The starting point is the dough production. To make the dough for 2 12-inch pizzas, you’ll need:
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1 1/3 cups warm (105-115 F, or 42-45 C) water
- 3 1/2 -3 3/4 cups (400-430 g) all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- A healthy pinch of salt
Begin by dissolving the yeast in the water, in a large mixing bowl; let it stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with a mixer set to low speed, until the ingredients are blended. Now hand-knead the dough or mix it with a dough hook setting the speed to low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Coat the insides of another bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in it to coat it too, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in volume.
For the baking, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, fire it up. If you are instead using your kitchen oven, preheat it to 475 F (250 C) — if you are using a baking stone it should heat for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise grease and dust two flat baking sheets with corn meal. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then shape them into disks, stretching them out from the center on a floured surface. Do not roll them, because rolling toughens the dough.
You are now ready to assemble the pizzas: Ladle and spread a half cup or so of tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes over the disks, leaving an inch of sauce-free rim, add the toppings (see next page), and bake.
If you’re using a baking stone and have a baker’s peel (a thin metal disk with a handle), lightly flour it, slide the pizza onto it, and transfer it to the stone with a deft yank — the flour will keep the dough from sticking. If you don’t have a peel, use a flat cookie sheet instead, lightly flouring it, to transfer the pizza from the work surface to the stone.
If you’re using a metal baking pan you should bake the pizza towards the bottom of the oven.
The pizza will in any case be done when the crust is browned and the toppings are cooked; this takes 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven and about 15 at home. If you discover that the mozzarella begins to brown before the other ingredients are cooked to your satisfaction, the next time add it after the pizza (with the other toppings) has baked for about 5 minutes.
Having said all this, once you have your dough, what to do with it? The standard topping combinations one encounters in Italy differ somewhat from those I have encountered elsewhere. The quantities given on the next page will be sufficient for one pizza each, so if you make the dough given above you will need to double the amounts, or select two.
Different types of pizza
Pizza Margherita: to honor the Italian Queen
You’ll want 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, about a quarter pound of shredded mozzarella, and 3-4 fresh basil leaves. Spread the tomato sauce on the dough, sprinkle with the mozzarella, drizzle with a few drops olive oil, add the basil and bake.
Pizza Marinara: the garlic-lover’s delight
You’ll want two cloves (or more or less to taste) finely sliced garlic, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Spread the sauce over the pizza, sprinkle the garlic, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.
Pizza al Prosciutto: a standby
You’ll want 2-3 ounces finely sliced cooked ham, shredded, 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella. Spread the tomato sauce, sprinkle the with the mozzarella and ham, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.
Pizza Prosciutto e Funghi: another standby
You’ll want about a cup finely sliced Champignon mushrooms, 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 2-3 ounces finely sliced ham, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella. Spread the tomato sauce, sprinkle the other toppings over it, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.
La Napoletana: yet another standby
1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 3-4 anchovy filets or more to taste, 1 tablespoon or so rinsed salted or pickled capers, a dusting of oregano. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza, dot it with the remaining ingredients, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.