I’ve been making pizza every week for about 20 years now. There was a wheat-free period in our lives, where I stopped making it, but we just missed that gooey, melty mess too much. Pair it with a glass of good red wine that has a bit of an edge, a chianti, rioja, or tempranillo, and it’s irresistable…worth the gassy 2 a.m., stomach crampy regret. How appetizing. But really. It’s my truth.
On top of the irresistability of pizza, I also just love making yeasted breads. I never feel more like a real cook than when I knead a pile of flour, oil, salt, and yeast into submission and create a light, airy dough out of these leaden ingredients. Baking bread is a kind of alchemy. It’s the food that most transcends its pedestrian ingredients, I think, and, given my efforts to avoid 2 am regret, the only time I really make bread, unless we have guests.
In the many years of pizza-making, I’ve perfected my recipe and method, which is to say that it’s perfect for us. Everyone has an opinion on pizza: thick crust, thin crust, lots of sauce, no sauce, lots of cheese, no cheese, gourmet ingredients (gross). My perfect pizza is has a thin and light crust, not too crusty and certainly not too doughy, with a good crisp, slightly oily, bottom, lots of cheese which has browned nicely, and, this is where the unusual bit comes in no tomato sauce and no toppings.
Weird, huh? I always used to feel like I had to make at least one pizza with tomato sauce. Tradition demands it. My italophilic reverence demands it. Cookery also demands that I try out a bunch of strange ingredients, chicken, or unusual herbs, blue cheese, potatoes, whatever. But eventually, it dawned on me that we really really loved a particular pizza that I had perfected, and that there was, in fact, no governing body of pizza-making, no committee that was going to visit my house or read this blog and give me an “F” for adherence to the guild’s code.
This pizza was an accident and an evolution. I began making a “white pizza” years ago, using potatoes, blue cheese, rosemary, and a white wine sauce. Sounds good, huh? And it was! It really was. I began, at one point, to reduce the wine first, then using the hot, de-alcoholized wine thickened with roux as my sauce, so it lost that wine-y taste. One day, I used too much butter and flour and ended up with a thick paste instead of a sauce and, what do you know? It was fabulous. So I kept doing that, then I started adding in some dried sage, garlic, and sea salt at the roux stage: killer. Then, one day, I realized too late that we, strangely, had no potatoes. I’m Irish, Scottish, and Slavic. We always have potatoes in the house. Except not that day. So I went ahead and made the white pizza without potatoes…and it was delicious. The absence of potatoes meant that we really tasted the wine sauce and that, unimpeded by a starchy layer of potatoes, the wine sauce and blue cheese mingled in a slightly indecent and decadent layer on top of the crust. Then, and you see where I am going with this, we did not have blue cheese, and so I used mozarella and parmigiano, the way that I do on a tomato pizza.
And there you had it. We’d arrived at the perfect pizza. For us.
Except I still always made a tomato pizza too. Only one day, I said to myself, “Why, exactly, do you feel such a responsibility regarding the inclusion of tomato-based pizza?” And I had no valid response. So now, pizza consists of two “white”* pizzas, made with wine sauce, mozarella cheese, and parmigiano. And that’s it. Our way. All the way.
Pam’s “White” Pizza
1 cup warm water
1 envelope or 1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp white sugar
All purpose flour (I don’t know how much because I incorporate it slowly and use however much is needed to reach proper dough stage. Maybe 2 1/2 cups or so? All I can say is, for the love of god, don’t use whole wheat flour. I’ve been there and done that and it was a mistake. There is a place for whole wheat flour. It isn’t here.)
1 1/2 cups good white wine
2 tbsps unsalted butter
2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried basil
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped finely
pinch of sea salt
1 cup of mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmigiano cheese, grated
Make sure your water is lukewarm, not hot or cold. Just slightly above room temperature. Add yeast and sugar and stir. Let sit in a warm place to proof. When it’s nice and foamy and looks like the head of a beer, it’s ready.
Pour the yeast into a large mixing bowl. Mix about 1 cup of flour with a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle the mixture over the yeast/water. Pour in a glug of grapeseed oil. Mix with a wooden spoon for awhile until all the flour is incorporate. Let the “sponge” sit for about 20 minutes, until it’s bubbly. Sprinkle more flour over top, then tip it all out onto a cutting board that doesn’t move around. Flour your hands and keep sprinkling flour over the dough as you knead it, until it feels springy under your hands. It should be about the same consistency as your earlobe. (Yes, that’s what I just said. Don’t get flour in your hair.) Keep kneading as long as you can handle it. Occasionally let the dough stretch out into a baguette shape then pull it all back together. This helps to develop the gluten. Start oiling your hands rather than adding flour once the dough reaches earlobe stage.
Once it is no longer sticky and feels nice and stretchy and smooth, put the dough in an oiled bowl to rise. Cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit for two hours, punching it down at the 1 hour mark.
While the dough is rising, put your white wine in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Let it bowl until it’s reduced by about half and has darkened in colour to gold. Take it off the heat and pour it into a non-metal container. In the same saucepan, heat the butter until melted and slightly sizzly, and stir in the two tablespoons of flour. Let it all cook until it smells like shortbread cookies, then stir in your garlic, herbs, and salt. Let it cook for another minute or so. Pour in the wine and you should get a nice thick paste right away. Remove from heat.
Spread the wine paste over the pizza crust, top with cheese, and bake for about, I don’t know, maybe 15 minutes at 425 Fahrenheit. Try to let it sit for five minutes after you take it from the oven, before cutting and devouring.
*The pizza sauce is actually a shade of darkish olive green, from the herbs, but I feel like “Green Pizza” is misleading and will make people think it involves kale or something actually healthy and good for you. We don’t want that.