Whenever anyone finds out that I have this little blog here or that I’m into food and cooking and stuff I am always asked the same question: “What is your favorite food?” It’s a question I used to dread, one that I think many people find difficult to answer. If I really like cooking generally that means that I like to eat most things (a much easier question would be about my least favorite foods…I’m looking at you cilantro and eggplants).
With the prevalence of the question I had to come up with a standby answer instead of hemming and hawing every time it was asked and usually responding with something along the lines of, “it’s too hard to choose, I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite.” However I do choose to answer in two parts – I give my favorite flavor and my favorite dish. That makes sense, right? A favorite flavor more often has to do with desserts or something, the flavor your choose when you go out for ice cream or pick out your birthday cake. Your favorite dish is that last thing you would want eat before you die or what you always seem to pick for an appetizer or entrée at a restaurant. It only seems natural that a “favorite food” question is divided into two categories. So here is goes.
What is my favorite flavor? Coconut. Always coconut. Ice cream, chocolate bars, cakes, thai iced tea, whatever. If it has coconut I generally like it. It can be paired with rich flavors (coffee, chocolate, vanilla, caramel), fruity ones (lime, pineapple, berries) and savory applications, like curry. Coconut for the win.
What is my favorite dish? Pizza. Good pizza, that is. I like the classic Neapolitan style with the blistered crust that is chewy yet light. With the simple tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. But I love unique toppings too. Maybe that’s why I like pizza so much. Its so customizable yet always ends up with a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and tangy. A good pizza is perfection and never fails to make me the happiest person alive. (P.S. You all know my weakness now…you are free to take advantage of this and take me out for pizza anytime you need a favor.)
I would gladly eat pizza for every meal but luckily I have enough self-control and enough proximal distance from any really good pizza shops to keep that from happening. But naturally I have experimented with my own pizza-making quite a bit, not to mention I worked as a pizza-maker in my little hometown pie-shop for 3 years during high school. The earlier attempts were okay, certainly edible but nothing to brag about. I tried different dough recipes and different cooking surfaces but nothing really quite blew me away until I did find the absolute best of each. Together, they create what is arguably the closest thing to wood-fired oven pizza without the wood-fired oven. Let me introduce Jim Lahey and his book “My Pizza” and the Baking Steel.
Jim Lahey’s dough recipe falls right in line with his other famous no-knead methods. You simply mixt up a little flour, yeast, water, and salt, let it sit overnight, and the next day you have stretchy and supple pizza dough. It has a slight bit of tang, a nice chew, and makes a perfect fluffy crust filled with little air pockets. The Baking Steel is a relatively new piece of cooking equipment out there. It started as a kickstarter project but turned into something huge. Essentially its nothing more than an enormous slab of steel that you cook pizzas on but there is science behind it that makes it the best home oven pizza-baking option. Essentially, the steel may not get as hot as something like a pizza stone but steel is an excellent conductor of heat so the pizza get a perfectly crispy crust in minutes. I definitely recommend it for the pizza enthusiast who wants to empress their friends and family with the best pizza they’ve ever had. It comes with a cool carrying case too made from old recycled billboards (mine has a piece of The X-Factor in it). So, without further ado, here’s how I make my pizzas.
– a can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands until smooth and seasoned with salt and olive oil.
– get as creative as you like. For the pizzas in the pictures above I used fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, Italian sausage, and marinated garlic cloves.
To assemble and bake
– Place the Baking Steel or other baking surface in your oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Allow the oven to heat at 500 for 45 minutes then reduce to 475. Take a piece of your prepared dough and stretch it out on a pizza peel in a circular shape with a little cornmeal on the bottom so it doesn’t stick. Add your sauce and toppings. Slide it onto the Baking Steel and let cook for 4-5 minutes. Then turn the broiler on and continue to cook for about 2 more minutes. Slide onto a cutting board when it’s done. It should have a few black, blistered spots around the edges. Don’t forget to turn off you broiler and reset the oven to 475 degrees after taking out each pizza. Cut into 4 pieces and eat immediately. The most important step is to take your time and don’t try to bank out all four pizzas a quickly as possible. Serve salads, olives, and other finger foods in between each pizza and enjoy the whole experience.