Oct 20 2010

The Truth About Pizza

Published by at 5:03 pm under Cooking Classes

Monday night, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t hungry for dinner.

That’s a sentence you’ve certainly never heard me utter on this blog, so let me explain. On Monday I consumed a truly obscene amount of pizza. It happened something like this.

I spent all weekend partying in Minneapolis for my best friend’s bachelorette party (woo hoo) only to return to San Francisco last night, exhausted, my body threatening to catch a cold. But I powered through, got a triumphant seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, and walked into school Monday morning looking forward to our pre-class baguette with jam and butter.

There was no bread to be found. Finally I whispered to a classmate who usually handles the bread, practically begging her to fetch me some. I watched her walk over and question our instructor about the matter, at which point I heard the instructor respond, “Ah, it’s frozen. Guess it’s too late now!”

Doom washed over me. Friends, I am not one to skip breakfast; I wake up every morning STARVING. I downed two glasses of water and doubled the amount of cream in my morning coffee, praying it would hold me over until lunch. Which is usually served around one, when I’ve already been hungry for hours.

We spent all day in a pizza workshop, cranking out one after another (and yes, I snuck a few bites of dough. Even that was appetizing). When finally dozens of pizzas began to make their way to the front counter for tasting, I didn’t bother to hold back.

There were Pesto Potato Pizzas (the French treat potatoes like a protein instead of a starch, so evidently this is not overkill)

Pizzas with caramelized onions, walnuts and blue cheese

Your basic Margherita Pizza, with a tomato sauce made from scratch

And calzones stuffed with five different types of cheese, herbs and prosciutto.

Considering the speed and proficiency with which I ate these pizzas, I’m surprised the rest of the class had any leftover for themselves. At some point around 3 pm, it occurred to me that I’d had much more pizza than is appropriate for breakfast and lunch combined, and that I was incredibly thirsty. I downed 2 glasses of water immediately, and the crust promptly quadrupled in my stomach. Oops. Apparently I went from the most dehydrated person in the world to the absolute fullest.

The Potato & Pesto combination was tastier than I expected, but it still wasn’t quite my cup of tea. The potatoes were boiled and sprinkled with herbs before being layered on top of the pesto, but they’re still so bland they require tons of seasoning (read: salt). With all the flavorful veggies out there (peppers, mushrooms, you name it) potatoes just weren’t doing it for me.

The caramelized onions were fabulous, and frankly you hardly need the nuts or the cheese as accompaniments flavor-wise. But the basic Margherita is always the one that has me going back for… fourths.

Now, a word about dough. As my instructor emphasized this morning, we all do it differently: Chicagoans swear by deep-dish, the classic Naples variety is world-famous, and New Yorkers will choose their mile-long slices any day. California-style generally means thinner crust, lots of bubbles and a dusting of cornmeal on the bottom.

In any case, the best crust always starts out very moist, so that it’s tricky to knead with your hands because it’s so sticky. It has plenty of time to rise and to rest. Be careful not to over-work it, or you won’t get the aforementioned bubbles we all strive for. My big take-away from the workshop was that every pizza crust I’ve ever made has contained WAY too much flour.

Another tip: Particularly when you’re working with a thin-crust pie, try to stop yourself from overloading on sauce and toppings. You’re just making it harder on yourself in the end, because it will weigh it down. On that note, it’s also a good idea not to add the toppings until right before the pizza goes in the oven, because the crust will get soggy if it’s left out for too long.

We worked with a pizza peel (dusted with rice flour, but Californians may want to sub cornmeal) and with a pizza stone that we left in the oven and cycled each one through. Since most home ovens don’t even come close to the temperatures that ideal wood-burning pizza ovens achieve (around 700 degrees) the pizza stone retains heat easily and helps mimic that high heat you want. Friends and family, consider one of these on my Christmas wish list — although I’ve heard an unglazed tile from Home Depot works just as well.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I better go get some exercise.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “The Truth About Pizza”

  1. Imwaytoobusyon 20 Oct 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Oh, WOW! I refreshed my reader and potato pizza popped in right at the top. That looks like a winner to me!

  2. Jeannaon 22 Oct 2010 at 5:31 am

    O M G. I didn’t eat breakfast and I love pizza! I am starving now.

  3. Bobon 24 Oct 2010 at 11:38 am

    Do not know much about cooking but you make me want to learn.


  4. Whitney Lehron 25 Oct 2010 at 12:21 pm

    mmmm…. pizza… I think I need to swear off your blog until after the wedding b/c this just makes me want to eat and eat and eat!!!

  5. Whitney Lehron 25 Oct 2010 at 12:22 pm

    PS – do you think you could ship one of those pizzas to Minneapolis?? mmmm

  6. Livon 25 Oct 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Maybe I’ll just use the pizzas as bait to get you out to San Francisco after the wedding 😉

  7. Whitney Lehron 26 Oct 2010 at 9:21 am

    yeah! with a souffle for dessert 🙂 I haven’t eatne lunch yet and was just salivating on my keyboard.