Crisp-crusted, market-driven pizzas (“flatbreads” in celebrity-chef patois) have said arrivederci to the red-sauce joints. Would-be pizzaiolos and pizzaiolas are taking the dough into their own hands now. For a fun party idea, create review-proof pies in your home kitchen with the help of house-calling pros. We copped a few hints from Mark Bello, who teaches in homes and at his Pizza A Casa: Pizza Self-Sufficiency Center (aka, pizza school) in New York (212-209-3370, www.pizzaacasa.com).
1.For the Dough
Avoid store-bought dough. It’s often overkneaded, which overdevelops gluten, making the dough taste like a hockey puck. Instead, use a recipe designed for a home oven (see right). True Neapolitan pizzamaking forbids both rolling and tossing the dough — instead, stretch the dough on a slab of marble or on a cool, smooth surface. Be gentle so you don’t “beat the breath” out and wind up with a flat, cardboard pizza. Aim for a hand-hewn dough crafted with your palms, knuckles and fingers. The dough should have a matte, satiny sheen, and, when poked, it should “dent” and spring back.
2. For the Sauce
The secret to great sauce is quality tomatoes and simple preparation. Passata (puree) of San Marzano tomatoes is unparalleled. Alternatively, pureed tomatoes (not sauce) from your local supermarket will work. If the tomatoes taste acidic, add a pinch of sugar. Use fresh herbs and seasonings like oregano, garlic and basil.
3. For the Toppings
Less is more. Use high-quality ingredients: Let single flavors shine and simple combos harmonize. Don’t allow wet toppings to sit for very long on an uncooked crust, as they will soak through. Par-cook chunky meats like sausage and meatballs, then place them on top of the cheese before baking. Place very delicate meats, like prosciutto, on top right after baking. Do the same with fresh herbs; the heat from the pie will open up the flavors.
Your home oven must go to 500°F. For crisp crusts, splurge on a thick, expensive pizza stone — it’s worth it. Heat it up an hour before putting the pizza on. Keep the oven door closed once your pizza is inside, and have patience: Baking is a technical art, and practice eventually makes perfect. (Thanks to pizzaiolo Matt Molina of LA’s venerable Scuola di Pizza; 323-297-1133, www.mozza2go.com.)
Home Pizza Dough Recipe
(Courtesy of Pizza A Casa)
3 1/2 cups unsifted and leveled unbleached all-purpose flour (specifically 21 oz. if you have a scale *)
1 1/2 cups water (cold if for overnight rise, warm if for quick rise — refer to yeast package for instructions)
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons if from jar)
Pinch of sugar (not necessary for overnight rise — use when proofing yeast for quick rise)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt (not iodized, fine crystal)
*Pro pizzerias measure their flour by weight. Weighing your flour ensures the ideal proportions for hand-kneading and/or using a home mixer.
The finished dough ball should weigh just over two pounds. When divided into four smaller uniform balls, each half-pound dough ball will stretch into a 12" to 14" thin crust.
Book an Appointment
• International School of Pizza, San Francisco, (415) 835-9888
• Kitchen Conservatory, St. Louis, (866) 862-2433, www.kitchenconservatory.com
• The Pizza Gourmet, chef Carl Oshinsky; Atlanta, (404) 292-9919, www.pizzagourmetcooks.com
• Pizza Therapy (Pictured above), Mililani (Oahu), Hawaii, (808) 781-8000, www.pizzatherapy.com