A break in the weather here in the District of Columbia dropped temperatures low enough to consider a rare summer event: pizza.
We try not to use the oven when it's sizzling outside. So this was our chance to put some of the summer bounty on a crust.
How do you like your pizza? Me, I'm a thin crust kind of guy. And I think it's safe to say my wife makes the best pizza crust anywhere. Thin, chewy, just enough flex with golden bits of flavor around the edges.
She uses a two-step process to cook the pizza. After the dough has risen and she's rolled a piece into a pie shape, she slathers on a sauce and transfers the pie to a pizza stone at the bottom of an extremely hot oven. When the pie is cooked through but not quite done, she removes it and then lays on the toppings and the cheese. Then the pie goes back into the oven to finish, notably when the mozzarella has completely melted into a pool of deliciousness and the dough has baked to a golden crispness.
This time of year we are looking for pizzas to show off our produce. A favorite is a pesto pizza topped with "Nectarine" variety of tomatoes. Grate some mozzarella over the tomatoes, then a healthy shaving of parmesan after it comes out of the oven. Another delicious pizza is caramelized onions with gorgonzola cheese. The pungency of the cheese is a perfect foil for the sweetness of the onions.
But you could also top your pizza with cooked greens or broccoli or peppers--whatever vegetables happen to be ripe and ready for harvest.
My wife is the baker in the family and she's spent quite a long time studying pizza crusts and searching for the perfect recipe. Her favorite is the one from The New Best Recipe cookbook, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine.
This recipe calls for some whole wheat flour in the dough, which gives the finished pizza extra chew and flavor. Bread flour gives the dough its crispness, but all-purpose flour can be used as a last resort.
Measure 1/2 cup warm (110 degrees) water in a measuring cup and sprinkle in 1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast. Let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Combine with a mixture of 1 1/4 cups room-temperature water and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor, process 2 cups (22 ounces) bread flour with an equal amount of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Continue pulsing while pouring in all but a few tablespoon-fulls of the liquid ingredients through the feed tube. If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid until a ball forms. Process about 30 seconds more, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Using a rubber spatula, turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Place the ball in a deep, oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow to rise until it has doubled in size, up to 2 hours. Press the dough to deflate and proceed to make your pizza pies.
To finish the pies, divide the dough into four pieces. Roll each piece to your desired thickness (we shoot for about 1/8-inch). The pies don't have to be perfectly round. In fact, we like them better on the rustic side. To bake, follow the steps described above, brushing your sauce on the dough first, then laying on the other toppings and cheese after the dough is cooked through, then baking the pizza briefly a second time. We turn our oven up as high as it will go, around 550 degrees. But hotter would be even better.
Why the two-step baking process? My wife swears this prevents the cheese and other toppings from draining liquid onto the dough before the pie has a chance to cook. Nobody likes a soggy pizza.