My Pizza: Delicious Home-Made Pizzas

We just found a great recipe for home-made pizza. The book is My Pizza by Jim Lahey, who developed the no-knead bread technique made popular by Mark Bittman of the New York Times. The pizza dough is thin and crisp, and it has air pockets that brown nicely. My Pizza has a recipe for the pizza dough and many recipes for toppings.

My Pizza
My Pizza

The pizza dough recipe makes four 10″ pizzas from 3 3/4 cups of flour, a quarter teaspoon of yeast, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 cups water.

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the water
  • Cover and let rise at room temperature until more than doubled (about 18 hours at 72 F)
  • Divide dough into four balls. Fold each ball four times and form each ball into a round mound. Dust each ball with flour so it’s not sticky.
  • To store a ball up to three days, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Do not freeze.
  • To make a pizza, spread a ball on a floured surface to 6″ – 8″ with your fingers. Continue spreading it with your fingers or on your knuckles until it’s 10″ – 12″ in diameter.
  • Place the dough on to a pizza peel and add toppings
  • For an electric oven, place the pizza stone 4″ from the broiler, and preheat the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Open the oven door a bit for half a minute, and broil for 10 minutes to heat the stone. Slide the pizza from the pizza peel to the stone and broil for 3-5 minutes, until the pizza is browned.

This pizza has been assembled on the pizza peel and is ready to bake. The toppings are tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh mushrooms, and grated parmesan cheese. The tomato sauce has fresh and roasted San Marzano tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil.

assembled pizza on peel
assembled pizza on peel

Here’s a pizza fresh from the oven. This pizza has a thin crust like pizzas we’ve enjoyed in New York City. 🙂

baked pizza
baked pizza

We tried other pizza recipes that turned out badly, and we wondered if we could make good pizza at home. With Lahey’s recipe, our pizzas were very good the first time! Lahey introduced three changes:

  1. No-knead pizza dough, which has less yeast and a longer rise time (about 18 hours) than the traditional approach. Less work, and the dough has bubbles and perhaps better flavor. 
  2. Broil the pizza instead of baking it. The higher temperature helps produce a crisp crust
  3. Reduced fat for the topping, which keeps the pizza flavor lighter

We used a pizza stone and peel, as we did before. We spread the dough into a pie with knuckles. The dough held together without tearing a hole, and the knuckle approach was easier than expected. We made two pizza the first day and made the remaining two pizza three days later. After three days, the pizza dough was a bit worse than the first day — the raw dough was more watery, and based pizza didn’t have the blisters that the initial pizzas had.

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Bacalao with Sofrito Sauce

Continuing the Mediterranean diet at home, we had bacalao (cod) with sofrito sauce last night.

bacalao and sofrito
bacalao and sofrito

From left to right, there are

  • Home-grown, edible pea pods sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil
  • Partially milled brown rice
  • Cod in sofrito sauce (San Marzano tomatoes, onion, garlic, and saffron sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil). We grew the tomatoes and froze them last year. We purchased the saffron at Alcampo in Madrid last month. 

In northern California, we’re nearing the end of the cool-season vegetables (peas), and we just planted tomato seedlings, a warm-season vegetable. We planted the same tomato varieties as last year: San Marzano, cherokee purple, and sungold. Sungold is a hybrid cherry tomato; the others are heirloom tomatoes.

Mediterranean Diet

In February researchers at the University of Barcelona released a large study showing “about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals”.

This study is significant because 1) heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease are directly relevant to people, 2) the Mediterranean diet was easier to follow than a low-fat diet, and 3) people on the Mediterranean diet had less heart disease than those on the low-fat diet. “The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.”

We’re trying to follow the Mediterranean diet. A dinner at our Barcelona apartment is shown below. From left to right, there’s (red) wine, legumes (peas) and pasta with extra-virgin olive oil, raw vegetables (lettuce) and strawberries (fruit) , and extra-virgin olive oil to dress the salad. The small serving of jamon iberico and the pate are red meat and are to be limited.

