27 January 2008

Pizza, Pizza

A couple of years ago I received a copy of great pizza crust recipe from former neighbor and chef Kim Mahan. Lately, it seems, I've been making it often.

Homemade pizza actually makes a lot of sense, despite the fact that you can get one delivered to your door in far less time than it takes to make. And it probably wouldn't be burned.

Last night I'd planned on making two pizzas for a group of girlfriends. I spent the better part of the afternoon making a red sauce, caramelizing onions, making pesto and, of course, making the dough. Now none of these things is difficult, and I've learned a useful trick to making the prep worthwhile. I use the leftover red sauce, sausage and cheese for a baked pasta dish the next night.

I popped my sausage and red sauce pizza in the oven about 10 minutes before guests were to arrive. Well, once they started to arrive, I forgot about the pizza. Needless to say, it was slightly overbaked.

Though quite pissed with my carelessness, I set out to make the pesto, gruyere, pinenut and red grape pizza. This time I was much more attentive, and the result was worth it. Seth saved the day and ran to the store for me to buy a store-bought dough, so I could make a second pizza. We all seemed to like Kim's crust the best. So, here's the recipe. Enjoy. And set a timer!

Crust Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup of warm water
1 package (or 2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast
Olive Oil


Spinach-Basil Pesto
Pine nuts
Gruyere cheese, shredded
Red grapes
Spinach leaves, chopped

The dough is easiest made in a food processor fitted with a dough blade. It can be made by hand, but expect a more consistent crust with food processor.

Combine flour and salt in the food processor. Add yeast to the warm water and stir to combine. Turn the processor on and pour the water mixture in slowly followed by a light drizzle of olive oil. Process until the dough forms a ball, then process for about 1 more minute. Remove dough from processor work bowl and place in a bowl at least double its size. Drizzle olive oil over top and smear around with your fingers. This will keep the dough from getting an outer crust on the dough ball. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a dish towel. Let the dough rise for approximately 1 to 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. Once dough has risen, use quickly or store in the refrigerator in tightly-wrapped plastic for about 1 day.

To make pizza, roll dough on a lightly floured surface, so that it is easier to handle. Begin to work into a disc, and although it's not nearly as sexy as the perfected hand toss, I use a rolling pin to help create the shape.

Spread rolled dough with pesto*, sprinkle with gruyere, and top with caramelized onions**, pine nuts, grapes and chopped spinach. With a basting brush, brush the outer crust with olive oil. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

*Pesto is simple to make if you've got a food processor. Combine grated parmesan cheese, toasted pinenuts, 4 to 5 large basil leaves and about a handful of bagged spinach leaves in the work bowl. Turn the processor on and add olive oil until the mixture becomes fully combined and spreadable. Add salt and pepper to taste.

** Caramelized onions have a deep, subtle, sweet onion flavor that is a wonderful addition to many dishes and salads. To caramelize, slice one medium onion. Add onion and a generous amount of olive oil to a saute pan. It's pretty important that you not use a nonstick pan, if you have one. Turn the heat on to medium low and spread the onions out so they are covering the pan equally. Leave the onions alone - resist the urge to stir or shake the pan. It will take roughly 45 minutes to an hour for the onions to become fully caramelized. Once cooked, cool and place in a sealed container if not being used immediately.