Everything you need to know to master the perfect pie
Every cuisine has its core recipes, the fundamental dishes and techniques that set it apart from the rest of the world. I'm breaking down my 10 essential Italian dishes, sharing everything you need to know to master them and become a superstar Italian cook.
What It Is: Flatbreads are a culinary staple the world over, from pita to naan, but there's no other as infinitely customizable as pizza. As far back as the ancient Romans, Italians were enjoying olive oil-spiked flatbreads like focaccia, but pizza as we know it was born in Renaissance-era Naples, where brilliant street vendors began selling flatbreads with toppings like cheese and anchovies as a quick meal for the city's working poor.
In the 19th century, the classic combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil became famous - as the story goes, the pizza using the colors of the Italian flag was created in 1889 by pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to honor Queen Margherita, who adored her namesake creation, making it an instant hit. It's possible that the story was just a clever marketing plan dreamed up by the pizzeria where Raffaele worked, but there's no denying that genius flavor.
Why I Love It: My very first cooking memory is of making pizza with my grandfather, an activity he loved to do with all of the kids in our family. I knew right away that cooking was for me! From kneading and shaping the dough to carefully choosing and placing the toppings, pizza has always felt like the ultimate expression of culinary creativity.
Nearly any ingredient you love can become a pizza topping! I especially love using fresh, in-season veggies, and any kind of Italian salumi. And delicate leafy greens like arugula are a delicious way to add texture - just sprinkle them on top of your freshly baked pie after it comes out of the oven to keep them from wilting. My pizza dough recipe is the perfect base for all kinds of toppings, with a crisp-chewy crust that never tastes doughy.
How It's Done: The secret to a full-flavored pizza crust is in the yeast-fueled rise. Start the dough by waking up the yeast in some warm water, and add a little honey - yeast feeds on sugar, which will help it create a springy, light-as-air dough. Pay close attention to make sure your yeast is alive- it should start to foam and bubble after about three minutes; if it doesn't toss it and try another packet.
My recipe calls for 8 minutes in the mixer- just long enough to develop the gluten which you want in pizza dough. Any shorter and the dough won't have the texture of pizza dough.
After mixing and kneading, it's a waiting game! Make sure to give the dough a warm, dry place where it can rise to its full potential. (If you have a gas stove, the warmth from the pilot light in an off oven makes it the perfect spot.) You'll know it's ready to move on to the next step when you can poke the dough and the indentation from your finger remains for a few minutes.
This dough is very soft using just enough flour to bring it together. This also makes it easier to work with. The dough should be at room temp. If you are working with it straight from the rise it will be very easy to use. If you chill it, be sure to bring it to room temp before trying to roll out, which will help you avoid the trouble and the struggle. And if for some reason it does give you a hard time, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 5 minutes. Those little gluten strands just got a little up tight and need to relax.