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.

My linkedin profile.

You’re saying, “FK, what’s the big deal about another pizza? You make a pizza about every Saturday of your life. Pizza, two movies and so on.”

Well, several things happened with this pizza that were interesting. pizza4_01.jpg

First, I took a minimalist approach to the ingredients. Often I can be an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of cook, and I’ll pile on the toppings for a pizza, but under the inspiration of LL, who cooks in a much more spare fashion, I tried to keep the ingredients on this pizza to four or five. My model was a chicken soup she made recently.

We had been back from Mexico for a few days and I was feeling a bit puny, and LL said, “What you need is some chicken soup.” Now I make chicken soup pretty frequently, especially in the fall and winter, and besides chicken broth and chicken I tend to fill the soup with green beans, zucchini, green onions, celery and carrots, maybe some diced potatoes or turnips, some kind of pasta or noodles, maybe some chopped chard and usually a big can of diced tomatoes. In other words, it’s vegetable soup with chicken.

The soup LL made had these ingredients: chicken and chicken broth, of course; a little celery, sliced very thin; a shallot, sliced very thin; a handful of linguine; some spinach that she put in the bowl and ladled the soup over. That was it. It was fabulous. Pure. Intense. Rather Asian.

So, under this inspiration — less is more — the pizza pictured here has heirloom tomatoes (yellow, red and slightly purple), roasted cipollini onions, pancetta, heaps of basil and a few black olives. A little grated Parmesan cheese. For me, that’s really minimal.

The other interesting aspect of this pizza was that I made a mistake with the crust. For years I have used Gold Medal Bread Flour to make pizza dough, but on this Saturday morning, I reached in the drawer and hauled out a bag of flour and started making the dough, and then realized that I had begun with a cup of regular flour, not bread flour. Now this was White Lily, the flour preferred by many Southern cooks for biscuits, but not what I use for pizza dough. “Rats,” I said, thinking how I didn’t want to start the process all over again, so I just got out the bread flour and continued. So this pizza dough was about half bread flour and half regular flour.

The result was a crust that was as thin as usual but a little denser, a little chewier. The next time I made a pizza, I used about half a cup of the White Lily, and we liked the crust so much that I think I’ll continue to do that.

For wine that movie and pizza night, I opened a bottle of Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2005, Lodi, a label from The Other Guys division of Don Sebastiani and Sons. Now if I remember correctly, the 11th Commandment (or maybe the 12th) goes, “Thou shalt not name a wine Plungerhead.” I mean, really, the whole cute-daffy wine name thing (including cute-daffy back-stories to justify the cute-daffy name) is getting out of hand, and Don & Sons is responsible for many of them: Screw Kappa Napa, Mia’s Playground, Smoking Loon, Hey Mambo, Gino Da Pinot. Like, ha-ha, dude. Though I concede that these are primarily well-made and tasty wines, and none is expensive.

That was the case with the Plungerhead we had with this pizza on movie night. At about $14, this zinfandel delivered a whole personality-packed wallop of plummy-jammy blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry flavors permeated by smoke and spice, by lavender and violets and minerals, by earthy touches of briers and brambles and black pepper. I know that my friends with plunger_01.jpgEuro-centric palates are saying, “Gack, FK, that sounds awful!” (Are you reading this, TH?) But they must remember that we’re talking about a California red wine here and moreover a California zinfandel made in the good old-fashioned slightly (but not too much) over-the-top style. Sometimes exuberance trumps elegance, and that’s OK. Anyway, the Plungerhead Lodi ’05 rates a solid Very Good with a Good Value addendum.

The Plungerhead line-up includes two other zinfandel wines.

Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2004, Sierra Foothills, turbos the alcohol to 15.3 percent, and you definitely feel that element in the wine’s funky super-ripeness. It’s very deep, very dark, very spicy and boldly, profoundly tannic, and its vibrant blackberry, boysenberry and blueberry flavors are roasted and smoky and imbued with hints of cloves and sassafras. This is a zinfandel that takes balance way out to the edge and then doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. 618 cases. About $16, and I’ll give it Very Good+.

Third in this trio is Plungerhead Old Vines Zinfandel 2005, Dry Creek Valley, a classically proportioned zinfandel from Sonoma County’s best region for the grape. This is clean and fresh yet quite roasted, smoky and meaty, like a grilled steak. The flavors are blackberry and blueberry but without the over-ripeness of sweetish boysenberry that often comes into high alcohol zinfandels; this is “only” 14.9 percent. The whole shelf of dried baking spices is here, as well as the sharp pungency of freshly ground black pepper, all of this bolstered by a texture so supple and thick that it’s almost viscous and might be overwhelming if it weren’t for the serious tannins, dense and chewy, that linger through the finish. Excellent. About $19.

