The basics of the perfect pizza pie

Basic Tomato Sauce and Tomato Pie

This tomato sauce is really not much more than pulped tomatoes. Nevertheless, in all its simplicity, it is an ideal foundation for many pizzas because the toppings that will go over it and blend with it bring a bouquet of flavors to the pie. I don’t want the sauce and toppings fighting each other. Harmony: That’s my mantra.

Makes 620 to 800 grams (depending on whether you use fresh or canned tomatoes, which yield a greater volume); or enough for about 8 pizzas.

700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) ripe plum tomatoes or 1 794-gram (28-ounce) can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
20 grams (about 2 tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil
2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt

1. If using fresh tomatoes, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart pot.

2. Cut away the dry stem area of the tomatoes, leaving the core intact. Place 2 or 3 tomatoes at a time in the boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a rack to cool. Peel the tomatoes with a paring knife.

3. Whether using fresh or canned, cut each tomato into several wedges and run them through a food mill over a medium bowl to create a pulp (not a fine puree; you want to retain some texture). If you don’t have a food mill, just squish them with your hands—it’s messy but fun.

4. Stir in the olive oil and salt. The sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tomato Pie

It may be a good idea to make this elemental tomato pizza first, before moving on to anything else. I know that at first blush it seems too simple to be good, mostly just sauce and bread. But even if you doubt me now, I don’t think you will later. This pie is great practice for preparing the dough and learning my cooking method. And as you try one pie after another, you’ll also begin to get the idea of how I construct a pizza. If I start by thinking about this unadorned tomato version, for instance, I know that with a simple addition of flavorings it can easily be transformed. I might use cheese and arugula or olives and anchovy. It’s all a matter of imagination, something like architecture; you build a base and go from there.

Makes one 10- to 12-inch pizza

1 ball of Pizza Dough, shaped and waiting on a floured peel (recipe follows)
70 grams (1/4 cup) Basic Tomato Sauce (see above)
Generous pinch of fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. Put the pizza stone on a rack in a gas oven about 8 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven on bake at 500F for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.

2. With the dough on the peel, spoon the tomato sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Sprinkle with salt. Drizzle oil over the pie.

3. With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3 minutes under gas (somewhat longer with an electric oven), until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.

4. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter before slicing it into wedges. Serve immediately.

Pizza Dough

Man throwing pizza dough in air from My Pizza cookbookWhile I’m not picky about the flour—either bread flour or all-purpose is fine—what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough. I prefer to hold off on shaping the ball until just before topping it. If it’s going to sit for a while—more than a couple of minutes—cover it with a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.

I offer you two approaches for shaping. The simpler one, executed completely on the work surface, is slower than the second, where you lift the disk in the air and stretch it by rotating it on your knuckles. Lifting it into the air to shape it is more fun, too.

Makes 4 balls of dough, enough for 4 pizzas

500 grams (17 1/2 ounces or about 3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping the dough
1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
16 grams (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
350 grams (1 1/2 cups) water

1. In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72F) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.

3. Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them: For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center; then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom. (The order doesn’t actually matter; what you want is four folds.) Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.

4. If you don’t intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.

Note: Don’t freeze the dough, but you can store it in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to three days. In effect, when you’re set to use it, you have your own ready-made dough.

My Pizza The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home cookbook coverExcerpted from My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home by Jim Lahey and Rick Flaste. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.