During our final year of college, Kevin and I both had some flexibility in our classloads and, that spring, we slipped off to Europe for three weeks, where we traced a path from Madrid to Rome, hugging the Mediterranean for much of the trip. Looking back, I am awestruck by three things: (1) just how incredibly lucky we were to do this; (2) the fact that it was six (!) years ago; and (3) the sheer number of pizzas we ate in Italy. I suppose I should also be shocked by the amount of gelato we consumed (sometimes, I’m not proud to admit, we ate it twice a day), but given my longstanding affection for all things frozen and creamy, the gelato consumption was something of a foregone conclusion.
The pizza, though, took me by surprise. I’d had good pizza—great, even—before that trip, but never the kind of pizzas I grew to adore in Italy. Those pizzas were broad and often misshapen, sauce barely painted on, splotched with wafer-thin rounds of fresh mozzarella. And the crust. Oh, the crust. Baked quickly in intensely hot ovens, the crust had chew and char and crisp and character.
I fell unabashedly in love with that pizza. I wrote home about it on the back of postcards. I feverishly flipped through our dog-eared copy of Let’s Go in search of the next one. I think I might have dreamed about it. And when we got back to Evanston, I missed it so. While my college town featured a deep dish joint on nearly every block, Italian-style pizza was much harder to come by. And while Chicago has a couple places we love these days, it’s still a rare treat. So, slowly and painfully, I’ve learned to make it at home.
There has been a lot of trial and error (mostly delicious, but still) to get to the type of pies you see in this post. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things and here they are:
(1) Keep homemade dough on hand, in the freezer. Just do it. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
(2) Keep homemade sauce on hand too. I just whiz a large can of San Marzano tomatoes in the food processor, before adding kosher salt and sugar to taste.
(3) Buy excellent mozzarella.
(4) Invest in a pizza stone.
(5) Don’t be afraid to turn your oven to its very hottest temperature.
(6) Listen to the dough. If it doesn’t want to stretch out into a nearly transparent round, give it a timeout. It will come around—it just needs some time.
(7) Dress the pizza on parchment paper. You’ll be able to transfer the whole thing right to the pizza stone, parchment paper and all. Who needs a silly peel?
(8) Check your meat-lovers or garbage pizza tendencies at the door. Less is more, when it comes to toppings (and that includes sauce—imagine you’re painting on a thin coat with a brush).
(9) Bake until the dough is kissed with a hint of char and the cheese has just gone golden. This entails allowing the pizza to bake for five minutes or so and after that, you’ll have to watch it like a hawk, peeking in every minute.
Here, I’ve used these tips to create a pizza lined with pink wisps of prosciutto and piled high with delicate, peppery arugula. It’s my favorite.
Makes 1 10-inch pizza
1/4 pound of pizza dough (I use the dough recipe in this wonderful post)
2 tablespoons or so of tomato sauce (see #2, above)
6 to 8 thin slices of buffalo mozzarella
3 thin slices of prosciutto
2 large handfuls of baby arugula
excellent olive, for drizzling
flaky sea salt, for finishing
Place pizza stone on the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees, or as hot as your oven gets.
On a lightly floured surface and with lightly floured hands, gently stretch the dough until it is almost so thin you can see through it. Try to keep an even thickness throughout, though a perfectly round shape isn’t so important.
Place the stretched dough a piece of parchment slightly larger than the dough round (you will eventually use the parchment as a type of tray to transport the pizza, so leave yourself adequate “handles” to carry the parchment for this purpose). Spread a very thin layer of the sauce on the dough. Top with the cheese slices and prosciutto.
Wearing oven mitts, transfer the pizza, on the parchment paper, onto the preheated pizza stone (keeping the parchment between the pizza and the stone). Bake for five minutes, then check the pizza once a minute until the dough is slightly charred in spots and the cheese is golden. Wearing oven mitts, lift the pizza on the parchment off the stone and onto a board. Slide the parchment out from under the pizza and discard it.
Pile the pizza with the arugula. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired.