Friday night has become homemade pizza night at our house. Maybe it has something to do with the weather turning colder, but on Fridays after a long week, we all burrow in, crank up the oven, and eat to our hearts' content. It has become a very relaxing, enjoyable family night.
For me, the key to a good pizza is a good crust. I prefer a thin, crisp crust, more like an authentic pie from Naples than what you get from your typical American pizza parlor. It's tough to recreate that without a wood-fired, 700-degree oven, but this dough makes me very happy. The recipe is adapted from Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking, which I have written about before here. I love it because the recipes are simple but delicious. The cookbook has become one that I trust completely and turn to again and again.
By now, we just quote the cookbook as if Caggiano were a family member, "Biba says. . . " Well, Biba says that semolina flour can be used in place of some or all of the all-purpose flour. I find that using half semolina flour gives the dough a fantastic texture and flavor. Of course, if you don't have or can't find semolina flour, you can use all all-purpose flour instead.
If you like a thin crisp crust, too, there are a couple of things that you can try. First, roll the dough as thin as possible. The thinner the dough, the crisper the crust will be. I try to roll it as big as my pizza stone, which is round and about 16 inches in diameter. I also find that using a pizza stone or tiles helps crisp up the crust because it allows the cooking surface to hold the heat. Preheat the pizza stone in the oven for about half an hour before you are ready to use it. That way when you put the dough on it, it begins cooking from the bottom up immediately. I know that some cooks advocate cooking the crust before adding the toppings, but with this recipe I haven't found that to make a difference, so I don't bother.
Lately we have been eating our pizza while we watch TV together. We aren't much of a TV-watching household, but Gabe and I have gotten the kids hooked on Top Chef. So we go from very little TV to foul-mouthed, competitive cooking. I have a feeling that somewhere down the road the children will question my parenting judgment, but for now, we're having a blast. We have recorded the last episode (no spoilers please!) and we'll watch it tonight as we munch our pizza. And next week when Top Chef is over, I'm thinking family game night will be an excellent replacement.
To those of you celebrating Hanukkah, have a wonderful holiday!
Semolina Pizza Crust
Adapted from Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking
Since the crust is so thin, it usually takes between two and three of these pizzas to fill all five of us up, although lately I have taken to making four of them so that we have lots leftover for weekend lunches. The dough does not suffer with extra rising time. It can be made the night before you want to cook it, for example. You can pop it into the refrigerator in the morning after it has had a chance to rise or just leave it on the counter until the following evening when you are ready to cook it.
Makes 1 medium, thin crust pizza
15 minutes preparation time, plus 3 or more hours for the dough to rise
10-12 minutes cooking time, plus 30 minutes for preheating the oven and pizza stone
2 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 packet) active dry yeast
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup semolina flour or an additional 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix everything briefly with a wooden spoon until the wet ingredients are incorporated into the flour. Then mix the dough by hand until everything is blended. Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead it for 5 to 6 minutes. The dough should be smooth and stretchy. If it is sticky, add a bit more flour and knead it again for a minute or two.
Form the dough into a ball and put it in a large bowl. Sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set the dough aside to rise for three or more hours. After three hours, the dough should have doubled and you should see small bubbles throughout.
About a half hour before you are ready to cook the pizza, put a pizza stone or baking tiles in the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees. Let the stone heat for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out with a rolling pin into whatever shape it takes. Remove the pizza stone from the oven, sprinkle it with a bit of semolina flour or coarse cornmeal and transfer the dough onto the stone. Add your favorite toppings. Bake until the crust and cheese are lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes.