What happens in our kitchen owes as much to happenstance as deliberate intention and sometimes the alignment of culinary planets all but makes a certain dish inevitable. Baby arugula arrived from Allendale Farms last week; Ben, the go-to guy for mushrooms for Rialto, came into a batch of fresh porcini. Jody and her staff paid a visit to Valley View Farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts for a close look at how artisanal goat cheese is made (and came home with lots of chevre). And finally [cue trumpet flourish] my new Baking Steel arrived. Let’s see: great ingredients + Baking Steel (the industrial steel world’s answer to a pizza stone). Was there really any choice other than to make Pizza with a Porcini Salad?
Of course portabellos or another favorite funghi will do a great job and a pizza stone will serve in place of a Baking Steel. A pie baked with shaved porcini would have been a joy to photograph, but that meant dragging in a tomato sauce recipe and if we were already inviting you to make your own pizza dough it all seemed a bit much in the middle of some very hot weather, so we decided to use the porcini raw. Also, fresh porcini have a delicate fruity flavor that plays in the piccolo section of the pantry orchestra, while dried porcini sit somewhere down with the bassoons. The latter help anchor dishes, lend them depth, whereas fresh porcini are a flowery grace note that is easily eclipsed in the face of heavier ingredients. Why take a chance? Better to bake a pizza with an interesting cheese mixture, then toss a handful of dressed arugula and mushrooms on top. Pizza with salad on top is no longer the revelation it once was, but if you haven’t tried it yet, here’s your opportunity to add a lighter alternative to your repertoire. Arugula and frisée make particularly good choices for the salad since their bitterness cuts through the richness of the baked topping.
We have several good pizza dough recipes, but pizza is too improvisational to settle on one dough recipe and call it a day. Like bread, it invites tinkering. The single shared principle in all of our pizza dough recipes is that we make the dough the a day ahead and let it rise overnight in the refridgerator. Retarding the development of the dough results in a much more complex flavor than that of dough made in a few hours. But beyond that basic premise, everything is up for grabs. More cornmeal? Whole wheat? To knead or to fold, or do neither? We go through phases. If you’ve had a bad day nothing beats throwing together a pizza dough and thumping the bejeezus out of it before putting it in the fridge for a slow rise overnight. If on the other hand, you’re pressed for prep time Jim Lahey’s pacific no-knead pizza will ultimately accomplish the same thing, if over a slightly longer time. Either approach will serve, resulting in a chewy crust if you don’t rush the process.
If you’re happy with your own pizza dough, don’t bother with all this. But if you haven’t tasted a slow-rise dough before…
About that Baking Steel.* You can read about it in a Boston Globe article, as I first did,or you can go to the Baking Steel website for the whole story. We weren’t doing side-by-side comparisons with our usual Hearthstone bread stone, but my impression is that pizza cooks faster on the Baking Steel, about 7 minutes vs 10 or more for a pizza stone. Second and third pizzas cooked almost as fast (no pause between the first and second; five minute pause before we added the third). Some reviewers have taken note of the Baking Steel’s weight, and rightly so. Lifting a 15-pound baking sheet, especially with one hand, can be cumbersome, and you probably won’t want to move it at all once it’s hot. If you suffer from tennis elbow, don’t even think about getting this. Weight aside, I thought it made a terrific, charred pizza and I can’t wait to try baking a sourdough loaf on it. The Baking Steel website includes a link to a Cooks Illustrated reviews, suggesting that most people will be quite happy with ordinary pizza stones. It goes on to describe the Baking Steel as appropriate for the “avid pizza baker seeking to emulate the violent heat of a professional pizza oven.” That’s just how my friends think of me – an avid and violent guy. Enjoy. Ken
*All the usual yada-yada about not being solicited, promised the vacation of a lifetime in Naples or compensated in any way, etc. apply.
GOAT CHEESE PIZZA WITH PORCINI SALAD
Makes 4 pizzas, roughly 8 -10 inches across
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- ¾ cup tepid water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 1 cup unbleached bread flour
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour + additional for kneading if needed
- 1 pound soft fresh goat cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic, we used very young fresh garlic
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Salad and Garnish Ingredients:
- 4 ounces fresh porcini or portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 scallion, very thinly sliced, about ¼cup
- 2 cups arugula
- 2 ounces shaved goat’s milk tomme (or any other aged mild goat cheese with a medium texture)
- 4 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
- In the bowl of the standing mixer, dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of the water. It should bubble within a few minutes. If it doesn’t bubble, the yeast is old. Use yeast from a new package.
- Add the remaining water, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Whisk together. Add the cornmeal and whole wheat flour and using the dough hook, mix to combine well. Add the bread flour and ½ cup of the all-purpose flour. At this point it will look like a rough shaggy mass (see dough hook photo). If you want to knead it by hand, now is the time to start. Knead in the standing mixer 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed to enable it to release from the sides of the bowl into a single sticky mass. The dough will gradually become smooth, but should reamins a bit tacky. Remove from the mixer and form into a ball.
- Put 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a glass bowl. Roll the dough ball in the oil until coated all over. Put a mark on the outside of the bowl to measure the height of the un-risen dough. This will help you later to determine if the dough has doubled during rising. Cover with plastic and let rise overnight (12 to 16 hours) in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature and finish rising (remember that mark?). This may take up to 6 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 550° or as hot as it gets. Just to be clear, if this is your first time making pizza: your pizza stone or Baking Steel should be in the oven so it preheats as well.
- Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll into tight balls. Roll them in a little olive oil to coat, cover with plastic or a towel and allow to proof for 20 minutes. The dough will expand a bit more as well as relax, enabling you to stretch it out.
- Make the cheese topping. Mix the oregano and garlic into the soft goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
- Press a dough ball flat with your palm on a lightly floured surface. Starting at the center of the disk, use your fingertips to stretch the dough, working outward to form an oval about 6″ by 10″. Try to maintain an even thickness as you work. Leave the dough a little thicker around the edge to form a rim. Sprinkle a pizza peel or baking sheet with cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking. Set the dough circle on the peel. Use ¼ of the cheese and drop it in spoonfuls evenly over the pizza, but not covering the edge.
- Slide the pizza from the peel onto the preheated stone or Baking Steel. Bake 7 minutes. The crust should be nice and crisp and golden brown. Transfer from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the edges with olive oil, and keep warm. As one pizza is cooking, prepare the next.
- Combine the mushrooms, scallions and arugula in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle over the pizzas. Top with shaved cheese and drizzle with the aged balsamic vinegar.
A few weeks ago a team from Rialto took a guerrilla grilling trip to Topsfield to visit Peter and Liz Mulholland at their Valley View Farm. They have Nubian goats and make goat cheese. Fabulous goat cheese. The milk has a mild clean flavor, as does the fresh cheese. Their aged goat cheese in the style of a Tomme has a bit of a tang. So when Ken suggested we do pizza on his new Baking Steel, goat cheese pizza seemed to be just the thing. And back at the ranch in the Rialto kitchen, Sous Chef Peter McKenzie had some porcini from Ben the mushroom man. I didn’t really have to make any decisions, it all came together seamlessly. I did decide after I tasted the pizza that it needed a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.
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