Barcelona dinner
Barcelona dinner

The questions below tell you how well you’re following the Mediterranean diet, from table S1 of the study appendix. Our dinner had no dairy, carbonated beverages, or commercial pastries! At other meals we did eat nuts and sofrito sauce with pasta.

Foods and frequency of consumption Criteria for 1 point
Do you use olive oil as main culinary fat? Yes
How much olive oil do you consume in a given day (including oil used for frying, salads, out of house meals, etc.)? 4 or more tablespoons
How many vegetable servings do you consume per day? (1 serving = 200g – consider side dishes as 1/2 serving) 2 or more (at least 1 portion raw or as salad)
How many fruit units (including natural fruit juices) do you consume per day? 3 or more
How many servings of red meat, hamburger, or meat products (ham, sausage, etc.) do you consume per day? (1 serving = 100-150 g) Less than 1
How many servings of butter, margarine, or cream do you consume per day? (1 serving = 12 g) Less than 1
How many sweet/carbonated beverages do you drink per day? Less than 1
How much wine do you drink per week? 7 or more glasses
How many servings of legumes do you consume per week? (1 serving = 150 g) 3 or more
How many servings of fish or shellfish do you consume per week? (1 serving: 100-150 g fish, or 4-5 units or 200 g shellfish) 3 or more
How many times per week do you consume commercial sweets or pastries (not homemade), such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, or custard? Less than 3
How many servings of nuts (including peanuts) do you consume per week? (1 serving = 30 g) 3 or more
Do you preferentially consume chicken, turkey or rabbit meat instead of veal, pork, hamburger or sausage? Yes
How many times per week do you consume vegetables, pasta, rice, or other dishes seasoned with sofrito (sauce made with tomato and onion, leek, or garlic, simmered with olive oil)? 2 or more

The researchers haven’t had time to determine which parts of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for the results.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Montepulciano

After our rental car broke down, we had to go to Florence to pick up another car. Our landlord connected us with a driver who was born and raised in Montepulciano. The driver entertained and educated us for the entire ride to Florence.

He told us about a local crop and and article of family pride — extra virgin olive oil.  Some of our photos have olive trees — they’re everywhere.  Our driver explained that every family grows olives and takes them to an olive press each year, to produce extra virgin olive oil from their own olives.  People might acknowledge that another family’s olive oil is good, but every Italian family knows that their own olive oil is the best.

From the time you pick the olives, you have 48 hours to press the olives before they deteriorate.  During the olive harvest season, the town olive press is reserved 24×7 so that every family can press their olives while they’re fresh.  As a boy, our driver went to the olive press with his father, to see their olive oil being made.

We were lucky — we were in Montepulciano during olive season.  Our driver wrote out the name of Montepulciano’s olive press “Frantoio di Montepulciano” and told us it’s near the bus station. We found the bus station and, with some help, found the frantoio.

Here’s the sign and the building.  Our driver said there are four recognized categories of extra virgin olive oil, based on the locale and growing of the olives.  Tighter locales and organic are better.  The sign talks about some of these categories: Tuscany, Siena, and organic. Vendita diretta means factory outlet.

Montepulciano olive press
Montepulciano olive press

We walked in and asked if we could see the olive press. A young man gave us a tour. The first step is to wash the olives and separate out any leaves and twigs.

washed olives
washed olives

The next step is to cold press the olives.  The machine is the olive press. The lady’s left hand is on the pipe where green liquid comes out of the press.  There’s a glass window in the pipe where you can see the liquid flowing.

olive press
olive press

At the end of the process, extra virgin olive oil streams out.  Perhaps the apparatus separates out water, leaving pure oil.

extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil

Here’s the proud owner with his olive oil.

olive oil and the proud owner
olive oil and the proud owner

When a family gets the new batch, they use last year’s oil for cooking and reserve this year’s oil for fresh use, such as salads.

At the end, I extended my right hand to palm a tip to the young man, but he waved it off as he went back upstairs. In an earlier post we talked about the reasons we initially chose to stay in Montepulciano.  We’re grateful for the warmth and kindness of the people of Montepulciano, and that makes it so easy for us to return to Montepulciano again and again.