I’ve been reading Ed Levine’s book, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven. Ed’s a guy who samples on average six pizzas a day and has an opinion about every one, from the dyed-in-the-wool Napolitano to New York’s finest. He’s got the genealogy of pizza in America down to a fine art: from Lombardi’s in 1905, through Totonno’s and Patsy’s to Pepe’s in New Haven, culminating in Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, the holy grail of pizza today. Sadly, in Ed’s book, Philadelphia hardly figures.
Okay, okay, okay; I’ll admit that Philly isn’t the best of pizza towns. The pizza I remember as a kid was more likely to give pizza burns than satisfaction: flat slabs of what Ed calls ‘boardwalk pizza’, with a thin greasy crust, lots of bad cheese and an oily surface. But I also remember flashes of brilliance when it came to toppings. Put on some locally made sausage, some olives and onions – and maybe red pepper or mushrooms – and you had something delicious to work with.
Out here in Seattle, I’m thinking like Chris Bianco, improving on the flavors of my youth. I’ve got the oven fired up with a good head of flame. The base is singeing hot. My favorite dough has been marinating in a little olive oil for 6 hours, and I’ve pureed and strained a can of San Marzanos. A sprinkling of local Isernio sausage, some caramelized onion, oil-cured black olives and fresh mozzarella, and we’re back in the groove; I’m going with roasted red peppers today.
Yo! Watch out you guys. Here’s one great Philly pizza coming your way.
Makes one 12” pizza
13 ounces of dough (use your own or click HERE for our favorite)
2 teaspoons of good olive oil
4 ounces of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
3 basil leaves, shredded
1 cooked Isernio Italian sausage (3.5 oz.) or similar
3 Tablespoons of caramelized onion
2 Tablespoons of roasted red pepper, in strips
10 oil-cured Niçoise (best) or Kalamata black olives, pitted and halved
3 to 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Get your dough ready: As Ed Levine says – and no doubt Chris Bianco would agree – pizza is all about the crust, so your dough is all-important. Make our dough (click HERE for a printable version) with a 4 ounce piece of day-old dough if you have one, and let it rise for 6 hours at 75° for best results. Punch it down twice when it gets too puffy. Halfway through the process, sprinkle the dough bowl with a Tablespoon of good oil to give the dough Italian flavor.
Heat up the oven: We keep ramping up the heat of our oven, in order to give our pizzas a bit of char. If the oven was fired the day before, it can be up to temp in about 2 hours; otherwise we allow 3 hours or more. If we have the time, we’ll start the oven early in the afternoon to allow all of the components to heat up slowly by dinnertime.
Make a small fire in the middle of the oven and add increasingly larger sticks of hardwood. Once the fire is roaring, move it around to heat the base. When the ash on the sides and top of your oven has turned white and the base at the front edge is too hot to touch, your oven is ready. Push the fire to the back and sweep the floor.
For baking in a conventional oven: At least 30 minutes before baking, put quarry tiles or a pizza stone on a center rack and preheat your oven to the highest temperature setting your oven can handle without engaging the broiler (for my gas oven this is 500°).
Make the sauce: We’ve simplified the tomato base here at Chez Bullhog right down to its component parts. Find some canned tomatoes that were grown under the Italian sun (careful – all San Marzanos are not Italian) and crush, puree and strain them. If they’re too watery, add a few tablespoons of tomato paste. That’s all!
Prepare the toppings: Cook the sausage and cut it into pieces as desired. Chop half of a sweet onion and cook it in a frying pan until nicely caramelized. Rip a few roasted red peppers into strips. Pit and halve a handful of black olives. Slice 3 or 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella. Have these all handy.
Assemble the pizza: Spread 13 ounces of dough into a 12” round. Sprinkle a peel with flour or some cornmeal and put the dough blank onto it. Before continuing, make sure the dough ‘slips’ on the peel.
Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of olive oil onto the dough blank and spread 4 ounces of crushed San Marzano tomatoes onto it. Now add 3 shredded basil leaves, the Italian sausage, caramelized onion, red pepper strips, black olives, and fresh mozzarella. Top with a teaspoon of dried oregano.
Bake the pizza: Slip the pizza directly onto the base of the woodfired oven or onto the quarry tiles or pizza stone. In a woodfired oven, this pizza will take 4 or 5 minutes, turned 2 or three times to heat evenly. In a conventional oven, it will take more like 8 minutes. The pizza is ready when the crust is nicely browned (with some char marks in the woodfired oven) and the toppings are sizzling.
When you bite into it, think of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. But do realize this: for all his Philly background, Sly Stallone never had it so good!
Copyright ©2012 by Don Hogeland