Pizza Party Recipes

A big shout-out to all the wonderful folks who came out today for my pizza demo class at Williams-Sonoma. I had an amazing time sharing my passion for the kitchen with you, and sincerely appreciate all the great feedback and encouraging words. By popular demand I am going to post the recipe that I used for the dough, as well as for the specific pizzas we made today (including a vegetarian option). This will be a longer-than-usual post with a lot of moving parts, so I’ll try to keep it all sorted out as best I can. At the end of the day, though, the fun of pizza is all about your own creativity and sense of culinary adventure. Hopefully today’s class sparked more of that for you.

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Neapolitan Style Pizza Dough

I received many compliments on the flavor and texture of the home-made pizza dough. There is nothing especially complex about making a good dough, but it is a process based on certain principles and it requires both some good technique and some patience. Two of those important principles are:

  1. Moister doughs make chewier pizza crusts, and
  2. “Low and slow” fermentation produces better flavors over a longer time.

One other caveat: in any of my posts involving bread-baking or doughs, you will notice that most ingredients are listed by metric weights, rather than by volume. That is by design, because baking tends to require more precision in measuring, and using weight provides that precision. I use metric for many of these because that it how I learned the formulas and it just makes for easier math.  The exception tends to be with the yeast because the amounts I use are just so darned small that the scale can’t really register them.  All that being said, if you don’t already have one in your kitchen, a digital scale is a must. It should function in both metric and standard, and be sensitive to at least 1 g or 0.1 ounce.

All that being said, I am including volume conversions at the request of some readers.  The catch with these is there may be some variation in weight, and it is essential to level off each scoop of flour to the top the measuring cup with a knife.

Now to our formula, which will make enough dough for three 12” pizzas:

  • 600 g (4⅔ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur brand)
  • 420 g (1⅔ cup + 2 tbsp.) warm water (90-95°)
  • ¼ tsp. instant yeast
  • 12 g (2¼ tsp.) fine sea salt

You will note that I use instant yeast in this formula. You can also use fresh yeast or active dry yeast, but if you do that you will need to activate it in a little of your warm water before it can be added to the dough.

Our first step is called autolyse. In a large bowl or, preferably, a plastic mixing vat with a snap-on lid, mix the water and flour together until they are just blended, and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes. During this step the water begins to break down the starches and sugars that will feed the yeast.  This hydration period also begins to form the gluten network.

Next, add the yeast and salt, and mix thoroughly with a wetted hand. This will be a very sticky dough because it is so moist, so you’ll just have to learn the love the feel of globs of gooey dough clinging to your hand. Your goal here is to ensure that the yeast is distributed throughout your dough as evenly as possible. When that is finished, cover your container and give it 30 minutes to start percolating.

The next step is folding. It is not necessary to knead the dough to develop the gluten. We can do that instead with the following method: grip one side of your dough lump and stretch it up as far as it will go, and fold it across to the other side. Turn the dough 90° and repeat until all four sides have been folded. Wait 15 minutes for the dough to relax, then repeat this folding procedure once.

After folding, cover your container and let it ferment at room temperature until it has expanded by two to three times its original size, which should take about 6 hours. During this time the yeast is happily devouring the sugars in the flour and putting off carbon dioxide, which is being trapped in the gluten network and making your dough rise. More importantly, during those hours your dough is beginning to develop some complex, delicious flavors.  You can speed up your fermentation quite a bit by doubling the yeast to 1/2 tsp. but you won’t get the same degree of flavor development.

After the fermentation is complete, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. A large wooden cutting board or other wooden work surface makes it easier to handle the sticky dough. Using a dough cutter, divide the dough into three equal portions and gently shape into balls, taking care not to degas the dough. The best way to do this is to gently stretch the dough in opposite directions and tuck the ends up underneath. This creates surface tension on the lump and helps maintain the desired shape.

After shaping, set the dough balls onto a floured surface, seam side down, cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let them proof for about 1 to 1 ½ hour, during which they will continue to rise. After the proofing time, the dough is ready to shape into pizzas and bake. If you don’t need it all today, wrap the extras in lightly oiled plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Refrigeration will slow down any further fermentation to almost a stop, but flavors will continue to develop during that time. Also, this dough makes for some great focaccia bread if you want to use your extras for that.

