This is not John's best picture, but he surely likes that pizza. This is at a cafeteria in Rome on Via Barbuino near Piazza Del Popolo
My mother made the worst pizza ever! At least that is what a food critic might say. But I thought and still do to this day, that it tasted better than anything I ever ate. She usually did pizza when the bread dough failed in those days before yeast packets. She did it on a big stainless steel cookie sheet and it never rose correctly, it was always underdone and floppy to pick up...Boy it was great...I suppose that I liked it the same way that some people like raw cookie dough.
Over the years, I developed my own recipe, and it almost always comes out OK. If I take my time, it can be wonderful. If I am in a rush and need to get it on the table in an hour and a quarter, I think it is quite serviceable.
The same dough is used for the two breads, but are handled a bit differently at the end.
When using pepperoni, I always go to the Deli department to get the dried up and most wrinkled up old pepperoni possible. It is much more intense and drier.
Only use tomatoes without calcium chloride in the can.
Preheat the oven to 400F or 450 if using a stone. Preheat the stone for at least 20 min. Stones can be replaced by Terracotta tiles or an old piece of granite counter top that fits the over. Just do not get the granite hot and them put water on it in any quantity. The crystalline structure of the stone might crack in the heat shock.
1 Cup warm water (baby food warm)
1 T sugar
1 T dry yeast or 1 packet*
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour.
Heat the water and place in a large bowl.
Dissolve the sugar in the water and sprinkle with yeast.
Stir gently to dissolve.
Allow to sit in a warm place for 15 min. or so till the yeast foams
Add the oil and salt. It is better to add the salt along with the last cup of flour, but not as usual.
Stir in 1 cup of flour.
Mix with spoon or better, with a whisk till very smooth.
Add flour, stirring with a spoon bit by bit till it cannot be mixed with a spoon anymore, and turn out onto a floured board or counter.
Knead, incorporating flour as you go till a smooth dough that is just a bit sticky is formed and knead for about five minutes. Place in a covered greased bowl to rise in a warm spot** till doubled.
Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Pat the dough into a circle with a slight depression in the middle. Stretch and press the dough till it is stretched to about 14 inches with a raised rim. Or, you may divide the dough to make thinner multiple pizzas.
Lay on a greased pizza pan, cookie sheet, or on a wooden peel for baking on a pizza stone. The peel should be spread with corn meal or flour as a lubricant to prevent sticking. (In Italy, you cannot make bread or pizza dough and call it truly bread or pizza if you have used corn meal. By definition, bread is made with flour not corn, so you cannot mix like that. It is even stricter in France.)
At this point the dough can be baked briefly and cooled to be frozen for later use.
Dimple the surface and drizzle with olive oil.
Spread with crushed canned tomato or finely chopped fresh tomato. You may wish to drain the chopped tomato in a strainer for a few minutes so it is a bit drier.
Some people like a rather sweet sauce. Take a can of tomato paste. Add all the herbs and salt and pepper to the paste, and thin the whole thing with water till the consistency is just a bit dryer than a liquid and a but softer than a syrup. Figure that one out. Perhaps 2 cups would be a safe measurement. I guess it is a creamy consistency.
Add red pepper, garlic(minced) fresh or caramelized onions, peppers, cooked sausage, pepperoni(baked for a minute or two and drained of fat) and basil and oregano(my original blend was two parts oregano to one part basil, but I am enjoying all sorts of herbs on pizza now including sage or rosemary...use different combinations with various toppings or just fresh basil leaves or pesto) Salt and Pepper (with extra salt if there are lots of veggies as they tend to suck the salt flavor out of the finished pizza).
Cover with fresh or the harder Mozzarella (in slices grated or in cubes) and Parmesan(again, many combinations of cheeses can be used.)Slide the pizza onto the stone or the baking sheet onto the lower rack of the oven.
Bake til brown and bubbly on top and the bottom of the pizza is browned. You may lift the pizza out of it's pan or off the stone using a sheet pan or pizza peel and place it directly on the upper rack for a couple of minutes for a crisp crust.
Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
* Use less yeast if you can afford the time to raise the bread slowly. You can place the bread in the refrigerator over night if you use 1/4 of the yeast. This results in superior and slightly sour dough.
When I first started to do this recipe back in the seventies, I used the dough right out of the bowl only letting it rest for about 10 minutes. It makes perfectly acceptable pizza. However, with a little planning and a little patience, You will have a great pizza instead of a good one.
** A cool spot is great for fine texture and the overnight mentioned above even better, but this is a long time to plan for.
You may dimple the surface of the uncooked dough and spread a generous amount of oil on it. Minced garlic, rosemary, and Parmesan and on occasion some black olives or thinly sliced tomato or cherry tomato, make a great Focaccia. I also caramelize a couple of onions as a topping for this.
A very thick Focaccia can be made by simply turning the risen dough out onto the baking vehicle(very gently) and flattening it slightly to make a rather thick disk, then dimpling the surface and adding the toppings. It comes out more loaf-like that way and must be baked much longer at a reduced temperature.
I sometimes brush a little oil on the outer crust of my pizza and sprinkle with very coarse salt like a pretzel. I saw a different way the other day, when Miguel, a talented cook from another in the chain of cafes I work in, did the pizza for the day. He sprinkled the crust with herbs, garlic powder and bread crumbs before baking.
Toppings. Many things will not cook through in the short cooking time that a pizza gets. So, I generally thin slice peppers, onions, mushrooms, precooked sausage, pepperoni, chicken, zucchini, eggplant etc. Thick pieces of all these might be better if roasted in the oven ahead of time. Replace your tomato sauce with other things, like caponata, chili con carne, stews etc.. Try Salsa and enchilada sauces etc.. You can puree white beans or Garbanzos with garlic and olive oil for a change.
Sicilian style pizza is often made with tomato paste instead of sauce. Just paint it on with a pastry brush or spread it with the back of a spoon. Just not too thick. Usually this is with plain cheese, but it would be appropriate with anything you please.
Use plain mozzarella in the block or bag from the supermarket, or use the soft Mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, Bocconcini, Provolone, Asiago, Blue, Cheddar, or any other melting cheeses you like, either plain or a mix of several...Blue cheese mixed with mozzarella and bacon with spinach and mushrooms!