May 2009

All right, readers, Part 1 of this two-part series got your pizza dough to the point where it’s rising in a bowl in a warm, nurturing spot (like Mom, back in the day), and now it’s all high and light and puffy (like me, back in the ’70s), and it’s time to take that dough, make it flat, put some toppings on it and get it into the oven! Yes!

First, a word about ovens and temperatures. Now most regular people who live in regular houses in regular cities don’t have wood-fired brick ovens at their disposal. They’re expensive to build, they take up space on the patio, and they require city permits to construct and use. Of course people are always saying that you cannot make good (or “adequate”) pizza without a wood- or coal-fired brick oven that maintains 800 or 900 degrees, that without that blast of heat you’ll never get a truly great crust with “blackened blisters” on it. Well, it’s correct that without 800 or 900 degrees of heat, you will not get the charred effect on the bottom of the crust — though you can finish the pizza on a charcoal grill — but at the 500 degrees that domestic ovens provide you will get a lovely, brown crusty crust, as the images further along in this post will prove.

So, turn your oven on to 500 degrees an hour before you’re going to slide the pizza onto the stone. Oh, yes, you absolutely must have a pizza stone in the oven, or at least some flat, unglazed tiles. I have been using the same stone for at least 15 years; the surface is completely black now, but it does its job of conducting heat exactly as it should; I like knowing that when the pizza touches the heated stone, it starts cooking instantly.

For our pizza tonight (well, Saturday night) I am avoiding tomatoes, not that there’s anything wrong with tomatoes, but I’m a little weary of pizzas dominated by their influence. So the principal toppings of this pizza will only be items that LL bought at the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning: arugula, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms and Italian sausage. In addition, there will be rosemary and thyme, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. I do not, by the way, make pizza with a sauce; tried it once, years ago, didn’t like it. In the case of this pizza, of course, the first thing I did was cook the sausage.

Now, generously sprinkle cornmeal on the paddle, or, as these devices are called in professional circles, when they’re more likely to be metal instead of wood, the “peel.” In addition to cornmeal, I use a little flour, just to ensure slippy-slidy action when the time comes. We’re going to be using a rolling pin to flatten and spread the dough — none of these tossing the dough into the air theatrics — so put a little flour on the rolling pin and on your hands too.

Whoa, there’s the risen dough, all light and soft and puffy. With both hands, plunge into the dough, pick it up, knead it a few times, and plunk it down on the paddle. Flatten it with your hands for a minute, spreading it out a little. Then start to work with the rolling pin, going at the dough from different angles. If it gets a little sticky, sprinkle on some flour. When the dough seems as if it has gone as far as it wants to, or if it wants to contract, let it rest for five or six minutes. Remember that the gluten in flour makes dough elastic, so if you go back to it after letting it alone — you can be slicing and dicing while it rests — you can roll it the rest of the way and it will be fine. The amount of dough you have should produce a 16-inch pizza, or something in that range.

Pour a small amount of olive oil on the flattened dough and spread it around with your hand.

Now we start to build the pizza itself with the toppings. First the arugula and the sliced shiitake mushrooms.

Next, the sausage and the spring onions.

Mozzarella and grated Parmesan.

Once the toppings have been assembled — including fresh or dried herbs, salt and pepper — dribble a little olive oil across the top of the pizza. Remember that when you’re putting the toppings on the dough to leave an inch around the rim free, so it will rise and make a crusty edge.

Now, carefully, run a spatula all the way around the edge of the pizza, checking for places where it might stick to the paddle. If necessary, shove a little cornmeal back under the pizza at the appropriate places.

When the pizza is ready to go into the oven, open the over door, pull out the shelf with the stone, and carefully, using the spatula and all the finesse and “English” of which you are capable, slide the pizza onto the stone. It never gets easier; it never gets less nerve-wracking.Just get it over with. In a 500-degree oven, the pizza should take about eight minutes to cook. Visual checks every two minutes are important; when you see the risen areas begin to turn brown, take the pizza out and tap on the bottom; if it sounds solid and hollow at the same time, it’s done. If not, give it another minute.

