I’d heard tell of Andy’s amazing homemade pizzas, and knew firsthand just how passionate he is about food, and pizza in particular. But tasting is believing and the other night I had the good fortune to sit in on Andy’s new pizza making class based out of his home in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Andy, a friend and fellow Anglo in Israel, has spent a lot of time reading and experimenting, all in the name of making the ultimate, Italian pizzeria-quality pizza at home. And he’s succeeded. Using no special equipment and a standard stove and oven, Andy has figured out (with the help of Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough recipe) how to make the best Neopolitan-style homemade pizza I’ve had. And he makes it look so easy!
Pizza, says Andy, is “all about balance. What makes pizza or any foods great – especially composite foods – is the balance if flavors and textures.” And that all begins with the dough; if you don’t want to eat the crust, says Andy, then the pizza isn’t that great. “For me one of the laws of pizza is good bread covered in good stuff that makes it better.”
So he starts with his slight adaptation of Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough recipe, which calls for mixing the ingredients together then leaving them alone to rest, rise, and develop flavor for at least three days in the fridge. When ready to go, you separate the dough and gently roll it into balls, then let it rest and rise again. From there, he presses down in the center of the dough gently with his fingertips to create a bunch of indentations, then picks it up and rotates it to stretch the dough. You don’t want to roll out the dough or you’ll roll out the air bubbles, which are what create that characteristically bubbly crust.
Then, get this, he puts the stretched dough onto a really hot, oven-proof skillet (aluminum or cast iron are ideal; he recommends a surface thermometer to accurately gauge the heat) set over a gas burner. He applies the sauce (simply crushed, canned San Marzano tomatoes with a little salt) and some good quality shredded mozzarella. By the time he’s done that it’s been about a minute and the bottom has developed a nice crust.
Next it goes in the preheated broiler to finish up, and often he leaves the door ajar to keep the broiler working (if it reaches the temperature it will shut off). The pizza is in there for just a few minutes, and then out it comes and onto a cooling rack, picture perfect.
All Andy does to finish the pizza is top it with some chiffonade fresh basil and maybe some grated parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. There you have it! Homemade pizza that takes a little forethought but not a lot of active time on your part. Should you manage to have any leftover, Andy says the best way to reheat pizza is in a covered pan on the stove over low heat.
- 500 grams (17 ½ ounces or about 3 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast (can do 1 gram or ¼ teaspoon if you have time for a longer ferment)
- 16 grams (2 teaspoons) fine table salt (you need more if you use course or kosher salt)
- 350 grams (1 ½ cups) water
- 1 small can of crushed Italian plum tomatoes, OR a 2 cans of well-drained whole plum tomatoes that you mash up well.
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ⅛ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- optional - 1 finely minced/pressed garlic clove
- optional - chopped fresh oregano and/or basil
- optional - ½ teaspoon of sugar and teaspoon of red wine vinegar to "intensify" the sweetness and acidity
- 350 grams of mozzarella should be sufficient for 4 pizzas
- Fresh basil, chiffonade
- Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- Mix your dry ingredients well so that the yeast and salt are well distributed
- Add the water a bit at a time, stirring each time to incorporate the water
- When all the water is added, mix until there is very little remaining dry flour. It should be a fairly sticky and "ragged" lump of dough. Cover it well - with either a tight-fitting lid and/or plastic wrap
- If you want to use it later that day, let it sit out for a minimum of 8 hours, and a maximum of 18 hours. Otherwise, let it sit out for 6-8 hours and then put it in the refrigerator for anywhere between 2 and 5 days. Take it out of the refrigerator at least 4 hours before you plan to use it so that it can come to room temperature.
- When ready to use, dump out the dough onto a well-floured surface and cut into 4 equal-size portions. Take each of these and knead for about 1 minute until smooth.
- Make smooth balls of dough using the inside-out pull and pinch on the bottom technique. Leave them on the counter, dusted with flour, for a minimum of 30 minutes, covered with a damp towel. 1-2 hours is best.
- To make the dough rounds, flatten the dough ball with your fingers. Use a little pulling and gravity to get the round about 50% larger. Stretch it the rest of the way by laying the dough on the backs of your hands, making fists, and stretching the outside of the dough round more and more, rotating it along the way.You want a fairly uniform thinness in the middle of the round, with a thicker ring going around the outside. (For a smoother (and still very good) final product without the irregular bubbles, you can also roll it out with a rolling pin. It really is fine this way (though perhaps less authentic and fun), and you are more likely to have a round pizza of uniform thickness that doesn't tear.)
- Just before cooking the pizza, mix together the sauce ingredients and leave by the stove.
- Put a large, oven-proof pan on your largest burner on high, and get it as hot as it can get - about 10 minutes. A drop of water should dance like crazy and evaporate in about 10 seconds.
- Turn on the broiler ("grill") of your oven and put the rack as high as it will go with your pan sitting on it.
- When the pan is hot, put your dough round right in it and cover it with sauce, shredded mozzarella (go easy with the cheese, you should see plenty of sauce through the cheese), and a little dribbling of olive oil.
- When you see that the dough has puffed up a bit (after about 1 minute), place the entire frying pan in your oven under the grill. Take it out when the top is as browned as you would like it to be.
- Add some fresh basil if you'd like, and/or some dry aged cheese like Parmesan or Romano.
- Allow the pizza to cool on a wire rack for 3-4 minutes. Don't just put it on a flat surface, or the crust will lose its crispness from the trapped steam.
- Cut with a pizza cutter or scissors, and enjoy!
If you are in Israel, Andy recommends Gad, Tenuva, or WiliFood mozzarella. He says you can try some of the Gad fresh mozzarella as well, but if you do, don't shred it - tear it or cut it into cubes.
Andy's Topping Rules of Thumb 1) Anything thick that contains a lot of liquid (zucchini, mushrooms, spinach) or are hard (broccoli or cauliflower) should be roasted/sauteed first over high heat (or cooked in the microwave to remove the moisture). 2) Otherwise, cut your toppings very thin. 3) Apply the toppings sparingly, you should still see cheese and sauce through the toppings. 4) Season your toppings with a little salt - if they are bland on their own, they will be bland on the pizza.
I’ve only relayed a tiny percentage of Andy’s pizza-making knowledge here – he also went into a huge lesson on pizza styles around the world, and I’m sure students can expect a lot more in the next three classes. If you are in Israel (in particular the Be’er Sheva area) and are interested in signing up for one of Andy’s future pizza-making classes, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I highly recommend it!