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One of my first jobs was as a young pizzaiuolo (Italian for pizza chef) at Sally’s Sicilian Pizzeria in Deer Park, New York. Sicilian pizza is slightly different than the Neapolitan pizzas most Americans are familiar with. For one, Sicilian pizza is rectangular, and while Neapolitan pizza is known for being very thin, Sicilian pizza is 1/2 to 1 inch or more thick.
To prepare the sponge:
1. Place 1 cup lukewarm water in a large bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon yeast (reserve remaining yeast for dough) and 1/4 teaspoon flour over water. Let stand until yeast dissolves and mixture looks spongy, about 4 minutes.
2. Add scant 1 cup flour (1 cup minus 1/4 teaspoon) and whisk until smooth; scrape down sides of bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow this “sponge” to rest, at room temperature in draft-free area, overnight (at least 12 hours).
To prepare the dough:
1. Proof the remaining 2 plus envelopes of yeast by sprinkling the yeast and the 2 teaspoons of sugar over the remaining 2 cups warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. Let stand until yeast dissolves and the mixture looks spongy, about 5 minutes.
2. Place the bowl containing the matured sponge on your stand mixer and add the proofed yeast. To this add the 2 teaspoons of salt and the 6 cups flour (1 cup at a time) while beating with a dough hook to blend. After all the flour has been incorporated, continue to beat (scraping down the bowl occasionally) until the dough is smooth and comes cleanly away from the sides of bowl, and is only slightly sticky to touch, about 5 minutes. If dough is very sticky, beat in a little more flour (¼ cup at a time).
3. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth ball, about 8 minutes. Do not skimp on this step as it develops the elasticity of the dough.
4. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with extra-virgin olive oil. Add the dough ball and turn to coat it with oil (be sure to coat the ball or it will form a crust which will impede the dough’s rising). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to further develop for 3 or 4 hours or more, “punching” the dough down when each time it doubles.
5. About 1 ½ hours before baking, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead gently and shape into a 12-inch log. Cut the log into 3 equal pieces. Knead each piece into a smooth ball and either place each ball into separate bowls or arrange the balls on a lightly floured 12″x 17″ rimmed cookie sheet. Cover loosely with clean, damp (not wet) kitchen towels and set aside in a warm, draft free place until almost doubled, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
6. Lightly oil three 12″x17″ rectangular, rimmed cookie sheets (I call them pizza pans) with some extra-virgin olive oil.
7. Proceed to form the pizzas by, one at a time, taking each ball of dough and flatten it out to form into a rough rectangle. Then, using a rolling pin and your hands, work the rough rectangle into a finished 12″x17″ rectangle. Fold the finished rectangle in half and transfer it to the oiled pizza pan. Unfold it and adjust it to fill the pan edge to edge.
Topping the pies:
1. Preheat your oven to the highest temperature it will go. For mine, it’s 550° F.
2. Meanwhile, combine the San Marzano tomatoes with the crushed garlic and, separately, combine the grated mozzarella with the grated Parmesan.
3. Build each of the pies by distributing 6 to 8 ounces of the tomato/garlic mixture over each pie, completely to the edges. Top this with the grated mozzarella/grated Parmesan cheese mixture, the toppings of your choice, and finally drizzling with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
4. When the oven reaches temperature, place the pizzas in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and begins to brown slightly and the bottom of the pies begin to brown. At 550° F this should be about 8 minutes. Watch the pies and, if your oven does not heat evenly, move the pies around to insure they all cook evenly.
5. When the pizzas are finished, remove them from the oven and either cut each pie in half or thirds lengthwise and then into fifths to produce either 10 or 15 slices per pie, respectively.
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