So simple: flour, water, olive oil, salt, honey, and yeast. Top with whatever. And yet…

One day, somebody said on the radio, or I read somewhere, or Carol said that somebody said… but it doesn’t matter, “Two slices of pizza is the perfect breakfast.” This lit up my eyes and my senses. All my life I’ve been trying to find a breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Eat three balanced meals a day!

As a kid, I was force-fed cereal and milk. If I didn’t feel well, my mother would give me milk toast. That was pretty good. (Butter a piece of toast, and submerge it in a shallow bowl of warm milk. The butter melts and makes yellow streaks on the surface of the milk. How can that be bad?) I’ve tried the traditional eggs every way with meat any way or without. Pancakes… French toast… All this stuff is fine… after 10:30 in the morning. Before that, I wanna wretch. I even tried Carnation Instant Breakfast. Yuk.

So I have a glass of juice for breakfast, then coffee throughout the day or as long as it lasts. And often I take breakfast bars to eat during the morning at work. I eat a bowl of soup for lunch. Before dinner, a semi-heavy cocktail snack, like cheese and crackers. Then a good dinner and probably a snack later, something bad, like pretzels — I love Newman’s Own Salt & Pepper Thins — or nuts or taco chips. That’s all pretty much backwards, in the eyes of a nutritionist.

Since that day, I’ve been eating pizza for breakfast, often. I started with frozen pizzas, Wolfang Puck, California Pizza Kitchen, DiGorno, whatever was on sale, and I’d eat half a personal size each day. Trouble is, those aren’t very good, or nutritious. I also tried the fancy organic-made-over-a-wood-fire variety; also not good, and expensive. So I went to the personal size Boboli crusts with my own toppings. Those were okay, but way too bready for my taste. As a personal preference, I like crispy, thin crust rather than thick and bready.

I found some pizzas with cornmeal crusts, Vicolo, in the dairy case at Real Food… a nice lady was handing out samples. Damn good. They come with toppings like wild mushroom or five, count ’em, five cheeses. Those are pretty expensive at over eight bucks a pop and never on special. So I started buying the crusts, $4.25 for two, and adding my own toppings.

And there’s always the slice or two left over from Pizza Night, if you do that.

That was good for a while; but one can get tired of any good thing. I remembered, back in Newton, making pizza from scratch, and it wasn’t hard, but I hadn’t done it for years. So I got out books: Chez Panisse Pizza Pasta Calzone, James Beard’s Pizza & Pasta and the Wolfgang Puck Cookbook. Wolfgang Puck is by far the easiest, it can be made in a food processor.

I made up a batch of dough one evening (it rests in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight). One recipe makes four, 8-10 inch pizzas. The next morning, I started stretching dough like the book says, preheated the oven, took the peel off the wall, spread some cornmeal around, dough on the peel, loaded up the dough with tomato sauce and shredded cheese and popped it in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Tasted pretty good, (hey, home made tomato sauce, shredded smoked mozzarella) but the dough wasn’t totally cooked through and it certainly wasn’t crispy. I blamed it on not stretching the dough thin enough. The other three pizzas, I rolled out, and stored between plastic wrap, stacked on a plate.

Trial #2. I took my plate of three rolled-out crusts, lifted the top one onto the counter by its plastic wrap, put on its toppings, then tried to lift the topped dough onto the peel. Oops. It’s easy lifting the plastic wrap off the top of the dough… not so off the bottom. Lets say I made a very rustic pizza, and still not cooked right. I left it in the oven a little longer, but the dough was a little raw, and the cheese was too brown, almost burned. I blamed part of it on the “accident,” but clearly, I had to rethink my cooking time and method. Wolfgang Puck calls for a 500 ° oven for 12-15 minutes. My oven doesn’t go to 500 °, just to the high side of 450. Also he makes pizzas with pre-cooked meat and vegetables; my sauce and cheese are wetter, which would affect the crust cooking through.

Trial #3. I put the crust in undressed for 5 minutes, took it out, topped it, put it back for 5 or 6 minutes. Better.

By now, I had gone through 3 crusts and the fourth had been in the refrigerator for a week and was kind of, well, “crusty,” so I threw it away, and rushed out to buy some cornmeal crusts.

Now, accustomed to a morning “meal,” let’s not call it “breakfast,” I alternate my pizza bottoms and toppings and when I’m tired of pizza, I’ve even learned to eat eggs or seasonal fruit, such as peaches, apples and pears.

