La Pizza Toscana: Make Your Own!


Unless you’re living in New York City (or Italy), a good slice of pizza is hard to find. And I don’t think I’m alone when I say this: a mediocre piece of pizza can ruin your day. So, in honor of good days (and un-ruinable meals), take back control and make it yourself. You don’t need a bread oven, nor is it necessary to do the whole throwing the dough up in the air thing. Once you do learn how to make your own pizza, you’ll never go back to eating medicore pies again. That, by the way, is a promise.

The following is an excerpt from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber.

La Pizza Toscana

La Pizza Toscana, when done right, can change the way one thinks about pizza. In my opinion Tuscan pizza is an exercise in balance among ingredients, flavors, and textures; and restraint must be applied in order to achieve that balance. This pizza requires a thin crust, its thinness has the unusual effect of elevating the crust to prominence among all the components, rather than diminishing it. Another thing to remember about making your own pizza is that it (and the crust in particular) will improve with regular practice. But if it meant eating the best pizza available to you once a week in the comfort of your own home, wouldn’t you be willing to invest a little time? Using a baking stone in your oven and prebaking the crust for only 2 minutes improves the crispiness of the crust, which is an important feature of Tuscan pizza. Prebaking makes a crust easier to handle so that more than one pizza at a time can be dressed and loaded easily into the oven. A stone also helps even out the heat of the oven, allowing the oven to perform better. (We keep our stones in the oven all the time.) The procedure following is for a basic pizza with sauce and cheese, and to this you can add the vegetables and meats you like on your pizza.

For this recipe the instructions are to mix the dough by hand. I prefer making dough by hand and recommend it for two good reasons: you can feel the change as rough ingredients transform into soft, silky dough, which tells you when the dough is well kneaded; kneading dough by hand is a pleasant, tactile experience; and comparing the final texture of the dough with its performance as a crust will help you determine if you need to make your dough a little wetter or dryer in the future. Keep in mind that every batch of dough will be a little different, if only because of variations in your kitchen’s humidity. This just means you have to pay attention to the dough as it is kneaded. (Note that 1/4 cup flour is set aside at the beginning, so that it can be added after the dough is mixed, as you cut and roll out each portion. It is always easier to dry out a dough with flour as you proceed than to make a dry dough wetter and thus softer and easier to handle, so err on the safe side by starting out with a wetter dough.) Making the dough by hand takes about 12 to 15 minutes. Yields about 6 pizza shells.

* 2 tablespoons dry instant yeast or fresh compressed yeast
* 1 1/4 cups warm water
* 3 1/4 cups plus additional 1/4 cup flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup extra-virgin (or other) olive oil (The better the olive oil, the better-tasting the crust; this is one place where your best olive oil is definitely not wasted.)
* 2 cups pizza sauce (Sugo per la Pizza, p. 121)
* 1 pound mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated

In a small bowl gently stir the yeast into the water and set aside for a few minutes to dissolve.

Set aside the additional 1/4 cup flour.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the remaining 3 1/4 cups flour and the salt, and make a large well in the middle of it. Scrape the yeast and water mixture into the well and pour in the olive oil. Use a heavy wooden spoon to stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Continue until all the liquid has been absorbed into some of the flour. At this point, abandon the spoon and work the dough together in the bowl with your hands until you can lift it out onto your floured countertop.

With the dough on the counter and using the heel of your hand, mash the dough out in one stroke. Then, using your other hand, fold it back upon itself. Rotate the dough slightly, mash it out again, and fold it back. Rotate slightly again, and continue to mash, fold, rotate. The dough will gradually become softer and silkier. When there are no more lumps or irregularities, the dough is ready. Shape it into a ball and place it in a large bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rest and rise until it is soft and about double in size. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while the dough rises.

Once the dough has risen, dust it lightly with flour and cut it into pieces about the size of a tennis ball. Roll a piece out into a circle to a thickness of J inch or thinner, dusting regularly with flour and turning the dough over several times as you roll it out. (Too thick and the crust will come out doughy, and Tuscan pizza is anything but doughy. But be careful: too thin, and you risk tearing the dough.) Transfer the crust to your baking stone or onto a baking pan and bake in the oven until well set, but not browned, about 2 to 4 minutes. [If you don’t have a stone, prebake the crust 1 or 2 minutes longer (up to about 4 minutes total).]

Remove the crust from the oven. Spread N cup pizza sauce on each crust to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Add toppings, if desired, but don’t overload the pizza (see variations on toppings listed below). Distribute grated mozzarella over the sauced area, transfer the pizza to the oven, and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until the cheese has browned lightly. Serve pizza Italian-style: whole on the plate, drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil, with knife and fork. (If you want to eat easily with your hands, cut the pizza on the counter when it comes out of the oven.)

In Tuscany, beer is typically taken outside mealtime, wine and water being the most common beverages during mealtime, but pizza is one of the few meals with which beer might be consumed. Try a pilsener, the Tuscan favorite, or, if you prefer wine, select a good Chianti or Sangiovese.

Note: If you think you are capable of eating this pizza two or even three times a week, portion, roll, and prebake all of the crusts. They may dry out over a couple of days, but can be softened in the hot oven for about 1 minute, then dressed. Storing the prebaked crusts will give better results than storing the dough.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.