Laura Castellini s Pizza

The picture of array inch round tins and toppingsgorgonzola tomato sauce with chair lauras crust The first time I ate Lauras pizza she made twenty-four of them for a group of six people. When we walked into her familys centuries-old walled garden in Radicondoli, her husband, Marco, showed us their wood-fired oven, which was alight with red coals. He said it would be ready when the coals began to turn white. In the kitchen, the long counter top and the table were covered with an array of 9-inch round tins, and nestled inside each was a pizza with different toppingsGorgonzola, tomato sauce and sausage in one; potato and rosemary in another; mushroom, mozzarella and tomato sauce in another, and so on. There were no repetitions. As soon as Marco placed the first pizzas in the hot oven, we were instructed to take our seats. A few minutes later, he began bringing them into the dining room to eat with the familys homemade red wine. I dont know whether to be proud or sheepish to tell you I ate one piece from each of the pizzas. They were THAT good. Somehow, I was able to walk home that night. I really wondered if Id be able to get up out of my chair!

Lauras crust, with the inclusion of milk, and the coating of the tin with olive oil, is thin, delicate and crispymy favorite kind. Here is a version of her recipe, adapted to my American kitchen. I buy the Italian double-zero, super fine flour from the local Italian marketit makes for a more delicate crust. But if you cant find it, just use all-purpose flour (do not substitute with cake flour; its not the same). Dont let anything stop you from trying this recipe. It is so easy, you will succeed the first time, and so delicious, you will want to make it again soon!

Four large pizzas

Ingredients:

7 cups flour (start with 4 cups and continue adding flour until you get a nice soft ball of dough)

1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

1. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and form a crater in the center (old fashioned method); or use a Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle attachment.

2. Slightly heat the milk and water in a small pan to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit (use a thermometer if you have one; if not, test it on the inside of your arm; it should be just a little warm). Proof the yeast in a cup of the lukewarm liquid, with a teaspoon of sugar, to be sure that it is alive. (Stir the active dry yeast or the live yeast into the liquid, and let sit for 10-15 minutes. A foam should form on the surface. If this doesnt happen, the yeast is dead and you will need to buy new yeast before proceeding.)

5. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the pinch of salt to the liquid and stir.

6. Pour all of the liquid into the center of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon, then knead with your hands, until the dough forms a ball that is soft, smooth, and elastic. Or, using your Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle attachment, pour all of the liquid into the mixing bowl, add 2 cups of the flour and start the mixer at the slowest setting; add two more cups and blend well. Now, remove the paddle attachment and change to the dough hook. Continue adding the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough forms a ball around the dough hook and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, leaving the sides of the bowl clean. Stop adding flour at this point. Usually you will need 7 cups.

7. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, place a large bowl over it to cover, and then let it rise, for one hour. If time permits, you can knead the dough again and let it rise once more. For a thinner, more delicate crust, let it rise for only one hour, then roll it out; for a more elastic, fuller-bodied dough, let it rise a second time, then knead it again before rolling it out.

8. When it is ready, divide the dough into 4 portions and roll each out into a large rectangle and place on a 11 X 17 baking pan that has been coated with a small amount of olive oilthis creates a crispy crust.

9. Finish the pizza with your favorite toppings and bake at 450 for about 10-12 minutes, then slide it out of the pan and directly onto the rack and bake 3-5 minutes more, or until the bottom of the crust is golden and crisp.

ORif you are fortunate enough to have a wood-fired oven, you can bake the pizza in a pan on the oven floor, next to the white-hot embers. You should test it with only one pizza first to make sure the oven is not too hot. It takes practice to know when the coals are the right temperature. Laura and Marco, who taught me this recipe, bake their pizzas in aluminum disposable pans (this is a common practice in the villageno one seems to have permanent baking pans there) rather than directly on the oven floor. Tommaso Vatti, owner of La Pergola Pizzeria, bakes the pizzas directly on the oven floor, using a pizza shovel to put them in and take them out. Try it both ways and see which you like best.

Some delicious toppings:

Potatoes, rosemary and Gorgonzola

Goat cheese & fresh figs in season; fig balsamic glaze in winter (optional: caramelized sweet onions)

The Radicondolese has prosciutto over mozzarella cheese, then is topped (after it comes out of the oven) with truffle oil and fresh arugula.

The Coronado has pecorino fresco (only in center), mozzarella (all over), a ring of pepperoni sliced in the center of the hub and one the outside, a half circle of thinly sliced eggplant and the other half circle of thinly sliced zucchini.

The Pasquale has tomato sauce, mozzarella, very thinly sliced eggplant and bruschetta topping (chopped tomatoes, basil and olive oil), and parmesan cheese.

Need I mention that everything is liberally drizzled with olive oil? I sprinkle crushed chili peppers over just about everything, but thats my southern Italian palate. Make them your own with your own favorite combinations!

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