In the meantime, while the pizza is cooking, you might clean up the kitchen a bit. Lord have mercy, this place is a wreck!

Whoa, here it is, the pizza!

And a close-up.

And look here: The inside of one of the puffy, crusty places. That’s yeast and gluten and heat at work!

Any questions? You know where to find me.

We’ll get back to pizza-making later today, but first, here’s the “Wine of the Week.”

Jim Barry Wines is best known for its flagship product “The Armagh” Shiraz, consistently one of the best shiraz (syrah) wines produced in Australia. In the United States, the price for “The Armagh” runs from $145 to $175 a bottle. The winery offers less expensive wines, fortunately, and one of the most seductive of these is “The Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, South Australia. Made completely from cabernet sauvignon grapes, the wine ages 12 months in half-and-half French and American oak barrels. It delivers gangbusters aromas of mint and bell pepper, softly spiced and macerated black currants and plums, cedar and tobacco, with a back-note of mulberry. The dark ruby-purple wine is robust without being rustic and full-bodied without being cushiony; it’s powered by sleek and chewy tannins and oak that feels polished with dry, slightly woody spices, while a few minutes in the glass allow the wine to unfurl smoke and potpourri wreathed with scintillating minerals. The alcohol measures a heady 15 percent, but this factor is deftly balanced by lively acid and succulent, but not opulent, fruit. Drink through 2011 or ’12 with grilled steaks or leg of lamb. Excellent. About $17.50 to $20.

Imported by Negociants USA, Napa, Cal.

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Writing about wine and pizza on his blog The Pour, Eric Asimov expressed hope that someday I would record my recipe or method for making pizza, a food, an issue, a concept that I mention frequently on BTYH.

Whatever Eric wants, Eric gets!

Yesterday, as I traditionally do on Saturday, I made pizza, in anticipation of pizza and movie night (Frozen River). LL was right there with the camera, photographing the process step-by-step, and in this post, we present “Making Pizza, Part 1,” devoted to the making of the dough. Just as great wine begins in the vineyard, great pizza begins with the fashioning of the dough that become the all-important crust, the vehicle for everything else. The ideal is a crust that’s thin without being crisp; that’s slightly chewy; that holds up under the weight of the toppings; that puffs up nicely around the edges.

Here’s what you need:


2 bowls, one medium-size for mixing the dough, one smaller for letting the dough rise.
A 1-cup measuring cup for flour.
A 1-cup measuring cup for liquid.
Measuring spoons.
A wooden spoon, preferably flat, with a rounded edge.
A whisk, to dissolve the yeast in water.
A cutting board or other surface on which to knead the dough.


Bread flour (preferably) or all-purpose flour. (Bread flour really is better, and the best is King Arthur.)
Rye flour (optional).
1/2 tsp of active dry yeast. (Could be more; see note below.)
Olive oil.
1. Let the tap run until the water is hot enough to feel it but not too hot. Pour 1/2 cup warm water into the mixing bowl, scatter 1/2 teaspoon of yeast onto the water and stir with the whisk to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 8 to ten minutes.

Note on yeast: I like a long, slow rising for the dough, hence the small amount of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon; the dough will rise for six or seven hours. If you use 1 1/2 tsps of yeast, the dough will rise in two or three hours.

2. When the yeast has thoroughly dissolved, pour 1 cup of flour (plus 2 tbsp of rye flour if you wish) into the water and mix with the wooden spoon to form a rough ball. Ultimately, you’re aiming at a dough that comprises 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour for one pizza crust that’s about 16 inches across. The rye flour adds a little texture to the crust and a hint of rustic flavor.

3. Add another cup of flour, several pinches of salt and about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Pour onto the flour another 1/2 cup of warm water (about) and mix until the water is absorbed and the dough forms a larger ball.

