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.
But before we work ourselves up into a good rant, we’re stepping down from the soapbox to take a moment to recognize this: 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.
In that vein, we’re offering three no-fuss topping recipes (hardly any precooking and no tracking down of artisan ‘nduja, not that we don’t love salumi) to scatter on a humble pie you can throw together at home. On your favorite dough recipe, a store-bought dough or pre-baked crust, you decide. (Don’t have a go-to dough? We’re including a recipe from “Truly Madly Pizza” by Suzanne Lenzer, because we love its simplicity. Buzz in the food processor and go.)
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? Throw on more. 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.
There you are, in 6 to 10 minutes, contributing to the continued History of Pizza.
Spicy and Sweet Pizza Topping
Inspired by the Hellboy pizza at Paulie Gee’s (originally of Brooklyn and now in Chicago’s Logan Square).
2 spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
1/4 bunch (7 ounces) broccoli rabe, steamed until crisp tender, seasoned with salt, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan
Chile-pepper infused honey, such as Cloister Honey’s arbol or chipotle 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 chile-infused honey and serve.
Creamy and Crunchy Pizza Topping
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted, cut in half
Half a red onion, sliced in thin half-moon slices about 1/4-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 Pizza Topping
1/4 cup pesto, jarred or homemade
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.
Quick Pizza Dough
From “Truly Madly Pizza,” by Suzanne Lenzer. You can freeze the dough and let it rise slowly in the refrigerator the day you play to bake it. Or make the dough in the morning, pop into the refrigerator and it’s ready to go after work.
2 3/4 cups (390 grams) bread flour
1/4 ounce active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 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 blade. Turn the machine on. Add the oil through the feed tube, then add the water in a slow, steady stream. It should look pliable and smooth after a minute or so. Continue to process the dough about 2 minutes. It should form a ball and ride around in the processor. 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.)
Freeze and thaw: 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 refrigerator to slowly thaw (6 to 7 hours). (Or place it in the refrigerator 10 to 12 hours as soon as you make it.) Twenty to 30 minutes before baking, remove from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Working with one dough ball at a time and working with your hands (not on a flat surface), gently 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. 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 golden and bubbling, 6 to 10 minutes.
Yield: 2 (10- to 12-inch) pizzas.