Fine, as usual I am talking about me, me me, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t hope you have it this good. Walking around the city on these three off-days of the year when all the sidewalk-cloggers had the good sense to scatter elsewhere is a dream. You can make pretend, once again, that the land is yours alone, and you’ll put your house right there and your boat tied to that pier and when you’re hungry for a snack, you’ll climb into the cave at Murray’s and whittle yourself a little something to schmear on a tear of a Balthazar baguette. You won’t have to share the swing set with any short people and when you go the Union Square Greenmarket, you won’t be knocked into even once. At 4 p.m., good tomatoes will remain.
All too fitting with this holiday weekend theme, the New York Times ran an article a few weeks ago about Mario Batali’s vacation home in northern Michigan replete with a pizza oven from Italy installed outside. They included what he said was his pizza dough recipe, but for the life of me, I cannot fathom why he’d be using 6 packets of dry yeast (1.5 ounces, he says) unless he meant cake yeast, and even then, 3 cups of flour makes for a seriously thick pizza dough that is nothing like his famed Otto pie…
Sigh, Otto. We went there in late June for a large group dinner with unlimited wine included in our party’s prix-fixe which led to… well, a staggering hangover but also the absolutely best pizza I have ever had. Ever. And although I have been pretty pleased with my pizza results in the past, this made it clear that there was significant room for improvement. I just couldn’t figure out where.
So, I lined Batali’s recipe up to my standby and adjusted things I just assumed were wrong (like the size of the dough and the crazy amount of yeast), and realized that the only differences between our two recipes are a tiny bit of honey and his replacement of some of the water with white wine. And so I did the same, topping it with a small of fresh tomato sauce from four roma-shaped heirloom tomatoes (shh, we are all allowed some spoiling sometimes) that was so good, I still can’t believe I made it, torn up buffalo mozzarella and some basil from the Greenmarket and oh my god.
I know it’s mainly the peak-season tomatoes that made the difference, but that difference will put all earlier sauces to shame. The hint of wine and sweetness in the dough doesn’t hurt, either. So I’m not saying that if you’ve been using my old recipe and non-heirloom tomato sauce, you need to ditch them immediately for the following recipe. I’m only saying that if you do, you will never go back.
Still Looking for Something to Bring to that Labor Day Barbecue?
- Coleslaw City: Blue Cheese Coleslaw, Napa Cabbage and Sesame Seed Slaw, Spicy Radicchio Slaw with Pecans, Pickled Coleslaw, Not Your Mama’s Coleslaw, Green Onion Slaw
- Potato Salads: Roseanne Cash’s Potato Salad, Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad
- Other salads: Pearl Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes, Israeli Salad, Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad, Zucchini Carpaccio Salad, Black Bean Confetti Salad, Salsa Fresca
- Barbecue Standards: Ina Garten’s Barbeque Sauce, Hot and Smoky Baked Beans, Corn Bread with Cheddar, Jalapeño and Green Onions
- Meats I Actually Like: Tequila Lime Chicken, Pork Riblets
- Some new stuff the grill: Smoke-Roasted Bell Peppers Stuffed With Garden Vegetables, Grilled Spicy Citrus Ribs Recipe and Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Hot Dogs [at SimplyRecipes.com]
- And too many desserts to list.
A slightly gussied-up version of my standby.
Yield: One small, thin-crust pizza. Can serve two with a big salad.
6 tablespoons warm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more water)
2 tablespoons white wine
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour
Cornmeal for sprinkling
Flour for dusting counter
1/2 pound torn-up buffalo mozzarella
Few leaves of torn-up basil
Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast has dissolved. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir. Add flour and no matter how dry it looks, work it with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if you need, but in my experience, this is almost never necessary.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead the dough for a minute or two.
If you’re like me and always trying to reduce the number of dirty dishes left at the end of the night, wash the bowl you made the dough in, dry it and coat the inside with olive oil. Put the dough in, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour or up to two, until it is doubled.
[Easiest way to tell if a dough has risen enough? Dip two fingers in flour, press them into the dough, and if the impression stays, it’s good to go. If it pops back, let it go until it doesn’t.]
Meanwhile, make some sauce [recipe below].
Preheat your oven to its highest temperature. If you have a pizza stone, sprinkle it with cornmeal and put it in the oven. Otherwise, sprinkle a baking pan with the same.
Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured counter and gently deflate the dough with the palm of your hands. Form it into a ball and let it rest on a floured spot with either plastic wrap over it (sprinkle the top of the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick) or an upended bowl. In 15 minutes, it is ready to roll out.
Do so on the floured counter until pretty darn thin, then lift it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet or pizza paddle. Add the sauce, torn-up mozzarella and slivers of fresh basil.
Slide the pizza from the paddle to your preheated pizza stone, or just put the baking sheet in the oven as is.
Bake for about 10 minutes, checking at 7. Slice and serve immediately.
Moderately Easy Tomato Sauce
A more involved, seasonal update of the Basic, Awesome stuff.
Makes enough for one small/medium pizza.
4 roma tomatoes
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Splash of white wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
Bring medium pot of water to a boil. Poach the tomatoes for one minute only, and then drain them. As soon as they are cooled off enough that you can touch them, peel them. The peels should come right off. If they don’t, make a slit in the skins. This always does the trick.
Drain and dry the pot. Put it back on the burner over medium heat. Pour in olive oil and let it heat completely before adding the garlic and stirring it for a minute with a wooden spoon. Add the red pepper flakes and stir it for anther minute. You do not want the garlic to brown. Put the peeled tomatoes in the pot, along with the wine, sugar and salt. Break the tomatoes up with your spoon.
Let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down. Carefully taste without burning your tongue and adjust seasonings, if necessary.