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Tomato Frenzy: Fresh, No-Knead Pizza

How can you not think of pizza when you think of tomatoes?

At the Joy Kitchen, we've been tinkering with pizza recipes off and on for the better part of six months... though it's tempting to keep tinkering with baker's percentages and cooking methods "in the interest of science," we try to give our bodies a break. We've tested quite a number of variations in our quest for a nice, thin, chewy, and slightly-charred crust. Up until recently, the best results have come from insanely-hot grills: pile enough coals into a kettle grill--better yet, a komodo-style "egg" grill--and you will get satisfying results! In one of our grill trials, the temperature was so hot (in excess of 750 degrees), that all the hair on my forearm was instantaneously singed off when I opened the lid to throw a pizza on the stone. Oh well. I didn't need that hair anyway.

Take that wood-burning-oven pizza parlor! 

Needless to say, grilling pizza is a wonderful thing, and we definetly recommend a DIY setup with a variety of toppings laid out if you want to have a fun alternative to your typical, protein-focused backyard grill-out party (though I have not tried gas grills for this purpose, I imagine that they would not be able to crank out the necessary levels of heat, so be sure to use lump charcoal). But building enamel-peeling, hair-singeing, 750-degree fires in the grill is not always practical and, as it turns out, it is unnecessary. 

Standard electric or gas ovens are much trickier to coax the same results from, but you can come close with the right dough, a pizza stone or cast-iron pan, and the correct oven settings. In order to get the high temperatures necessary for good, "neopolitan" style pizza, you will need to preheat the oven (stone inside) to the highest setting it will go to (some ovens go to 500 degrees, others will reach 550), set the oven to broil and let it get even hotter for five minutes before you throw in your first pizza.

As for doughs, we love the convenience of the pizza dough recipe in the 2006 Joy of Cooking, as it only needs to rise for a few hours. But if you don't mind planning ahead one evening, a slow-rise dough will give you better flavor, a wonderful texture, and more bubbles. Best of all, it's less of a hassle: no kneading required. All we did was take the JOY recipe, reduced the amount of active dry yeast, and let it sit at room temperature, and then in the fridge for 20 hours total. Just imagine how easy it would be to mix up the dough after dinner, do the dishes, go to bed, get home from work the next day, and have pizza dough ready for shaping, topping, and baking... You can get all of that done in the time that it takes to preheat the oven!

A peel (a thin wooden implement used to slide pizza dough onto the hot floor of a brick oven or, in your own home, a baking stone or baking sheet) is a nice tool to have for making pizza, but you can also just use the back of a baking sheet. Simply sprinkle a generous amount of coarse cornmeal or semolina on the baking sheet, stretch out your dough and add the toppings. This next part takes some practice, but it's actually really easy. Open the oven and hold the baking sheet, tilted at an angle, over the heated baking stone. In one quick motion, yank the baking sheet backwards to propel the pizza dough onto the hot stone. It helps to make sure that the dough will slide off easily before you even open the oven. Simply jerk tha baking sheet back and forth a little. The dough should slide fairly easily. If the dough is stuck to the baking sheet anywhere, simply lift up the dough very gently and throw a little more cornmeal under there.

Another option, though slightly less fun in my opinion, is to just prep the dough on top of a piece of parchment and slide the pizza, parchment and all, into the oven. However, at very high temperatures you will need to replace the parchment after baking each pizza.

White Pizza With Fresh Tomatoes, Feta, and Basil
Makes enough dough for two 12-inch pizzas

Begin by making the dough the night before you want to bake the pizzas. Combine in a large bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
     1 1/2 cups warm water
     1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

     3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
     2 tablespoons olive oil
     2 teaspoons salt

Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth. Start with the lower amount of flour, only adding more if the dough is still very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature overnight. The next morning, punch down the dough and shape it into a rough ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap again and place in the refrigerator. You can use the dough as early as eight hours after you punched it down (for instance, if you punch down the dough at 8 a.m., you can use the dough by 4 p.m.), but you can also keep the dough refrigerated, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
Preheat the oven as hot as it can go. Ours heats up to 550 degrees F. Have a baking stone, cast iron pizza pan, or even a cast iron griddle or large frying pan. Basically, you want to bake the pizzas on something that retains heat well and that will heat up the pizza dough on the bottom without burning it. In a pinch, use the thickest baking sheet you have.
Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a ball. Let rest for 15 minutes. On a baker's peel or the back of a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal, flatten each ball of dough and stretch it into a rough round. We think imperfection is beautiful in these pizzas. You can use a rolling pin to do this, but we just use our hands, stretching and pressing the dough until it is the size and shape we want it to be. 
Add your toppings. The sky's the limit in this department. For this particular pizza, we used thinly sliced ripe tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese. The pizza on the left in the photo above had roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, and mozzarella on it. Brush the dough with:
     Olive oil
For the tomato pizza, thinly slice:
     As many ripe tomatoes as you like
Place the tomato slices on the pizza and sprinkle over them:
     Feta cheese, to taste
     Black pepper, to taste

Slide the pizza onto the hot baking stone or sheet, turn off the oven, and turn on the high broil setting. Broil until the pizza is bubbly, browned, and beginning to char in spots, about 5 minutes. Using a large spatula, slide the cooked pizza onto a rack. Sprinkle the cooked pizza with:
     Chopped fresh basil, to taste
Repeat the process with the remaining dough, using the toppings of your choice.

Some Topping Suggestions:
1.) Blue cheese, caramelized or sautéed onions, and chopped walnuts
2.) Italian sausage, onions and peppers, and mozzarella
3.) Chopped bacon or prosciutto, artichoke hearts, and olives
4.) Roasted eggplant, mushrooms, and sliced oil-packed sundried tomatoes
5.) Roasted garlic, rosemary, olives, and mozzarella
6.) Portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, and sautéed onions


Mary 's picture

Pizza Dough
meg's picture

Did you have a question about the pizza dough, Mary?
Janaki's picture

I am unable to stretch the dough to the size I need. It springs back. What have I done wrong. I used a domestic stand mixer.
john's picture

Perhaps you over-kneaded the dough? It's easy to do when you use a stand mixer.

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Like Stravinsky, this recipe is written in movements. To start:

“The Marination of the Lamb”

Combine in a large bowl:
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