In California, there’s a pizza restaurant called Zachary’s where my husband and I used to buy Chicago style pizzas while we were in college. Zachary’s is still there today and we’ll sometimes stop in when we’re visiting family in the area. My mother-in-law loves it if we bring back a half-baked pie to have for dinner. This is the kind of pizza that some consider inside out, with the toppings planted in a deep crust and the tomato sauce poured over the top… truly a pie. And it’s ever so yummy!
When we moved to Europe, we didn’t expect pizza to change very much but were we in for a surprise. First, you don’t share pizzas with other people. You order a single pizza all to yourself. And it doesn’t come sliced. You don’t eat it with your fingers either. You’re given a sharp knife and fork and you have at it! The ingredients can be a surprise as well. If you order a pepperoni pizza in Germany, you’ll get skinny green peppers instead of slices of meat. And the best pizza I ever had came with an egg cracked over the top, cooked just long enough to firm up the white. The yolk was runny and golden and made an excellent sauce for dipping the cracker thin crust.
Pizzas in Argentina are a different beast as well. We thought they would be more like the Italian style pizzas we ate in Germany since there is such a strong Italian influence in Buenos Aires, but we were wrong. Pizzas have thicker crusts, they’re served sliced as in America and people can and do share them with one another. Every single pizza comes with fat, green, unpitted olives cured in a vinagery brine. They easily roll to the side if you’re not an olive lover so no one even thinks to order them without the olives. I’m not sure they would be considered a pizza really. And although you can get a wide variety of ingredients, pizzas came in two favorite varieties – simple ingredients like ham and cheese on basic tomato sauce and the fugazetta which is a plain crust, no sauce, covered in sweet onions and a ton of mozarrella cheese. I highly recommend the latter.
Here in Washington DC, we’re fortunate to live near two great pizza restaurants. Pete’s New Haven Style is more of a traditional American pizza kind of place. They have lots of great toppings, a crust that is neither thick or thin and is just chewy enough to have great texture. As an added bonus my boys love the design your own soda machine. But if we’re going out for a special dinner, we chose the second spot, 2 Amys. They serve true Italian-style pizza. They even have the special D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controlla) from Italy which says they follow the Neopolitan style of making pizza. The three pizzas that qualify are simple but delicious. They have other pizzas with more complex ingredients as well. And the small plates are divine – last time we had a fava bean puree that was out of this world. They only thing I haven’t liked is their house red wine… splurge and buy a bottle of a better vintage to share at the table. It will go down real easy with their roasted olives.
If you don’t have a great pizza place nearby (we’ve lived that way as well) then you just have to learn to make your own. It isn’t has hard as you think though a great crust is greatly enhanced by the equipment in which you invest. We recommend a baking stone and currently own one by Pampered Chef. However, I’ve been buying a better product made in California. You could buy a round stone from them but they also sell squares and rectangles at a more affordable price. If I wasn’t going to move again any time soon, I would measure my oven and purchase one to fit as much space as possible. That way your entire oven could be used for baking multiples of smaller items, like empanadas or loaves of bread. When you purchase the stone, splurge and order a metal peel as well. This will help you get that great pizza in and out of the oven.
The best crust recipe we have found is not a very healthy one but for this item, I just don’t worry about not using whole wheat flour. Pizza night is a night to splurge!
Neapolitan Pizza Dough from Pizzaria by Evan Klieman
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup cold water
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (we use King Arthur’s bread flour)
Proof the yeast in the lukewarm water. When it begins to come to life, about 5 minutes, you can add the additional ingredients. Mix in enough flour to make a firm but sticky dough. Don’t worry about kneading (though the book doesn’t tell you this!). Just take your mass of dough, put it in bowl with some additional olive oil, turn it upside down so that your dough has a thin film of oil protecting it. Cover with saran wrap or you can cover the bowl with a plate large enough to fit and prevent the entrance of air. Let sit until the dough doubles in size. We usually make ours in the morning after breakfast and it’s more than ready by dinner time.
When you’re ready to eat, pre-heat your oven to 500°F (usually as hot as any oven goes). Make sure your stone is in the oven! Meanwhile, roll out half your dough into a thin crust and place the crust on a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal. We shoot for about 11-12 inches for a thin crust. Add the sauce and toppings of your choice. Slide that pizza into your hot oven and start making pizza number two. This recipe should make two pizzas. We obviously double it in our house!