We bought our ceramic baking stone in the early 1990s—and it looks like it.
If those stains could talk, here is what they’d say about pizza:
The rise is worth the wait.
I totally get that our pizza cravings can be instantaneous and unexpected, which makes advance planning–and waiting–problematic. And if, like Chef Sin and me, your go-to pizza dough is Jim Lahey’s no-knead version, then spontaneity is out of the question; it requires an 18-hour head start. But short-cuts often give you a tough or brittle crust. And store-bought, pre-made pizza shells are … crap.
My suggestion: Find a good local pizzeria, one that hand-tosses its own dough and delivers a crust you like, and buy one or two balls of dough from them; if they refuse to sell them to you, find a pizzeria that will. Stash one ball in the fridge, wrapped in plastic; set the other one out on the counter and let it rise for at least two hours. Then patiently roll it out or stretch it using your (well-floured) hands. And whatever you do, don’t even think about using a rolling pin. That implement is the sworn enemy of a good pizza crust.
Enjoy your hand-made pizza. And make another one one to three days later using the dough in the fridge. If you can’t be spontaneous, be indulgent.
Brush the dough with olive oil.
It promotes browning and tastes wonderful. Lightly coat the entire dough round with a good-quality olive oil before you start topping it, then do the edges again just before putting it in the oven.
Canned sauce, no; canned tomatoes, yes, but …
The best pizza sauce uses fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes and basil plucked straight from the garden; it’s cooked low and slow, preferably in an earthenware pot over a bed of oak coals by a 96-year-old grandmother who speaks five languages, none of them English.
Back in the real world, you might be tempted to buy a jar of sauce from the market and call it good.
But there is a halfway path. Fire-roasted tomatoes in a can are a great substitute for fresh and make a wonderful, fresh-tasting sauce if you add a healthy bunch of fresh garlic and herbs (especially oregano and basil, dried or fresh) and some good olive oil. Dump it all into a blender, pulse a dozen times, strain off the excess liquid, and you’re ready to sauce that pie. Need more specifics? Check out this recipe from another cooking couple.
Sauté your vegetables. In garlic.
Sometimes topping your pie with raw vegetables is great. The raw, sweet onions that Cuisine Stupide uses on its Best Next-Day Beast Pizza are perfect for that particular creation.
But don’t be fooled. If you’re baking your pizzas fast in a smokin’ hot 500-degree oven (and you should be), most raw vegetables won’t actually cook. Onions will soften; mushrooms will shrivel; eggplant and zucchini might get warmed through. But caramelization will be minimal, and the veg won’t absorb much in the way of other flavors. You might as well be eating salad.
Instead, as Chef Sin discovered, a quick sauté of your vegetables in olive oil and garlic before putting them on the unbaked pizza gives the whole pie more flavor and better texture.
Don’t make your mozzarella fly solo.
This one is simple: Two cheeses are better than one; three is better yet. After the mozzarella, reach for some others. You can always trust the Three Traditionals: pecorino, Parmesan, and provolone. But don’t be afraid to throw on asiago, gruyere, jack … even bleu. But not too much. Your cheese should be sprinkled, not layered. Too much cheese compresses the dough, doesn’t melt or brown properly, and is likely to produce an Exxon Valdez-sized oil slick in the middle of your pie. Stop while you’re still able to see your sauce and other toppings through the lattice of cheese.
Sprinkle fresh herbs on top after it comes out of the oven.
Fresh herbs taste different than those mixed in the sauce and baked in the oven, and they’ll give your pie yet another dimension. Fresh oregano, basil, or even parsley—they make the pie photo-worthy, too.
There’s no such thing as a bad pizza. Top it with anything.
No pepperoni? Any thinly sliced meat will do–even bologna (chop it up, toss it with black pepper, and call it mortadella). Out of mozzarella? Go with cheddar (but use even less than you would otherwise, to avoid a grease puddle). Zero tomatoes, canned or otherwise? Use barbecue sauce, or mix horseradish and sour cream for a white sauce with a kick, or go sauceless.
You want pizza.
Your pizza stone wants pizza.