On a Saturday afternoon, I decided at the last minute to hold a pizza-making/football-party on Sunday to celebrate a Denver Broncos playoff game. What could be more fun than teaching people how to make proper pizza dough with a game on in the background? It was fun until I panicked about what I had just committed to doing.
I sent out Facebook and text invites and prayed someone would come. Being a Facebook noob, I invited folks in my Workout Buddies group and provided my phone number and address. Somehow I thought that info was restricted to the group. Turns out that’s not the case and now the Facebook Universe knows where I live. (Not a good feeling.)
Then I raced off to the store to buy anything and everything that I thought should go on a pizza: mushrooms, onions, pears, arugula, olives, peppers, baby tomatoes, basil, rosemary, thyme, pesto, cheeses, fig jam, prosciutto, Italian salami, pepperoni, pepperoncini, chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, bags of flour, fresh yeast, soda, ice, etc. etc. etc. , Somehow I ended up spending nearly $300. Sticker shock! All the time I’m fretting about whether the whole Facebook Universe would show up or, the other extreme, that no one would show up at all.
That afternoon was spent sautéing mushrooms with wine, rosemary, garlic, and thyme; simmering onions in water, wine, brown sugar, and thyme until they turned a beautifully dark caramel color; and grilling up the chicken. Cleaning the house and setting out candles was next. Doesn’t every football game need candles?
Then I’m freaking out, again, wondering if the game will even be aired. I don’t have ESPN. So I’m Googling the football schedules and air times and wondering if I was going to have to call Comcast to pay for ESPN just for insurance. You can’t have a football party without a football game on TV! Thank goodness for Google and the Comcast TV Guide. I found the station and game time and set up the TV Saturday night.
Sunday morning I’m sending out more text invites and getting a few RSVPs. I’ve set up the kitchen for a dough-making instruction area, a dough rolling out area, and a pizza construction zone. I had a batch of dough ready for the first guests to show up. Sergio and Dave were the first to arrive and were given aprons and instruction on how to make the next batch of perfect dough.
The key to great pizza dough is to have fresh yeast, warm water and just enough sugar for the yeast to feed and thrive. Sergio needed supervision as he was about to confuse the salt with the sugar.
While their dough was resting, we constructed the first pizza with the dough I had waiting in the wings. It was my personal favorite of the evening – fig, pear, prosciutto and goat cheese (recipe below). The sweet fig jam was tamed by the salty prosciutto and the bright and fresh taste of goat cheese. The pear was a soft and tangy compliment to the cunchy crust.
My new friend Rio is a vegetarian, so she concocted an exotic olive, candied onion, mushroom, Parmigiano-Reggiano and garlic oil delight. We also made a meat lovers with home-made marinara sauce, which was made with a can of chopped tomatoes, a bunch of rosemary and thyme, a bay leaf, wine, and brown sugar that had been simmered until thick.
One of the drawbacks of throwing a how-to-make-pizza-football party is that you miss the first three quarters of the game playing in the kitchen. But that was alright as the most exciting part of the game was the last quarter, and the Broncos won.
It was a pear-fect party and all the right people showed up.
PEAR-FECT FIG, GOAT CHEESE AND PROSCIUTTO PIZZA
Preheat Oven: 1 hour
Preparation: 30 minutes
Resting times: 45 minutes
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT (optional*)
Preheat oven for 1 hour at 500º F, with pizza stone in the middle
¾ cup warm water (not hot)
2 ½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ tsp sugar
1 ¾ cup all purpose flour (less one tablespoon)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs garlic infused olive oil
4 Tbs fig jam (look for 8.5 oz jar of Dalmatia® Fig Spread in the deli department)
4 oz plain goat cheese, crumbled
3 slices prosciutto, torn into pieces
½ ripe pear, seeded, sliced ¼” or thinner
cornmeal, for rolling out the dough
Preparing the Dough:
Place lukewarm water in a 2-cup measuring container. Add sugar and yeast to water. Stir so that all yeast granules are wet. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow yeast to feed. A foam of about an inch or more will appear on the surface of the water. This shows that your yeast is healthy and active.
While yeast feeds, combine flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add wet ingredients and mix dough on low speed until most of the liquid is absorbed. Increase speed to medium until all flour is absorbed and dough forms a wet ball, about a minute. Remove from mixer and knead for a minute until surface is smooth. Dough should be slightly sticky. (A wet dough is better than a dry dough, which is why the recipe asks to reserve 1 tablespoon of the flour). Transfer dough to an oiled bowl then flip over with oiled side up. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
Shaping the Dough:
Sprinkle pizza peel with flour and cornmeal. Lay dough in the center of the peel and begin pressing the dough with your fingers from the center outward. Pick up the dough and sprinkle more cornmeal onto the peel. Lay the dough back down and continue shaping until at least 12” in diameter – picking it up and sprinkling more cornmeal underneath as needed. Shake the peel by the handle to test the dough and see if it now slides easily back and forth. The cornmeal acts as little conveyor belts.
Garnishing the Dough:
Brush the top of the dough, out to the edges, with garlic oil. Next, brush the top of the dough, within one inch of the edges, with the fig jam. Dress the sliced pears with the remaining olive oil and lay them onto the pizza. Dot the pizza with the prosciutto and then the goat cheese.
Baking the Pizza:
Reduce oven temperature to 475 degrees. Transfer the pizza from the peel onto the hot stone by gently shaking the peel back and forth until the pizza slides off. Bake for 8 minutes or until crust is golden and jam bubbles.
*PIZZA STONES: Preheated pizza stones help ovens hold heat and also provide an important shock value when dough is placed directly on them. They aren’t required, but they help produce crispy pizza crusts. Pizza peels are necessary if you plan to transfer dough directly onto a pizza stone. I like this method for its results and for its fun factor.
If you don’t have a peel or a stone, it’s not a deal breaker. You can bake your pizza with your dough pressed into a half baking sheet. You can get a thinner crust using a baking sheet. Sprinkle the sheet with cornmeal before pressing the dough in.
DEAD YEAST: If your yeast doesn’t foam, it could mean that it is too old. Always check the date of your yeast. Or, it could mean that your water was too hot or you added too much sugar. Excessive heat will kill your yeast, and if you feed it too much sugar, it can over feed, which will render it somewhat useless. Yeast wants to be pampered. Think of yourself in a spa… you don’t want to be scorching hot either.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Patricia Bainter and copyright of The Patrician Palette LLC, thepatricianpalette.com. All rights reserved.