Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Focaccia-style Pizza Crust

One big step towards eating all organic has been to buy as much organic cheese as possible, which is no small task when you have two people that enjoy cheese as much as we do. As in many things, organic cheese is more costly than its mainstream counterpart. After much searching we found organic mozzarella.

We have always relied heavily on mozzarella for our budget staple: homemade pizza. This simple meal has seen us through the leanest times of the last few years, and has been one of our comfort foods. The price of the "good" (i.e. organic) mozzarella was definitely an issue, since it was half the size and as expensive, or more, than what we had been buying. If we used as much cheese as we usually did on a sheet pan pizza, it would certainly not qualify as budget-friendly. We tried a few different approaches, but finally settled on using a crust based on focaccia bread (a flat Italian bread, seasoned with olive oil, herbs and sometimes, salt). In my version, this flavorful crust is blind-baked for a few minutes, topped with a simple sauce of choice, mozzarella, a smitch of feta cheese, and whatever toppings fall to hand. Leftovers of this pizza are a nice accompaniment to a hot bowl of soup, or can easily be reheated for another meal.

2¼ tsp yeast (1 envelope)
1 cup warm water (105°-115° F/41°-46°C*)
1½ Tbsp raw sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tsp salt (grind fine after measuring)
3½-4 cups flour (I substitute 1 cup, or more, with whole wheat)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine yeast, water & sugar. Stir and leave it for 3-5 minutes (you should see foam forming on top of the water).
Add salt and oil, and then gradually add flour until the dough comes together. The dough should be moist but not overly sticky.
At this point you can decide if you want to knead the dough by hand or in the mixer. I prefer by hand, so I remove the dough once it is combined; (if you choose to use the mixer, do so according to your model's instructions, being careful not to over-knead).
If kneading by hand, knead for approximately 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
Coat the dough in olive oil, cover and put in a warm place (app. 80°F/27°C*) until doubled, 45-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C*)
Punch down and roll out app. ½" thick onto a prepared sheet pan (I usually line my pans with parchment, or in the case of my earthenware pan, coat with oil).
Dimple the surface and brush generously with olive oil & sprinkle with coarse salt, Parmesan cheese & herbs.
Blind bake the crust for app. 5 minutes, remove and top according to your preferences- I suggest a simple sauce, 8 oz mozzarella cheese, 1-2 oz Feta cheese, homemade pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms, etc.
Bake for an additional 13-20 minutes until crust is browned on the bottom and cheese is melted.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

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