a warm (not hot) oven. After 2 hrs, punch down and divide into 3 equal balls. Put these in ziplock bags with a bit of oil. Put two in the fridge and leave one on the counter for one hour.
In a sauce pan or pot, put 4 tablespoons olive oil. Finely chop one medium onion and toss it into sweat on low/medium low heat, with a good dash of salt. Once the onions are transparent, add 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic, a dash of black pepper, a bout 1/2-1 teaspoon each of oregano, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, parsley, a pinch of thyme and a good dash of crushed red pepper. Let the herbs cook a bit in the oil, but don't let them burn. Then add a few tablespoons of canned crushed tomatoes, stir and let the tomatoes brown/darken just a bit. Then, add the rest of the double size can. Let simmer, stirring occasionally for at least an hour. Salt and season to taste.
Take your room temp dough ball and flatten it out on a floured surface. You can roll it out with a rolling pin or wine bottle..or toss it, or just press it out with your hands. Get it about 18 to 24 inches across, thicker at the edges than the center. Turn it over frequently and make sure the dough is dry and won't stick to the counter.
Then, you can use either a pizza peel (wooden paddle thing) or the back of a cookie sheet. IF you use a peel, dust it with cornmeal. IF you use a cookie sheet, cover it with parchment paper. If you are not using a cookie sheet, you will need a pizza stone, fire bricks or terra cotta tiles placed in a cold oven and then pre-heated to at least 450 degrees. The cookie sheet goes in on the rack, but you'll still need a very hot oven.
Transfer the dough to either your dusted peel or cookie sheet. Cover thinly with sauce to about 1/2 inch form the edges. Top as you like. I used whole milk mozzarella, sliced raw onion, mushrooms, green olives and pepperoni.
If you use a peel, be sure to shake the pizza occasionally and especially before moving toward the oven, to make sure it isn't sticking. The oven is way too hot for anything but a smooth transfer.
Bake your pizza either directly on the stone, or on the parchment paper/cookie tin for about 11 minutes at 450-475, depending on your oven. Peek form time to time to see when the cheese browns-it will be ready then.