Adapted from the Wolfgang Puck Cookbook, 1986

3C all-purpose flour
1t salt
1T honey
2T olive oil
3/4C cool water
1 package fresh or dry yeast
1/4C warm water

Place the flour in a food processor. Combine the salt, honey, olive oil and the cool water in a measuring cup, mix well. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let proof for 10 minutes.

With the motor running, slowly pour the cool water mixture through the feed tube… followed by the warm water mixture. Process until the dough forms a ball on the blade. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth, if sticky, add sprinklings of flour. Place in a buttered bowl, and allow the dough to rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll each piece into a ball. Place on a flat dish or plate, cover with a damp towel and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

One hour before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. [I do this when I get up to go for my morning walk.]

Lightly flour a work surface. Using a rolling pin… roll out the dough to about an 8 inch round and form an edge with your fingers. Alternatively, you can stretch and shape by hand, if you want rustic. Wrap the other balls in plastic wrap, to use in the near future.

Place your dough on a wooden peel. [If you don’t have a wooden peel, you’re not committed.] Sprinkle a little corn meal on the peel so the dough will slide off easily. There are lots of recipes for exotic toppings, but basically, you can use what you want. Pre-cook fish or chicken, use your imagination.

Bake in a 500 ° oven for 12-15 minutes. You’ll probably need to experiment with the temperature and timing. For a simple tomato sauce and cheese pizza, I pre-bake the crust for about 5 minutes, add the toppings, then bake for another 7 or 8 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the crust are brown.

[Note: written January 2003, but I started making the Puck pizzas in Boston, for entertaining.]

2 thoughts on “PIZZA!

  1. Alison and I use the follwing recipe for “Pizza alla Romana” when we make pizzas in our masonry oven. I especially like it because if let to properly proof, it becomes extra stretchy, and allows for very thin crusts if that’s what you like (I do). It also doesn’t take FOREVER to get to that stage, as do some other stretchy pizza doughs we’ve tried — only about eight hours total, from mixing to pizza (although it can be extended if nessary by cooling), so it can be mixed in the morning for that evening’s pizza session. Carol Field suggests mixing it with cool water the night before, immediately refrigerating the mixed dough, then setting it out at room temperature the next morning to be ready to shape and bake by dinner. It’s also light enough to make a pleasant “breakfast pizza” crust for anything that didn’t get eaten the night before.

    Pizza alla Romana
    From The Italian Baker by Carol Field

    (“Makes three 14 or 15 inch pizzas,” according to the book, depending on how thin you like your crust. We usually make six 10 or 12 inch pizzas out of one recipe.)

    1 package active dry yeast
    1/4 cup warm water
    About 5½ cups (750 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
    1 tsp (5 grams) salt
    1¾ cups plus 1 teaspoon water, room temp
    1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional oil for shaping the dough
    1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. (20 grams) lard or olive oil

    Mix yeast and ¼ cup warm water in a mixing bowl and set aside to proof — about 10 minutes.

    Mix. Add room temp water, 1 Tbsp. of oil, plus lard/oil to the bowl, mix thoroughly, then add the flour until the dough comes together (around 5 minutes). Remove and knead by hand for another five minutes until soft and silky, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the board or your hands. Slam the dough down hard from time to time to help develop the gluten.

    First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise at a cool room temperature until doubled, at least 4 hours, but preferably up to eight hours. If it rises too fast, punch it down.

    Shape. Cut into three to six equal pieces, shape into balls, and place on a floured surface under a kitchen towel to rest for around 30 minutes. Carol Field uses olive oil on the balls to keep them from sticking to hands and/or the kitchen towel. I use extra flour. When you’re ready to make a pizza, take out one ball and stretch them out until desired thickness. If you like your pizza crust thick, try dimpling the dough with your fingers once you’ve got it to the desired size to makes sure it doesn’t inflate into a huge bubble in the hot oven.

    Add your favorite toppings, bake in a really hot oven (>550°F), and enjoy!


  2. I was at Whole Food yesterday and bought cornmeal crusts—Vicolo, turns out they’re made in San Francisco. This morning for breakfast, I oiled the crust, put on my home made Early Girl tomato sauce—just tomatoes, no additional flavorings—dotted that with pieces of Mike’s Curd—fresh cheese curd mixed with bits of red and green chilis—added oil cured black olives and covered with a shredded mild cheddar (I prefer smoked mozzarella, but didn’t think to get that). Baked for twelve minutes in a 450 oven on a stone.

    Once baked, you  can’t see the bits of Mike’s Curd, so when you unexpectedly bite into one, you get a nice zing! Yum.


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