To shape the dough for pizza, simply place a ball on a floured surface, sprinkle a bit more flour on top, and gently pat it down into the shape and size you want, again taking care not to mash out all the gas. You can also grip the dough like a steering wheel (hands at 10:00 and 2:00) and gently stretch it out some more, being careful not to let it tear. When the dough is done shaping, lay it on a pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina flour or corn meal, either of which will help the pizza slide off the peel and onto your baking stone. The stone, by the way, should be preheated at least 30 minutes at 450°. At this point we’re ready to start adding the toppings…

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

So now that our dough is ready and our pizza is waiting to be built, here is what we used for that truly yummy barbecue chicken pizza that we enjoyed today:

  • ½ cup barbecue sauce (we used Williams-Sonoma Sweet Onion Applewood sauce)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken
  • ½ cup sliced red onions
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
  • ¼ cup cotija cheese crumbles
  • Fresh chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

To assemble this one, spread the barbecue sauce over the dough, leaving about a half inch clean around the edge. Top with the cheese, chicken, onions and optional jalapeno. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to the baking stone and bake for about 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the crust shows some nice browning. Using the peel again, remove the pizza to a cutting board, and sprinkle with the cotija cheese and cilantro leaves. It’s ready to enjoy.

Vegetarian Flatbread Pizzas

For these pizzas we used pre-made naan as our base, although any store-bought flatbread will do the trick when you don’t have time to make dough (think Tuesday night after work). This one requires a little prep work for your vegetables, but after that is done the pizzas come together quickly. This will make enough for 4-5 naan-sized flatbread pizzas.

  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked peppe
  • 2 medium zucchinis, spiralized
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms (cremini or baby portabellas)
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup Williams-Sonoma Creamy Tomato Parmesan sauce
  • 1 cup Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Williams-Sonoma dried pizza seasoning blend
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish

For the onions: in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they become well caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme leaves, season with some salt and pepper, and cook about 5 minutes more, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.

For the mushrooms: in the same skillet you used for the onions, add another tbsp. of oil and saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

For the zucchini: toss the spiralized zucchini strands in about 1 tbsp. olive oil with some salt and pepper.

Now we’re ready to build our flatbread pizzas. Spread some of the Creamy Tomato Parmesan sauce on each flatbread. Top with some of the caramelized onions, zucchini and mushrooms. Sprinkle with some of the Gruyere and mozzarella, and add a sprinkle of the pizza seasoning. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to the baking stone and bake until the cheesy is bubbly, about 6 minutes. Remove the finished pizza to a cutting board, and you’re ready to rock and roll.

 

Whew! That was definitely the biggest post I have ever done. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of making these recipes at home as we did making them today at the store. When you do, be sure to munch them down with a big happy grin on your face – after all, it’s pizza night! All is right with the world. I look forward to seeing many of you again at a future demo class. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Burgers to Make You Weep

If my body could handle it, I would subsist entirely on burgers and beer.  Believe me, I try.  The problem, though, is the difficulty of finding a good burger and high quality craft beer in the same establishment.  I have experienced either mediocrity or full-on disappointment at most of the places I have tried in recent memory.  The burgers are usually overcooked, or too dense, or dry, or under-seasoned.

The solution?  Make ’em my dang self.

Here’s a simple method that will be as good, or more likely a lot better, than any burger you will find in most restaurants.  This is not about a recipe, it’s about technique.  The results we have enjoyed will quite literally bring tears to your eyes.

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First, start with the right kind of beef — I like to use Angus chuck because it has the right amount of fat to make it flavorful and juicy.  If you’re feeling extra ambitious, grind it yourself.  Then add NOTHING to it.  That’s it, just pure beef.  No salt, no steak sauce, no chopped onion or egg — for the love of Pete, this is not a meatloaf — just beef.

Second, shape it gently into patties, about 6 to 8 ounces of meat each.  When you have a patty formed, make an indentation in the center.  This will help hold the shape because the outer part of the patty will cook faster than the middle.  The trick in all this is not to overwork the meat, because the more you handle it the more you run the risk of prematurely breaking down the proteins in the beef — which, by the way, is why we don’t salt it yet.  When those proteins break down in the raw meat, they have a nasty habit of relinking in unhappy ways during cooking, which will leave your finished product tougher and dryer.

Third, when the patties are formed, and only then, season them with a little kosher salt and coat them top and bottom with your favorite dry steak rub.

Now, we’re going to cook these puppies just like a steak.  Because what is a hamburger, chopped ham?  No, it’s chopped steak — and if you recognized that old A-1 steak sauce ad you’re really dating yourself.  Preheat your oven to 400.  Heat up a heavy skillet (cast iron will give you the best result) over medium-high heat with just a little vegetable oil, enough to lightly coat the bottom.  When both oven and skillet are hot, commit your patties to their fiery fate.

You will hear that beautiful telltale sizzle on first contact, and you want to let them cook for a few minutes to form a nice crust on the bottom — the exact time will depend on the size and thickness of your patties, but usually about 4-5 minutes will do it.  Turn them and repeat on the other side, then toss the skillet into the oven for about 5 minutes to finish.  I do this because often the outer edges of the patties haven’t cooked yet.  This step solves that little problem.  Remove the patties from the oven, transfer them to a plate, and tent loosely with foil to rest for about 5 minutes.