Plungerhead wines are closed with the bizarre Zork, a plastic stopper that’s opened by loosening and unwinding a plastic strip that curls several times around the bottle neck.

There it was, emblazoned on the cover of the Food & Wine magazine for March: “Perfecting Homemade Pizza.”

Well, that’s something I’m interested in. As readers of know, I make pizza regularly, as many as, oh, 35 to 40 a year, because our ritual is two movies and a pizza on Saturday night or, if duty calls us pizza_01.jpg elsewhere that night — “What, the president wants to see us again?” — on Sunday. We’ve been engaging in this ritual for 12 years or more, so, Buddy, that’s a lot of pizza, and I have worked incessantly to perfect the method myself.
The one-page article by Grace Parisi includes a box of specific products that the magazine recommends for making pizza: The wooden peel from Williams-Sonoma ($27); Bufalus Buffalo Mozzarella from Whole Foods ($NA); a Fibrament cement baking stone ($53); La Valle San Marzano canned tomatoes ($NA); Tutto Calabria oregano on a branch ($4); and a Typhoon “mezzaluna-style” pizza cutter ($18). None of which has anything to do with perfecting your pizza, but Food & Wine always wants to appear to be on top of things when it comes to food prep. I’m still using my ceramic stone and rotary wheel-type pizza cutter from years ago, and you know what? They work just fine. And I always use fresh tomatoes.
Anyway, the secret to great pizza, as anyone knows who wasn’t raised on a diet of Pizza Hut or Domino’s, is a slightly chewy, crisp but not cracker-like crust, and the real secret of the crust is water. Now Parisi, whose grandfather had a pizzeria in Brooklyn, achieves the crust she wants — “a chewy crust with a slight tang” — by leaving the pizza dough in the refrigerator overnight or for up to three days. That’s a pretty radical step, but I’ll try it sometime (maybe not this weekend).

The trick for me is not using a standard amount of water to make the dough, as in “pour four cups of water in the bowl,” but adjusting the amount carefully so that the dough remains moist, even a bit sticky. It can’t be too sticky; that makes kneading impossible and messy to boot, but if the dough is too dry the pizza crust will end up stiff and chewy at the expense of crispness. Keep the dough as moist as you can, flour the board and the dough sparingly and knead it until you have a ball of dough that’s smooth and silky.

While we’re on the subject of pizza, my new favorite meat to us as a topping is guanciale (“gwant-chi-AH-lay”), a dry cured pork jowl that’s a specialty of Latium, the province around Rome, and an essential ingredient in the pasta sauce called amatriciana. Now we know something about pork jowl in the South, a region in which all parts of the pig are consumed. Smoked hog jowl is an essential ingredient in the New Year’s Day blackeyed pea-hog jowl-turnip green soup; simmer a pot of that stuff on the stove for three or four hours and the jowl turns to luscious velvet.

As you can see from the photograph of guanciale here, the jowl is mainly fat, so basically, after frying it at low heat for 10 minutes or so, you have a plateful of pork cracklings. Yeah, they’re not “good” for you, but you can’t always be “good,” guanciale_01.jpg can you? I mean, lordy, what fat this is! Anyway, we use pizza night to make up for all the fish we eat.

We ordered this guanciale from Niman Ranch online. The jowl is cured in salt, maple syrup, pepper, rosemary, coriander and bay. Niman Ranch, located in Marin County, California, employs humane and sustainable practices. The pigs run free, eat natural feed and are given no antibiotics. That certainly makes me feel better about eating pure fat.
Now we couldn’t eat pizza without wine to go with it, preferably a bold, flavorful but not too complicated red wine. Here are two we’ve had with pizza recently:

*Vertex Just Red Blend No. 609, California. This nonvintage blend of cabernet sauvignon from Lake County, syrah and vertex2_01.jpg petite sirah from Lodi, cabernet franc from Napa Valley and merlot and malbec from Sonoma County is a product of The Gabrielle Collection of Wines. Robert Pepi and Jeff Booth are the winemakers for Vertex, a robust and full-bodied red wine bursting with hearty, spicy black currant, blackberry and black cherry flavors nestled in a cushion of dusty, chewy tannins. Great with pizza, red meat pastas and burgers. Very good. About $11.

*Artezin Zinfandel 2005, Mendocino County 39%, Amador County 36%, Sonoma County 25%. Artezin is a label of The Hess Collection. This is a super-attractive, almost sophisticated zinfandel, solid and firm, very spicy and flavorful, with no ashy edges or over-ripe exaggerations. Notes of clean earth and leather bolster currant, cherry and plum fruit permeated by licorice and lavender, grainy tannins and polished oak; the finish is a bit austere and could use a year or two to flesh out, but this is primarily a terrific zinfandel that went perfectly with pizza. Excellent. About $18.

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