At this point in the History of Pizza, so many styles populate our pizzerias, delivery boxes, cookbooks and freezer cases that it doesn’t surprise us to hear someone describe a new restaurant’s pies as “Italian.”
What? OK, it does surprise us, because, well, Naples. Italy. The birthplace of pizza. All pizza is, at its core, Italian.
The fact that someone would be compelled to differentiate a pizza by calling it Italian tells us that we have come to own pizza completely in this country. And that’s a good thing. From Neapolitan to deep dish, there are so many options — giving us the freedom to set aside the double-zero flour for a night, stop dissecting the minutiae of authenticity and make something of our own invention. Something quick. Something easy. Because sometimes, all we really want is dinner.
So, in that vein, we’re offering three no-fuss topping recipes to scatter on a humble pie you can throw together at home. Use your favorite dough recipe, a store-bought dough or pre-baked crust, you decide. Each idea uses just 3 to 4 ingredients and makes enough for a 10- to 12-inch pizza. The topping recipes are free-form. Really love olives? Go ahead, throw on more for the creamy and crunchy pizza. If your dough makes a larger pie, simply up the amounts of ingredients.
To bake, crank your oven to 550; use a pizza stone or a baking sheet, up to you. And time the pizza according to your dough recipe, though we give times assuming a relatively thin crust.
And there you are, in 6 to 10 minutes, contributing to the continued History of Pizza.
Spicy and sweet
Inspired by the Hellboy pizza at Paulie Gee’s (originally of Brooklyn and now in Chicago’s Logan Square, as well), which pairs spicy salumi (soppressata) with sweet/hot chili-infused honey.
2 spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
¼ bunch (7 ounces) broccoli rabe, steamed until crisp tender, seasoned with salt, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan
Chili pepper infused honey, such as Mike’s Hot Honey
Cook the sausage in a skillet with a little olive oil until browned, breaking up sausage into rough pieces with a spatula as you go. Spread the broccoli rabe on the pizza crust; top with sausage. Scatter with the Parmesan. Bake at 550 degrees, 6 to 10 minutes. Drizzle with chili-infused honey immediately and serve.
Creamy and crunchy
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted, cut in half
Half a red onion, sliced in thin half moons, slices about ¼-inch thick
Scatter the cheese, olives and onions over the pizza crust, in that order. Bake at 550 degrees, 6 to 10 minutes.
Salty and tangy
¼ cup pesto, jarred or homemade, see recipe
1 cup red cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces (or sliced in half if using small mozzarella balls)
Spread the pesto over the pizza, leaving a 1-inch edge. Toss the tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl with salt; scatter them over the pizza; bake at 550 degrees, 6-10 minutes.
Pesto: Drop 3 cloves garlic in a food processor with the motor running. Chop finely. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add ¼ cup toasted pine nuts; process until chopped. Scrape down the sides. Add about 6 cups fresh basil leaves. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in extra-virgin olive oil until you achieve a loose paste. Stir in ½ teaspoon coarse salt and about ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan. Taste for seasoning. Makes about 1 cup.
QUICK PIZZA DOUGH
Prep: 15 minutes
Rise: 20 minutes, plus freezing/chilling time
Bake: 6-10 minutes
Makes: Enough dough for two 10- to 12-inch pizzas.
In her book “Truly Madly Pizza,” Suzanne Lenzer calls this recipe: “My go-to, tried-and-true, know-by-heart pizza dough.” She advocates freezing the dough then letting it rise slowly in the fridge on the day you plan to bake. We understand her reasoning, but the extra step of freezing slows us down. We had good results letting the dough slow-rise in the fridge instead. Overnight works, but the easiest option: Make the dough in the morning, pop into the fridge, and it’s ready to go post-work.
2¾ cups (390 grams) bread flour
¼ ounce active dry yeast (2½ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water
2 to 3 tablespoons medium or coarse cornmeal
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade. Turn the machine on. Add the oil through the feed tube, then add the water in a slow, steady stream. By adding the water slowly, you can watch the dough come together, and you’ll get a sense of whether you should add more or whether it’s too wet — it should look pliable and smooth after a minute or so of processing. (The more water you can add and still be able to handle the dough without it sticking to your hands, the better it will be.) Continue to process the dough for about 2 minutes. The dough should form a ball and ride around in the processor. If it does become too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour until it’s moist to the touch but can be handled easily. When the dough is done, it should be soft, slightly sticky and elastic. It may also be hot from the machine, so be cautious.
Lay a piece of plastic wrap about 12 inches long on a clean work surface. Use your hands to press the dough into a rectangle on the plastic, about 8- by 6-inches wide. Press your fingers into the top of the dough all over it, making indentations as though it were a focaccia. Fold the left third of the dough over and repeat the finger indentations. Fold the right third over (as you would a letter) and make indentations again. Cover the folded dough with plastic wrap; let rise 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, cut the dough in half, and form each into a neat ball. (Each ball will make a 10- to 12-inch round pizza.) You can use the dough right away, but you’ll find the texture of the crust will be a bit breadier and the flavor less complex. For best results, freeze the dough (see next step), which retards the yeast’s activity, allowing the flavor to continue to develop as the dough thaws, without letting it rise and become bready. Or refrigerate the dough, up to 1 day. But if it is very warm or humid, the dough can expand relatively dramatically even in the fridge.
Wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap; freeze immediately after wrapping. The morning of the day you plan to make pizza, remove dough from freezer and put it into the fridge to slowly thaw (6 to 7 hours). Twenty to 30 minutes before making the pizza, pull the dough out of the fridge, and let it come to room temperature while you prep toppings.
Working with one dough ball at a time and working with your hands (not on a flat surface), gently begin to stretch the dough into a circular shape, pressing your fist into the center of the dough and pulling at the edges with your other hand. With both hands, stretch the dough, being careful not to tear it. Working in a circular motion, pull the thicker edges of the dough outward, letting gravity help you. Continue to stretch the dough until it’s relatively even in thickness (the edges will be thicker, and that is OK) and you have the size you want.
Heat the oven to 550 degrees. If using a stone and a peel: Put the stone in the oven to heat. Dust the peel generously with the cornmeal. Carefully lay shaped dough on the peel. If using a baking sheet: Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil, and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place the shaped dough onto the pan. Top the pizza as desired, and slide it off the peel and onto the heated stone, or slide the baking sheet into the oven. Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling, 6 to 10 minutes.