Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Seasonal Sourdough Pizza

Pizza is an all-weather food. Whether dining poolside in the dog days of summer, or pounding a pie in a cozy café in the dead of winter, pizza is always in style. Gourmet pizza joints are popping up all over the country, but old standards remain as popular as ever. Pizza is so readily available that it may seem unnecessary to attempt making it at home. However, once you try it, you may just find that nothing quite compares. Top it with seasonal ingredients, and infinite possibilities emerge.




The first step in making a great pizza is mastering the dough. Sourdough crust isn’t essential, but it’s simple to make and adds abundant texture and flavor. There are as many recipes for sourdough starter as there are for pizza toppings. My favorite is a simple buttermilk and flour concoction, though beer-based sourdough starter would also be delicious.

Quick and Easy Buttermilk Sourdough Starter

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 1/8 cup buttermilk
1 t. yeast
 ½ t. sugar

Instructions

  1. A day or two prior to making the pizza, combine the flour, buttermilk, yeast, and sugar. 
  2. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and let it sit for 24 hours.
  3. After 24 hours, add ¼ cup flour and ¼ buttermilk.
  4. Stir, cover, and allow to sit on a countertop for another 24 hours.
  5. The sourdough will continue to ferment, as long as you feed it in this way every day. Liquid, known as hooch, may form on top.  This is the byproduct of fermentation. It’s fine to stir it in, unless it turns black. If there is any sign of dark-hued liquid or mold, discard the sourdough and start over. Store leftover sourdough starter in the refrigerator. Do not use an airtight lid. I store it in a mason jar, covered with a paper towel secured with a rubberband.




After fiddling with the King Arthur Sourdough Pizza Crust recipe, I believe I’ve arrived at a near perfect pie.

Here’s the dough recipe I use:

Brenda's Sourdough Pizza Crust

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk sourdough starter, preferably at room temperature
1 ½ cups white baking flour
½ semolina flour
½ t. yeast
1 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1 t. Italian herb mix
1 t. dried rosemary

Instructions 

  1. Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough for about 7 minutes. Alternately, knead by hand until the dough is firm and stretchy, but not sticky. 
  2. Place the dough in a nonreactive bowl and cover it with a dishtowel or cheesecloth. 
  3. Allow it to double in size, which may take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on the warmth of the room (dough rises more quickly in warmer environments).
There are a few tricks to keep in mind when preparing the dough. First, the longer the sourdough ferments, the more flavorful it becomes. Second, unless you have a pizza oven, the crust will probably be doughier than in a commercial pizzeria. Using a pizza stone in the oven and pre-heating the oven to 475 degrees for about 45 minutes before baking will ensure a crispier crust. Finally, rolling the dough will depend on your personal skillz.

I’ve always marveled at professional pizza workers’ ability to toss dough in the air without ripping or dropping it. I have yet to achieve such agility. In the absence of pizza tossing credentials, roll out the dough on a countertop, or press it from the center outward with your fingertips until it is uniformly ¼- ½ inch thick. Either circular or rectangular shapes are fine. The dough should fit snugly in the baking pan. Though I keep a baking stone in my oven to retain and evenly distribute heat, I prefer to cook the pizza in either a cast iron pizza skillet, or simple, rectangular baking pan. Create a slightly elevated ridge around the outer edge of the dough to catch any drippings as the pizza cooks. Because I like a crispy crust, I bake the crust alone until it browns and begins to puff (about 15-20 minutes). Then, I remove it from the oven and flip it over in the pan before adding the toppings.

Now for the fun part – toppings! Take advantage of seasonal ingredients and experiment with flavor combinations. In colder weather, I combine sautéed onions and garlic, fresh spinach, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, olives, and pecorino cheese. Layer the pizza so that moisture-rich ingredients are on top. Otherwise, they’ll soak into the crust, creating a soggy sponge.


Bake the pizza until the outer crust begins to brown, greens are wilted, and the cheese is melted on top. Serve piping hot, with chili pepper flakes for sprinkling. For full atmosphere, we like to play Pandora’s Mambo Italiano in the background and add a choice beverage. A nice Chianti is my preference, while my husband goes with a Belgian beer. Just remember:

"When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's amore..."
                                                         Dean Martin

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