While your burgers are resting, it’s a good idea to butter the insides of the buns, top and bottom, and brown them in a medium heat skillet.  This warms them and, importantly, creates a nice moisture barrier for all the juices that are about to come oozing out of your perfectly mid-rare to medium finished patties.  Crunchy on the outside, pink and juicy on the inside — yeah, baby!

Lastly, it’s time to finish constructing your savory masterpiece.  Add your favorite veggies, sauces and toppings.  I like mine without cheese, with some cold crunchy vegetables to contrast with the hot, juicy patty, and maybe some mayo or another tasty sauce.  In the pictures today we have a “secret sauce” made of mayo, ketchup, Dijon mustard, sugar, cayenne pepper and pickle juice.  Just do whatever makes your little heart flutter.  When you’re ready, munch that bad boy down with a big happy grin on your face, and wipe away the tears of joy.  After all, this is the best burger you’ve had in a long time.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Mediterranean Veggie Goodness

So for today’s offering I decided to go Mediterranean and highlight the wonders of squash and capsicum. Okay, maybe not so much, but both of the dishes on our menu include a type of squash and bell pepper, and both are vegetarian.  The first is ajvar, which is a Croatian roasted red pepper and eggplant sauce with a delicious smoky flavor that is great as a dip, a sandwich spread, or, for you non-vegetarians out there, as a topping for meat or fish.  Think of it as an Eastern European take on baba ganoush.   Today I used this as a topping for some broiled cod loins, but it would also work beautifully on grilled chicken, for example.  We also used some as a dip for naan.

On the side we’re making veggie kabobs that include zucchini, golden bell peppers and a delicious Cypriot cheese called halloumi, which has a flavor similar to feta but holds up extremely well to grilling or pan frying.  These will be coated with a marinade of olive oil, citrus and fresh herbs.

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We’ll tackle the ajvar recipe first, since that is the most time intensive. Here are your ingredients for 4-6 servings:

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

Preheat your broiler and coat a baking sheet with foil. Wash and dry your vegetables, rub them with just enough of the oil to coat them, and sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper. Roast them close up under the broiler, turning every few minutes until they are charred all around. The eggplant will take longer than the peppers, particularly since you want to make sure the center of the eggplant has time to become tender. After the vegetables are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl and cover with plastic to cool.  There they will steam and loosen the skins.

When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, remove the stems and seeds (a particularly gruesome task with the eggplant, I’m afraid), and put the meaty parts into your food processor.  Add the remaining ingredients, including any unused salt, pepper and oil.  Puree until smooth, then transfer to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to thicken and reduce, then allow to cool and this is ready to serve with a swirl of olive oil and maybe some oregano leaves.

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Moving on now to our veggie kabobs, here are your ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 1 golden bell pepper
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz. halloumi, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 tbsp. chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp. chopped oregano leaves
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the bell pepper into roughly 1 ½” squares. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips. In a large bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, herbs, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the vegetables and cheese, and toss until they are completely coated with the oil mixture. Place the vegetables and cheese onto skewers (don’t forget to soak your skewers if using bamboo), using an S-fold for the zucchini strips.  Then grill until the vegetables are tender-crisp with a little char. Bada bing, you’re ready to serve.

This whole menu takes probably 1 ½ hours to pull together, largely because of the time to roast, cool and peel the vegetables for the ajvar, and then the 30-minute simmer after that. The beauty of this plate is that it is natural and healthy – and did I mention really yummy?  We munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces and I’m sure you will too. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri

At our house, what Lolly wants Lolly gets.  And tonight she wanted grilled chicken with a chimichurri topping.  This is a super-simple but supremely delicious topping that pairs well with grilled meats, particularly steak and chicken.  You get a blast of herbal freshness and olive oily moisture, accented with citrus, garlic and a little heat.  You can whip it together with a just a few minutes of knife work.

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Here are your ingredients for about 3 servings:

  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by roasting the jalapeno either under the broiler or directly on the rack of a gas burner.  When it has cooled sufficiently, remove the stem and seeds, and chop it small.  With the herb leaves I try to remove as many of the large stems as possible, but that’s just a personal preference.  Combine the cilantro and parsley in a heap, and chop them to a fairly fine cut.  Combine the pepper and herbs with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes to blend the flavors and you’re ready to go.

Tonight I served this over grilled chicken, which I prepared on a stovetop cast iron grill pan.  The chicken was brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a citrus herb rub that I got from Williams-Sonoma.  This rub has some jalapeno heat of its own, so be warned if you’re not a spicy food junkie like me.

The rest of the stuff on the plate is just what I threw together with some spare produce — pickled cucumbers and red onion, pan fried zucchini slices, and some fresh tomato as a seasonal accent.  As you might expect, we munched it down with a big, happy grin on our faces — and we took no prisoners!  I hope you will enjoy this as much as we do.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!