Today’s column includes techniques to use with either purchased pizzas or homemade dough and I guarantee you will make the best pizza your family and friends have ever tasted. You’ll be so confident of your pizza making skills that you’ll want to share these rarely known techniques that supply pizzas with remarkable flavors.
The best part — these techniques aren’t labor intensive. Get ready for fantastic results.
I learned these techniques through my own experience and attending Learning Center classes from Kurt Spartaro. Formally, the executive chef of Paragary’s, a popular Sacramento eating and gathering place, he did go on to open his own restaurant, Spartaro’s. Paragary’s cooks pizza in a wood fired brick oven. In a wood fired brick oven, the pizza dough rises and cooks quickly making the dough crisp on the outside, but tender inside.
Don’t have a wood fired brick oven. Simulate a wood fired brick oven at home. Purchase unglazed (clay pot colored) ceramic tiles from a tile store or a local discount building supply. Buy enough tiles to line the entire top shelf of your oven. The tiles are available in 6 and 12 inch sizes.
During the summer, we skip heating up the oven, by using the barbecue instead. To convert a barbecue to a gas fired brick oven, figure out the size of your grill and buy 12 or 6 inch tiles to cover that area. Don’t hesitate to buy a few extra tiles; after constant use, the tiles can break.
Pizza cooking tiles are also available in gourmet cooking stores, however, they are more expensive ($29.99 and up) and usually don’t cover the entire top shelf.
For the oven: Line the top shelf of the oven with the tiles and heat at 500 degrees for 1 hour. This step is important to adequately warm up the tiles. You can be slicing vegetables and getting other toppings ready while the oven heats. The heated tiles bake the pizza dough quickly. It will be crisp on the bottom, yet tender inside. During the summer months we heat a 12-inch tile on the grill on medium heat for 5 minutes.
When preparing the pizza a second important technique is to be absolutely sure that all extra moisture from any sauce or topping is removed. Extra water will make the dough soggy and unable to rise.
The pizza sauce should be about the consistency of tomato paste. When I am out of homemade pizza sauce, I use tomato paste with a sprinkling of Italian herbs. With all the other good flavors that go on the pizza, it works and has no extra water.
Next, use a light hand with heavy ingredients or wet ingredients; meat, cheeses, fresh tomatoes, and zucchini because heavy or wet ingredients make it difficult for the dough to rise. Then, use a heavy hand with light or flavorful ingredients; fresh herbs, garlic, good olives, roasted peppers, roasted onions or flavored oils.
Drizzling a flavored oil (truffle oil, herb flavored oil, or lemon oil are great examples) on top of the cooked pizza is optional. It’s a flavorful finish.
Try grilled vegetables for more intense flavors. Grill extra vegetables and refrigerate. Then use them within 2-3 days when assembling the next pizza