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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen: Roaring Success with Sourdough Crust Pizza

My first-ever homemade sourdough starter has been active for a while now, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t carry me through this stay-at-home time. As an added bonus (besides delicious baking smells filling the place where we shelter), frequent baking is a welcome relief from continuous national news. So on Saturday I resolved to make pizza.

For a pizza dough recipe, I used one offered online by King Arthur Flour. That recipe calls for a first rising time of four to six hours, and three hours worked just fine for me on Saturday. By then the dough had risen sufficiently and, when punched down, was so beautifully stretchy that my excitement leaped upward. Such a happy moment! But one I could not photograph, my hands busy with dough.

Here was the basic layout for putting together my pizza:

My sauce was homemade, beginning with tomato paste from a tube (love this stuff!) and adding water, salt, rosemary, and oregano. (Other herbs would have been possible, but these are the ones I had on hand.) I also roasted three large garlic cloves in their paper skins, in olive oil, in a small skillet. That trick I picked up from an old Julia Child TV show and will be using often from now on. You can see the beautiful golden garlic mashed on the little green plate in the photo above. And in the white bowl you see four meatballs. The last time I made meatballs, we had two meals from them, and these four went into the freezer. Thawed and crumbled, they provided a sausage substitute for the pizza. I also sliced part of a red onion very thin. Black olives were the final touch. 

Olive oil drizzled into the pan and spread by hand is all that's needed before the dough is spread in the pan, covered, and left to rest for about 15 minutes before toppings are added.

Now comes the big tip I picked up from that online recipe. Really, if you love pizza and love making it at home, this could change your life! Do not put the cheese on the pizza before you put it into the oven! 

Does that strike you as strange? Counter-intuitive? Heretical? Here’s how the online site explained it: If cheese is added immediately, it serves as a “lid” that holds in moisture from sauce and other ingredients, and that is what turns crust turns soggy instead of crusty! 

Baking time for the pizza will vary with the thickness of the crust – longer time for thick crust, shorter for thin – but this is not rocket science: you can peek into the oven and see how things are going. As a general rule, about 2/3 of the way through the baking process, pull the pizza out of the oven and add the cheese topping. (Another step I failed to photograph in my excitement – sorry!) Then, back into the oven for the remainder of the baking time.

Does that look beautiful? My first sourdough crust pizza could have used more sauce than I made for it, and I forgot the sliced fresh tomatoes I meant to add, but those minor criticisms were all mine. As for the opinion that really counts, I was told, “This is best pizza crust I’ve had in my life!” He told of his first Chicago pizza and how much he’d loved it -- but said my crust was better! Best ever! Now that’s what I called a roaring success!

P.S. I know we are spending a lot of time in our kitchens these days, as well as a lot of time in front of various screens, but I do hope I have company in my reading, too, and my current mission (as a bookseller far from her currently closed bookstore) is to read and review some of the new books coming out this season. Please take a look at my Books in Northport blog and learn about new books I'm showcasing there.

For now, happy cooking, happy baking, and happy reading! This pandemic won't last forever, and one day we will see each other again, face to face. Until then, stay safe!

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