Note on water: You want a dough that’s slightly wet without being sticky. The wetter the dough is, the stickier it will be and the more difficult it will be to shape and knead it. On the other hand, you don’t want a dough that’s too dry. A slightly wet dough, as long as it can be handled, really makes a better crust.
4. So, add a little more flour if necessary or a little more warm water if necessary to get the right balance of “wetness” in the dough, and to get 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour going, but do so carefully, testing the dough’s consistency with your fingers.

5. Lightly scatter flour on the cutting board or whatever surface you’ll be using, and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Shape the dough into a ball with your hands. Keep a measuring cup with flour close by, because you’ll need to use a little flour on the dough if it starts getting too sticky to knead. You can scatter the flour on the dough or on the cutting board, but don’t use too much.

6. Press down on the dough with the heels of your palms, pushing the dough away from you. Scoop up the dough, give it a quarter-turn and fold it over, slap it down and repeat the process. Yay, you’re kneading the dough! This takes a little practice if you have never kneaded dough, but once you get it, the whole thing feels quite easy and natural. Knead the dough for six to eight minutes, flouring if necessary, until the dough is smooth.


7. Pour a little olive oil into a smallish bowl and swirl it around; this will keep the dough moist as it rises. Put the dough in the bowl and turn it over a few times to get olive oil all over it. Cover the bowl with a dish-towel or tea-towel and set it in a warm spot. When I start kneading the dough, I turn the oven to 200 degrees. I set the bowl on the back of the stove, near the vent. Every hour or so, I turn the bowl so that it gets even warmth. Remember, you don’t want the dough to get too hot and start cooking. In the summer, you can set the bowl outside — not in direct sunlight and out of the reach of dogs — and if the temperature is in the 80s or 90s, the dough will rise very nicely and even pick up a slight tang from wild yeasts drifting around.


8. If there’s time, about an hour and a half before you’re going to roll out the dough, squash the risen dough in the bowl, knead it a couple of times, and return to the warm spot. The dough will quickly rise again, lighter and puffier than before.

So, there you are. You made the pizza dough; it’s gently rising in the warmth. Next post: Rolling the dough out and making the pizza.
Photographs by LL.

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So there I was, at 6:30 yesterday morning, trimming the fat from four pounds of ox-tails. Why? Because Benito, of the blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, was coming over for lunch and to taste six vintages of Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel from 1989 back to 1984. What was I going to serve him? I mean, this is the guy who made osso buco in a hotel room and wrote about it on his blog and who once ingested — on purpose! — a whole thermonuclear Naga Jolokia pepper just to see what it would do to him; read his amazing account here; it’s not for the faint-hearted.

So you can see my dilemma. This boy is a food adventurer, used to charting effortlessly over culinary whitewater rapids. So naturally, I thought of ox-tails, and I pulled out a great resource, The Lutèce Cookbook, by André Soltner with Seymour Britchky (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). (And what ever happened to Britchky? He used to write restaurant reviews in New York that were so knowledgeable and witty that they were criminally accurate and hilarious.) Anyway, I thought, here’s a dish that should meet Benito’s love of unusual food as well as being appropriate with the old zinfandels.

I obtained the wines, nestled in their original wooden crate, each bottle still tightly wrapped in tissue paper, at a benefit auction in Memphis in the early 1990s; I paid $150 for the lot. They have not, I’ll admit, been stored in the exacting conditions that a collector with a real “cellar” would advocate, but I have always keep them in the coolest part of whatever apartment or house we lived in. For a couple of years, they rested in a warehouse where a friend of mine who owned a chain of local diners had a storage room kept at 48 degrees. Benito has recently visited Ridge’s outpost in Dry Creek Valley, and wrote, in his post, that “from my experience, Ridge wines tend to age fairly well under less-than-ideal circumstances.” Well, I thought, here’s the perfect opportunity to try the old Geyservilles.

