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We never set out to write a book about pizza; it just happened. A few years ago Michele went to southern Italy on a trip organized by the International Olive Oil Council. The first stop was Naples, and though her stay there was brief, she came back full of descriptions of the city's wonders--the setting, the people, the music. The food was fantastic and the pizza was the best she had ever tasted. Charles was not convinced--after all, he had eaten his share of fine pizzas all over Italy, but Michele obviously was enchanted and longed to return. Since we had not been to Naples together in more than twenty years, it seemed like a good idea.
The views, with the broad sweep of the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius in the distance, palm trees, and baroque architecture, are incomparable. We walked everywhere and looked at everything, tasted everything. And Charles was gripped by a pizza frenzy. After his first pizza at Ciro a Santa Brigida, one of the city's great restaurants, he was unstoppable. He ate pizza everywhere, several times a day, in restaurants or from takeout places while we walked around the city.
When we returned home, Charles had only one question. Where can we get pizza like we ate in Naples? Michele jokingly replied, make it yourself.
Until that trip, we had thought that, as knowledgeable Italian travelers and New Yorkers, we knew all about good pizza. But Neapolitan pizza is different from pizza anywhere else. Each pie is hand shaped so that it has a natural look. Baked in wood-burning ovens, the crusts are blistered and even slightly charred with a wonderful smoky flavor. The crusts are thin, though not too thin, perfectly balanced between crispness and chewiness. Toppings are light and intensely flavorful. Everyone gets his or her own pie.
Charles set out to duplicate those unforgettable Neapolitan pizzas in our home kitchen. We should explain that this was a pretty incredible notion. Charles was infamous for never having cooked a thing in his entire life. He had never made so much as a pot of coffee or scrambled an egg. Until our trip to Naples, he would never even think of making himself a meal or even reheating takeout food.
Michele decided to humor him and gave him some cookbooks to read on how to make pizza and bread dough. With a little guidance, he began to experiment. He had to learn everything--the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, how to measure flour and water correctly, and to dissolve yeast. Soon he was reading everything he could about pizza ingredients. He began hanging out in pizza parlors, watching the pizzaioli at their work, tasting their pizza, and asking questions. Motivated by his love for Neapolitan pizza and the difficulty of finding it, he was determined to prove that good Neapolitan-style pizza could be made at home. Charles made pizza after pizza, each one a little better than the one that preceded it.
You never know how many friends you have until you start making pizza. Skeptics, who had heard about Charles's passion for pizza, began clamoring to taste his pies. They were amazed at how good they were, and at how Charles, who had never cooked anything in his life, was able to make pizza from scratch all by himself.
Based on the premise that if he could do it, it must be easy, our friends began to ask Charles to show them how to make pizza. He was delighted to share his newfound ability, reinforcing his knowledge by methodically explaining his techniques to others. Michele, too, became involved in making pizza--after all, the kitchen is usually her domain. Together we continued to experiment and improve our pies. Everyone said, why don't you two write a book about pizza.
Our friend Nicola Marzovilla, owner of New York's i Trulli Restaurant and Enoteca, allowed us to use the restaurant's wood-fired oven to bake our pies. When Vanity Fair magazine organized a party at the restaurant to celebrate the publication of General Colin Powell's book, they insisted on having pizza at the cocktail hour. Nicola knew where to turn for an expert pizzaiolo. Charles turned out his delicious pies for the general and many of his celebrity friends and for the media.
We wrote articles about pizza making for several magazines, including McCall's, Gourmet, Great American Home Cooking, and Eating Well. We taught pizza-making classes at numerous cooking schools around the country. Little by little, and quite naturally, our recipe repertoire grew and grew and this book began to take shape.
Like most people, we do not have a wood-fired oven at home, so our goal with this book has been to develop recipes for the best possible pizza that can be made in an ordinary household oven. We have both a gas and an electric oven in our kitchen and tested these recipes in both. Made with the finest fresh ingredients and eaten hot out of the oven in the comfort of home, our pizzas are as good as they get!
Here, then, is a collection of recipes and information about making many kinds of pizza, not just Neapolitan-style but contemporary American-style pizzas, unique filled pizzas, regional Italian pizzas, and focaccias--something for every taste. Follow our instructions, don't be afraid to experiment, and soon you, too, will be making terrific pizza. It really is not difficult, and it is a lot of fun for the whole family. Remember, if Charles can make great pizza, anyone can.
Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza
Makes 1 pizza
Walking through Spaccanapoli, the old quarter in the heart of Naples, can be very difficult, as people and cars crawl slowly through the narrowest of streets to reach their destinations. We joined the throngs of students, shoppers, and deliverymen at lunchtime one bright February day on our way to Lombardi, one of the city's great pizzerias. Down the street, we could see the restaurant's sign, and we headed toward it against the tide of people, feeling like salmon swimming upstream.
At last we reached the pizzeria. Inside, we walked past the pizza oven, climbed a narrow winding staircase to the upper floor, and found a table in the corner. The service was brusque, but the pizzas were divine, especially the margherita topped with silken prosciutto and rughetta, a crisper, greener variation of the arugula that is grown here. This is one of our favorite pies.
Prepared dough for one 9-inch pizza About 1/2 cup Simple Pizza Sauce (page 38), at room temperature
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 cup arugula, tough stems removed
3 to 4 very thin slices prosciutto
1. Place the dough on a floured surface. Holding your hands flat, pat the ball out evenly with your fingers, lifting it and turning it over several times, until it reaches a 9-inch circle. Do not handle the dough any more than is necessary. If the dough seems sticky, dust it lightly with flour.
2. Dust a pizza peel or a rimless cookie sheet with flour. Carefully transfer the circle of dough to the peel. Shake the peel once or twice to make sure the dough does not stick. If it does, sprinkle the peel with more flour.
3. Spread the tomato sauce on the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange the mozzarella slices on top.
4. To slide the pizza onto the prepared baking stone, line up the edge of the peel with the back edge of the stone, then tilt the peel, jerking it gently to start the pizza moving. Once the edge of the pizza touches the stone, carefully pull back on the peel until the pizza is completely off. When the pizza is on the stone, do not attempt to move it until it firms up in 2 or 3 minutes.
5. Bake 6 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is crisp and browned. Remove the pizza from the oven. Arrange the arugula over the cheese. Place the prosciutto on top. Serve immediately.
Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough
Makes enough for four 9- to 10-inch pizzas
In Naples the classic pizza measures about 9 to 10 inches and has a crust that is neither too thin nor too thick. The texture of the pie is soft and chewy. Neapolitans say the true test of a well-made pizza is whether it can be folded in half and then folded again, into quarters, without cracking or breaking the crust. Only the edge, called the cornicione, is crisp, though it too is chewy.
In Italy flour is softer than American flour because it is low in gluten, the protein that makes pizza dough and other baked goods chewy. Soft flour is great for making cakes and pastry, but not so good for pizza, so Italians blend their soft flour with hard American or Canadian flour, which they call "Manitoba." This flour, which is higher in gluten, gives Italian pizza dough the desired chewiness.
On this side of the Atlantic, we need to soften our flour to make an authentic Neapolitan-style dough, so we combine cake flour with all-purpose flour. This tender dough stretches easily and has less of a tendency to spring back on itself, so it is easier to shape. Neapolitan dough is made with less yeast, so it rises a bit more slowly--perfect for a long, slow overnight refrigerator rise, or a more rapid rise at room temperature. The longer rising time makes a slightly better-tasting crust, too.
teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (105° to 115°F)
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt Olive oil for the bowl
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let stand 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir until the yeast dissolves.
2. In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, 2 1/2 cups of the all-purpose flour, and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
3. Lightly coat a large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Flatten the dough with your fist. Cut the dough into 2 to 4 pieces and shape the pieces into balls. Dust the tops with flour.
5. Place the balls on a floured surface and cover each with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let rise 60 to 90 minutes, or until doubled.
6. Thirty to sixty minutes before baking the pizzas, place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles on a rack in the lowest level of the oven. Turn on the oven to the maximum temperature, 500° or 550°F.
7. Shape and bake the pizzas as described in the following recipes.
Simple Pizza Sauce
Salsa Semplice / makes about 2 1/2 cups
People are amazed when we tell them that Neapolitans do not put tomato sauce on pizza, but it's true. Since commercial pizza ovens are so hot, a precooked sauce would burn and overcook while the pizza bakes. Instead, the typical tomato topping is nothing more than ripe, fresh crushed tomatoes or canned San Marzano tomatoes.
We find that while drained fresh, ripe tomatoes taste great, canned tomatoes cooked on a pizza in our home oven, no matter how good their quality, taste like canned tomatoes. The baking temperature in a home oven is not high enough so the tomatoes simply don't cook enough to become sweet. To counteract this, we simmer canned tomatoes briefly first with some oil and salt.
If you prefer a smooth sauce or use anything other than canned San Marzano tomatoes, puree the tomatoes first by passing them through a food mill. Do not use a food processor, which only grinds up the seeds and makes the sauce bitter.
1 can (28 ounces) Italian peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with their juice
4 tablespoons olive oil Salt
1. In a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, oil, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the sauce cool before spreading it on the pizza dough.
Most guidebooks to Italy describe Genoa as unsafe and uninteresting. But we found the exact opposite to be true. We loved to walk through the narrow medieval streets, browse in the markets, and gaze at the grand palazzi. Genoa is the city where Christopher Columbus was born in 1451, and where Marco Polo, locked up in prison, dictated his famous book of travels. Though the city was heavily bombed during World War II, there is still much to see and do.
Genoese cooking is excellent, too. They make many special kinds of pasta, including one made with chestnut flour. Delicate pesto, made from basil with the tiniest leaves we have ever seen, is the typical pasta sauce. Genoese cooks are also famous for their sweets and pastries. Marrons glacés, candied chestnuts, were invented in Genoa. Our favorite discovery, though, was focaccia, served hot, sprinkled with coarse salt, and infused with luscious green olive oil. It appears at every meal, often topped with herbs or olives or sliced onions. People crowd (Italians never line up) into bakeries, waiting for the focaccia to come out of the oven.
For a thicker focaccia, bake the dough in a 12 x 9-inch pan.
1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105° to 115°F)
6 tablespoons olive oil About 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let stand 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir to dissolve the yeast. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding more flour if the dough seems sticky.
3. Lightly coat a large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, and turn it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Oil a 15 X 10 X 1-inch jelly-roll pan. Flatten the dough and place it in the center of the pan. Stretch and pat the dough out to fit. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 1 hour until puffy and nearly doubled.
5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Set the oven rack in the center of the oven. With your fingertips, firmly press the dough to make dimples at 1-inch intervals all over the surface.
6. Drizzle the remaining 4 tablespoons oil over the top. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.