A few years ago, I went through a pizza phase — a significant pizza phase. I was cooking and eating pizza a lot. Thin-crusted, brick-oven, Margherita-style — fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil. From Boston to New York to New Haven to Naples to Nantucket (favorites in order of location mentioned: Figs, Pizza Napoletana, Pepe’s, Da Michele, and Pi).
I lined my home oven with a pizza stone and bricks (I found out later they make hearth-oven kits, but that’s another story for another time). I grilled them. I became consumed with water-buffalo-milk mozzarella (and yogurt and ice cream). Then the pendulum swung back to the center, and I’m now a big fan, but down to a once- or twice-a-month indulgence.
The point? I thought I knew all the tricks to making good pizza at home. Nope — there’s always something to learn. I went skiing this weekend in Vermont with my friend Molly and her husband, Mark — and despite snow squalls and whiteouts, the conditions were pretty good. When we got back to their place, tuckered but happy, Molly whipped up a quick dough and we got to chopping a few things and making a quick sauce. (When I say “we,” it was really all Molly. I was reading the Sunday papers and smooching with Deets, their black Lab.)
Molly used Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes for the sauce, which added a lovely, light smokiness that mimicked some of the flavor from a wood-burning oven, and then she added a roasted red pepper (our intrepid Molly just put the pepper right on the gas element of her cooktop and charred it until it was black all over), fresh mozzarella, and locally made Vermont sausages.
One of the tricks to making pizza at home is getting the temperature hot enough and then keeping it that way. The masters cook in 900-degree ovens, and their minimally topped pies are done in two minutes or less. So you may be able to get your oven up to 500 degrees, and if you put a flat, ceramic pizza stone on one of the grates and really let it heat up for 20 minutes or so, you’ll have a good shot.
But then you also have to get a pizza peel — a long-handled wooden paddle that you make the pizza on, then slide into the oven on top of the pizza stone. With some practice you may be able to get the flick of the wrist just right, so that your carefully made masterpiece lies flat on the pizza stone. But that rarely happens — the ingredients slide, and the dough folds over — and, well, it’s messy.
Molly, culinary genius that she is, slides raw dough onto the stone and cooks it about five minutes, then pulls it off the stone onto the peel and flips it over! Brilliant. From there she builds the pizza — sauce, cheese, sausage, herbs, and back into the oven — and that thing slides it easily back onto the stone.
Yeah, yeah — old dog, new tricks — I know.
BONUS: For your next pizza party, here’s a great menu, with recipes.
Read more of Annie’s Eating New England.