Monday, January 7, 2013

Cooking With a Pizza Stone - Pizza Piccante

One of the great things about being known food and cooking enthusiast is that people never need wonder what to get you for a gift. This year, my mom got us an amazing Pizza Stone which utterly delighted me and especially my pizza-loving husband. 
Pizza Piccante - Hot Soppressata, Sweet/Hot Peppers, Fresh Oregano and Mozzarella, Photo: NK 
We've already used our pizza stone three times in two weeks. The first attempt, (not pictured) was a classic Margherita with Basil, Tomato Sauce, and fresh Mozzarella. The results were delicious, but the cooking was not without challenges. The dough was impossible to shape, so in the end our Pizza tasted waaaay better than it looked. In fact, our romantic tandem cooking intentions were nearly derailed completely once I began muttering angrily about the disobedient dough, followed by my husband declaring "you're ruining pizza night!" and stomping out of the kitchen. After I coaxed him back with a hug and, when that didn't work, promises of mozzarella, we thankfully recommitted ourselves to the business at hand. In our house, when dinner's at stake, failure is not an option.

Round two, which is pictured above, proved to be a fabulous creation that came out quite good - a recipe I like to call Pizza Piccante. I encourage you to try it!  Piccante, in Italian, roughly means spicy, hot or piquant. Our Pizza Piccante was spicy, sweet, and vinegary - alive with the flavors of Hot Soppressata, Spicy Vinegar Peppers, Fresh Oregano, and gooey Fresh Mozzarella - all my favorite tastes in one place. Before you start cooking, feel free to first scroll all the way down for my general dough-handling pointers as well as a handy you tube video (not starring me!) on how to roll dough like a pro. 

Pizza Piccante - Mozzarella, Spicy Red Peppers, Hot Soppressata and Fresh Oregano
Serves 2-3 

1/8 Lb Hot Soppressata chopped into bite sized pieces

7 or 8 small North African Sweet/Hot Peppers cut in half, or 3-4 Hot Cherry Peppers, seeds removed, roughly chopped 

Ingredients, Photo: NK 
1 Tablespoon Fresh Oregano, finely chopped

1/2 LB Fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced

1 small can plain Tomato Sauce (we used Del Monte brand) or Homemade 

Salt and Pepper to taste 

2 or 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Crushed Red (or to taste)

1 standard size round of Pizza Dough 

*Cornmeal for dusting (only if you are using a pizza peel to place pizza on the stone)

*Parchment Paper (only if you are using a pizza stone but have no pizza peel)

Place pizza stone in the oven. If not using a stone, prepare pizza as normal in a pizza pan. 

Turn oven on to 525 with the rack placed in the middle. Preheat the stone for 30 minutes. 

Flour a clean counter top and your hands. Place extra flour nearby.
Form Pizza Dough into a ball. Press it down onto the counter and continue pressing until you have a flat round. 

Form dough into your desired pizza shape, making it as thin as possible - ideally an eighth of an inch thick. Pinch the edges of the dough all the way around to form a crust. 
Check out this great video I found on the web for dough-handling pointers HERE.

Once Pizza Crust is formed, carefully transfer it onto a cornmeal dusted peel or parchment paper that is cut to a size just slightly bigger than the dough shape (enough to grab it on each side). If you are using a pan and no pizza stone, you needn't do either of the preceding steps. 

Now you are ready for toppings:
Drizzle a Tablespoon or two of Oil onto the dough. 
Using a paper towel, spread the Oil around the entire surface of the dough.
Using a Tablespoon, slowly spoon on Tomato Sauce and spread it around. The dough need not be totally covered (your pizza will be too saucy) and should appear similar to the first photo below).

Next, add the Fresh Oregano, Hot Peppers, Soppressata, and Crushed Red Pepper. 
Nestle slices of Mozzarella all over the Pizza, leaving some space in between them. You want some sauce and toppings to show through!

Sprinkle the entire pizza with Salt and Pepper to taste. If using a peel, slide Pizza onto the Pizza Stone. If using parchment, lift the Pizza and the Parchment onto the pizza stone. You may leave the parchment in the oven while cooking.

Cook for 10 minutes or until crust is crispy, puffed, and golden. 


Saucing the Pie, Photo: NK

Toppings, Photo: NK

Ready to Cook, Photo: NK 

Buon Appetito, Photo: NK 

Pizza Pointers

Given how much I cook, I haven't made too many pizzas in my life. Anything with dough or flour generally scares me. I've just never had the touch. I don't pretend to have a foolproof method for perfecting Pizza, but below are some general dough-handling pointers that worked for me. These can help you whether you have prepared your dough from scratch or purchased it ready-made. I would never dream of making my own dough. What can I say? I personally like the convenience of buying it, but if you are a dough maker, you have my utmost respect.

Pizza Stones are a great investment and can make a big difference in the quality of your pizza result. By providing a screaming-hot surface on which to cook your pizza, stones allow you to get an evenly cooked and crispy crust each and every time. Our pizza stone is from Emile Henry. We just love it so far. 

Preheat the Stone - Always. Give it a good thirty minutes in the oven before placing your topped pizza on it. To preheat, you'll want to use the hottest oven temperature available to you on your oven. For us, that was 525.

It's a nice bonus to have a pizza peel. I had to learn this the hard way. A peel is the wooden implement with a handle that you see used at pizza places to get the pies in and out of the oven. If you have one, good for you. Your life will be a lot easier. For the peel owners, you'll roll out your pizza dough on the counter, transfer it to a peel dusted with cornmeal, and then top the pizza right on the peel before transferring onto the pizza stone on it. 

If you are like us and you don't have a peel, here's how to handle your dough successfully: We prepared our pizza dough by rolling it out directly on our counter. Always flour your rolling surface and sprinkle both your hands and the dough round lightly as well. Once the dough is rolled out into your desired shape, transfer it onto a sheet of parchment before topping the pizza. This way, you can simply lift the parchment onto the pizza stone when ready to cook. Note that you may need an extra pair of hands to hold the parchment level as you place it on the stone so that none of the toppings slip off -  or, as an other option, you can certainly slide the parchment onto a stiff, portable surface (cutting board, perhaps) and carefully use that to shimmy it onto the pizza stone that is waiting in the oven. 

Be one with the dough. Call me crazy, but handling pizza dough feels to me like a highly psychological endeavor. Stay calm and make no sudden moves. Move slowly yet deliberately. As with any dough or kneading, be sure not to overwork. Smoosh and squeeze too hard and you can end up with a hard as a rock crust. A light touch is your best bet.

Who cares if your pizza isn't round? I sure don't. Here at NK, we have yet to achieve a truly round crust. Somehow our pizza dough seems easier to prepare in a rectangular(ish) shape. This is fine! It all tastes the same on the way down :)
Have fun with it!
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