I sound like an eight-year old when I say that pizza is my favorite food. As a bread baker, this should come as little surprise. Pizza is, after all, flattened bread taken to an ethereal place by something melting on top of it. But I must be honest and tell you that I like all pizza: the doughy(often undercooked), cheesy mess from delivery joints; the almost cracker-like rounds from the café across the street. In other words, even in its worst incarnation, I wouldn’t turn it down. I hope that I’m not alone in this.
I would say that humans are at their greediest when faced with the question of who gets the last slice of pizza. What is it that is so good about pizza that it manages to bring out our worst? Don’t act like I’m the only person who, as the slices dwindle, begins eyeing the plates of the dinner guests, considering who is on their third or fourth piece, to ensure no one takes what does not belong to them. I had never been willing to make this admission until my brother shared that he too had experienced the same sentiments, and that he had dubbed those mental calculations pizza math.
Most avid home cooks, myself included, fuss over the tiniest of details when we cook, because we assume that the end product will be better for it. We insist on a pinch of this or a dash of that, the addition of some over-priced or hard-to-find ingredient to give the dish a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s part of human nature to think that good things must owe their goodness to some special secret, some guarded riddle to their greatness, as if all of life were a magic trick made possible by smoke, mirrors, and sleight of hand.
It came as quite a surprise to me when I discovered that the best pizza I could make at home held no secret: no advanced kneading technique, no imported flour, no special equipment required. The best pizza I could make at home called for flour, water, yeast, salt and time. That’s it. And I have Jim Lahey, owner and bread visionary of Sullivan St. Bakery and Co. to thank.
Pizza night at the Bostows is like an improv jazz session. In other words, we know that we’ll be making pizza, but we’ll decide exactly what kind when the dough has risen and the oven is hot. Lately, a favorite has been a pie with bacon-sweet onion jam, peppery arugula, and melty gruyére. It’s a richly satisfying, welcome change from the traditional margarita or pepperoni. Enough talk; let’s make pizza.
For the dough:
1000 grams AP flour
1/4 tsp yeast
4 tsps fine sea salt
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups of room temperature water. Mix just until the dough comes together. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 18 hours at around 72 degrees.
After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and gently shape it into a rectangle. Divide the tough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each portion into a round by pulling the four corners of the dough onto itself, flipping it over and turning it gently, so that the seam side is facing down. If you screw this up, don’t worry. All will be well. Let the shaped rounds rise for 1 to 2 hours or until the dough is very soft and extensible.
Thirty minutes before you’re ready to eat, crank your oven as hot as it will go. Using more flour to mitigate the dough’s stickiness, shape the dough into a 8” round. This is done most easily by allowing the dough to sit on top of your knuckles as you rotate it. With gentle force and the weight of the dough itself, the round will expand evenly without tearing.
Before baking, turn the oven to its highest broil setting. Place the dough onto a floured baking sheet, top with whatever you like (in this case, less is more), and let it bake for 5-7 minutes. Don’t be afraid to let the dough char and the cheese bubble.
For the Bacon-Sweet Onion Jam:
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp ketchup
1/2 tbsp molasses
1/2 tbsp worcestershire
1/2 tbsp sugar
In a sautée pan, cook the bacon on medium heat until the fat has rendered and the meat is crispy. Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and leave about 2 tbsps of the drippings. Add the onions to the pan and allow them to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the onions become darkly golden, add all remaining ingredients to the pan and stir to incorporate. Let the mixture cook for 10 more minutes. It’s impossible to overcook this, and any additional cooking time will only make it taste better.
To make the pizza in the picture, top the shaped dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce. I like Cento Brand’s tomato purée. Pile high with fresh arugula, as the greens will wilt and shrink. On top of the arugula, gently strew the sweet-onion jam, followed by thick slices of Gruyére cheese. Let the pizza cook until the Gruyére is bubbly and the edges are charred.