Ridge has been making a zinfandel from the Geyserville vineyard in the Alexander Valley, part of the old Trentadue family farm, since 1966. Some of the vines go back to the 1880s and 1890s.

The winery was founded in 1959 by a group of colleagues from the Stanford Research Institute who purchased the old Monte Bello vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The friends began making wine, not only from Monte Bello but from vineyards they sought in Amador, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties and in Paso Robles, looking for old-vine zinfandel and petite sirah in particular. In 1969, Paul Draper was hired as winemaker, a fortunate choice, since he is one of California’s great winemakers; under his direction, what was a winery that produced fine but often eccentric wines became one of the state’s finest and most consistent producers. While the Ridge Zinfandels have elevated the names of individual vineyards like Lytton Springs, Geyserville and Dusi Ranch to star status, the Monte Bello cabrnet sauvignon has over 40 years become the stuff of legends; if California had First Growths, as Bordeaux does, Monte Bello would be first among them.

So, our lunch consisted of a salad of escarole, red leaf lettuce, parsley and chopped green onions dressed with a thyme-mustard vinaigrette, followed by the ox-tail stew or soup, basically a bowl of rich, dark broth holding a couple of pieces of the succulent ox-tail. You would be pretty succulent too, if you had braised in a 225-degree oven for four hours with carrots, shallots, onion and garlic in red wine. Benito declined a cheese course to finish because he was leading a tasting that night. We wine-writers are famous for modesty and moderation in all things. I didn’t take a picture of the ox-tails because brown meat in brown gravy isn’t all that photogenic.

I’ll come right out and say that the best wine of this little event was the bottle I served with the salad, you know, something to whet the palate and clear our heads. This was the August Kesseler Lorcher Schlossberg Kabinett Riesling 2004, from Germany’s Rheingau region. The word that came to our jaded lips was “Glorious.” LL and I drank a bottle of this wine in April 2008 — click here
— when I rated the wine Very Good+. A year’s aging has given the wine more polish and heft and a sense of deeper spice and soft, ripe stone-fruit flavors. I would go with Excellent now. About $25 to $30.

Here, then, are brief summaries of the Ridge Geyserville Zinfandels from 1989 back to 1984 and the percentages of the blends. The alcohol levels, by the way, are consistently between 13.3 and 13.6 percent.

>1989. Dark, sweet berries; woody, spicy undertones; touch of mint; quite mellow and drinkable, very attractive, though it gets a little shellac-y after 30 minutes or so. (75% zinfandel, 22% petite sirah, 3% carignane)

>1988. Spiced and macerated red and black fruit; solid, tasty, a little port-like, delicious, though trailing off into briers and brambles that take on dusty austerity. My second favorite of the flight. (82% zinfandel, 13% carignane, 5% petite sirah)

>1987. Dark, rich, spicy, sweet black fruit; great structure and balance, almost Bordeaux-like; cedar, tobacco, gets drier and more austere as minutes pass. (88% zinfandel, 8% carignane, 4% petite sirah)

>1986. A little off-putting at first, a little mossy and undefined; but gets better, pulls together, though acid dominates; pulls up lavender and violets, a little meaty, bacon-fat element. (84% zinfandel, 10% petite sirah, 6% carignane)

>1985. The best of this group for me; ripe, beefy, chocolate-y; gains power and strength in the glass; plummy, jammy, port-like. (85% zinfandel, 19% petite sirah, 5% carignane)

>1984. Attenuated, gritty at first; a few minutes lend it more structure, hints of smoke and tobacco; very dry, increasingly woody and austere. (90% zinfandel, 10% petite sirah)

Ridge Geyserville is now called Geyserville Red Wine instead of Geyserville Zinfandel, a label device that allows Draper and his staff to vary the amount of zinfandel grapes in the blend according to the dictates of the vintage. Geyserville 2006, for example, contains only 70 percent zinfandel.

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