Wherein I fulfill a a strange desire to make pizza from scratch, including making my own sausage and mozzarella.
A Higher Order of Pizza
The way I look at it, I can classify the pizza I consume by how much effort went in to me obtaining it. Note that all of these can be absolutely delicious (or atrocious) given the right circumstances.
First Order: Eating pizza at a restaurant. No effort required, just money.
Second Order: Buying a frozen pizza and cooking it at home. This is usually fraught with peril since frozen pizzas typically don’t use high quality ingredients. It’s been a while since I’ve had a frozen pizza, but it does require that I heat something in the oven.
Third Order: Assembling the pizza from ingredients easily obtainable at the grocery store that don’t require further processing at home. The crust could be french bread or Boboli. This is paired with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sausage.
Fourth Order: First creating the ingredients used in a Third Order pizza, and then assembling and baking it. Instead of buying pizza dough, you make it at home. The same goes for the pizza sauce. Making mozzarella and sausage at home is where it gets tricky.
Fifth Order: Using only products directly obtainable from animals, plants, or minerals in a completely unprocessed form. The difference between this and Fourth Order is that now I’d have to mill my own flour, roast my own chiles (for the red pepper flakes), use a sourdough starter (instead of yeast), use raw milk for mozzarella, create olive oil from olives, etc..
Sixth Order: If I were really crazy, then I’d need to personally be responsible for growing, harvesting, and butchering everything for my Fifth Order pizza. I’d need a ranch, wheat field, cows, peppercorn tree, salt mine, etc.. This might be time-consuming.
My Pizza Adventure
Simply put, my pizza adventure is to make a good Fourth Order pizza. I have previously made pizza sauce and pizza dough from scratch. And since I started making sausage and cheese earlier this year I’d envisioned making a pizza with homemade versions of those as well.
To be honest, I really wanted to do this with homemade pepperoni (my favorite kind of pizza) and also homemade Parmesan cheese. There are two problems with this: aging and fridge space. Parmesan takes upwards of 2 years to age properly, so that would greatly delay the project. Pepperoni also needs to age for a few months, but it also requires a significant portion of dedicated fridge space in which to hang and dessicate. Since I’m not allowed to buy us another fridge, this is also on hold. In all likelihood I will try this again in a couple of years when my Parmesan is done and I can convince Amanda to let me have another fridge.
Italian sausage is easy to make because it only takes a couple of days to set up. I combined a couple different recipes from my Home Sausage Making book and came up with this team of ingredients:
- 1.75 lbs pork loin roast
- 3 oz bacon
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1.5 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1tsp fennel seed
The pork loin and bacon were ground twice with the coarse grinding plate. I then mixed in the garlic and spices by hand. Because the sausage was just going to be pan fried for the pizza, I did not bother stuffing it into casings (which is the annoying part of sausage making anyway). After letting it sit in the fridge for 2 days to meld, I separated it into patties and froze them individually.
Amanda and I have been making pizza at home for a while, so I had my standard pizza sauce recipe that I love.
The twist I wanted to do this time was to use fresh tomatoes (from the Little Italy farmers market!) instead of the 28 oz canned tomatoes I normally go with. The sauce starts with:
- 1/3 cu diced shallot
- 1/4 cu diced garlic
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
These are cooked for around 5 minutes over medium heat until the shallot and garlic start to brown. Then, deglaze with:
- 2/3 cu red wine
To keep the sauce authentic I used a $7 Italian wine from Trader Joe’s. But in the past I’ve used shiraz, zinfandel, or merlot without penalty. Let the wine boil and evaporate for a minute or two then add the seasonings:
- 2 tbsp fresh basil
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
Mix this in to the red wine and let that simmer for a minute or two. Then add the tomato product:
- 4 large (6 medium) Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
Mix that together well and then simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly. The sauce will thicken and darken. Adjust the seasonings (e.g. salt and sugar) near the end as needed.
After my successful cream cheese last December and my failed Cheddar earlier this year, I felt ill equipped to make mozzarella for this pizza. But I had the ingredients and studied the recipe carefully so I gave it a go.
Mozzarella is easier than other types of cheese because you can heat it on the stove (instead of a warm water bath) and it is finished in just an hour or two (my fumbling around kept me from achieving the “30-minute” time frame specified in the recipe title).
Similar to other cheeses, it begins with warming milk and adding rennet to coagulate it. It also includes citric acid, which helps give mozzarella its stretchy nature.
Once the curds formed and I began scooping them into a glass mixing bowl I was convinced it was a failure because it was a goopy mess the texture of yogurt. I did not think this would turn into a semi-firm cheese.
However the microwaving-and-kneading steps really brought the cheese together and before I knew it I had some smooth and firm cheese. The ironic part about the cheese is that it only stretches when it is too hot to touch (150+ degree). So I was there burning my fingers and knuckles to get the salt worked in and make sure the cheese came together.
I split the cheese into 4 small balls, cooled them in an ice bath, and stuck them in the fridge for safekeeping while I prepared the dough.
I usually make the basic pizza dough recipe from the James McNair Pizza book, but this time I wanted to do something different here as well. I went with the New York style pizza dough, which excludes the sugar and olive oil. Allegedly this yields a crisper but less flavorful crust.
I used all bread flour and kneaded it in the stand mixer for a full 10 minutes. At this time the dough was really dense and the mixer was struggling, but the dough was also smooth and seemed stretchy. This is important for being able to stretch the crust as thin as possible. Half of the dough went into the fridge to rise for the morrow; the other half spent its rising time on the counter.
Assembling the Pizza
After all that preparation work, making the final pizza was easy! I preheated the oven and baking stone for a full hour at 500 degrees. The pizza dough was easy to stretch by hand to create a thin-crust 14″ pizza. I then brushed the crust with olive oil to make sure it browned properly.
I was worried about the moisture content of the mozzarella and so I used a light hand when putting it on the pizza. I’ve made that mistake before with fresh mozzarella and ended up with a pool of whey in the middle of an otherwise tasty pizza. I browned and crumbled the sausage before adding it to the pizza. I also went light on the sauce, worried that the thin crust would not be able to support much.
Once assembled the pizza went into the oven for 12 minutes.
In addition to enjoying the whole process leading up to the first bite, the pizza itself was delicious and a joy to consume. The crust was probably the crispiest I’ve been able to make at home. The mozzarella cheese surprised me by melting quite well without expelling a lot of extra juice. The italian sausage has a wonderful fresh flavor that I had not experienced before. The sauce turned out much the same as my usual sauce with a slightly more acidic and fresh flavor. I actually think I might like the canned tomato version better because of the more “cooked” flavor.
What could be better? The mozzarella is fairly neutral in flavor and I’m not sure much was gained by using it over standard store-bought mozzarella. It’s not salty enough to stand out on its own, so it was somewhat lost among the vibrant flavors in the rest of the pizza.
Even though I liked the crispiness of the crust I think I prefer the richer flavor that the olive oil gives to it. This New York style crust wasn’t as chewy as the pizzas I find here in town.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s pizza! I’ll load it more fully with toppings and also build up more of a crust. Now it’s time to start planning my parmesan and pepperoni to go with the pizza…