If you are the owner of a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, you have the most important tool to make your own gourmet pizza in minutes with minimum fuss.
Who does not love the delicious, slightly blackened crusts produced by a wood burning oven and dream of creating them at home?
Most domestic ovens are not hot enough and the long cooking time can result in a dry and brittle crust. Cast iron reaches high temperatures very quickly and retains an even heat, allowing your dough to rise within minutes of hitting the pan. You can produce your own thin and chewy version that can be finished with an endless array of gourmet toppings not found at your local pizza parlor.
I highly recommend making your own dough. The results are far superior to the purchased option and any leftovers freeze well for later use. If you are not already the owner of a cast iron pan, I urge you to make it a priority purchase. Take good care of it and it will last you for a lifetime of cooking and pizza making.
I save red sauce-based recipes for summer and peak tomato season. In the winter, I get experimental and try more unorthodox creations. All my pan pizzas start with a thin layer of mozzarella spread directly over the crust. Drain the mozzarella after slicing and gently blot any excess water that may accumulate during cooking with paper towels. You can combine with other cheeses such as mascarpone or goat’s cheese and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Layer your cheese base with vegetable and meat toppings. Sautéed broccoli rabe with sliced Italian sausage and prosciutto and roasted radicchio are great pairings. For a vegetarian substitute, try mushrooms such as meaty shitake, olives, or even a lightly fried egg. Finish off with freshly snipped herbs such as thyme or rosemary. Reserve basil to pair with the summer tomatoes.
Making your own dough is a breeze. If you have a stand mixer you can make and knead the dough in one operation. If time permits, I like to mix and knead by hand, —you get great results and there is something therapeutic about it. You can also combine hand kneading with processing the dough in the food processor using the metal blade for a couple of 20-30 second bursts. Any longer and you will overheat the dough and diminish the yeast. It is not necessary to proof the dough a second time. Instant rise yeast added straight to the dry ingredients cuts down on prep time. If you do not have bread flour, you can substitute all-purpose flour, but the resulting crust will not be as chewy. After it has doubled in size, punch down and rest for 10 minutes before dividing and rolling out.
3½ cups bread flour
(can substitute all-purpose flour)
1 packet (7g) instant dried yeast
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1½ cups warm water (110F.)
Blend the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and olive oil and mix thoroughly. You should have a soft dough that is not too sticky. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 7-9 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a cloth and place in a warm, draft-free place for about one hour, until doubled in size. Punch down the dough and set aside for 10 minutes. Divide into four pieces and roll out to a thin 10-12-inch round. I use a combination of rolling pin and hand stretching to get the desired thickness. Wrap and freeze any dough you are not using immediately. When ready to use, simply remove from the freezer about two hours before you plan to use. Once the dough is thawed, roll out on a floured surface. Additional proofing is not necessary.
Goat’s Cheese, Walnuts, Honey and Spicy Greens Pizza
The sweetness of the honey compliments the creamy goat’s cheese and the bitterness of the greens. Arugula and watercress make a good combination, but any kind of spicy or bitter salad leaves, such as escarole, radicchio and endive can be substituted.
One 12-inch dough base
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 oz mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced, drained on paper towels to remove excess moisture
3 oz. soft goat’s cheese such as chevre, crumbled
2 Tbsp. runny honey
2 oz. walnut pieces
1 cup washed and dried arugula
1 cup washed and dried watercress
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Coarse sea salt and fresh black pepper
Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat and add two Tbsp. olive oil, swirling to coat the surface evenly. When the pan is nice and hot, add the dough. After a minute or so it should start to form blisters and puff up in the pan. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for about three minutes, rotating both the dough and the pan to ensure it rises evenly.
Flip the crust (the underside should be pale golden brown) and place the mozzarella in a thin even layer over cooked surface, allowing it to melt for a couple of minutes before adding the goat’s cheese.
Once the goat’s cheese starts to soften, check the underside of the crust by lifting with a spatula to make sure it has thoroughly browned. If there are a few blackened spots; all the better!
Drizzle over the honey and sprinkle with the walnut pieces. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the pizza to a wooden board and top with a layer of the greens. Using a pizza wheel or sharp bread knife, cut into quarters before serving. If you are making more than one pizza, place it on a baking tray, minus the greens, in a low oven to keep warm. Add the greens just before cutting and serving.
Pancetta and Roasted Red Onion Pizza with Rosemary
Ready cubed pancetta is available at supermarkets and is perfect for this dish. Sweet and mellow roasted red onions pair nicely with the salty pancetta and parmesan. Sautéed mushrooms or black olives can replace the pancetta as a vegetarian option.
One 12-inch pizza base
2 oz. cubed pancetta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Small red onion peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella, drained on paper towels
¼ cup finely grated fresh parmesan
Fresh ground black pepper
Place the red onion on a small baking sheet and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil, a few leaves of Rosemary and a little salt. Place in a 360 oven and cook for about 15 minutes until softened and lightly browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet, add the pancetta and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until crisp. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.
Cook the pizza base in the cast iron skillet using directions from previous recipe. After flipping the base, cover with the mozzarella and allow to melt before adding the pancetta, onions and a sprinkling of parmesan. Cook for a couple more minutes until well browned and cooked through. Snip small pieces of rosemary over the surface and add a few grinds of black pepper. Cut pizza into four slices with a pizza wheel or sharp bread knife.