An Antidote for Pizza

I steer clear of the gummy crap that’s delivered in pizza boxes from the chain stores. No Pizza Hut for me; the ingredients, the preparation, the lack of loving care, all are good reasons to buy pizza elsewhere.

More often than not, the local pizza shop is only a bit better. The dough is rarely fresh, the mozzarella is pre-shredded and made weeks or mints before it becomes a pizza topping. The sauce may or may not come out of a can, but it’s exceedingly rare to find an actual tomato anywhere in a pizzeria. Some pizza places make some of their own stuff, and add some love. Certainly, there are some of NYC pizza places where it all comes together nicely, but they are the exception.

So, what do I want? I want what DiMeo Brothers does. It’s worth a trip to (of all places) Wilmington, Delaware (an hour from Philly) to taste the fresh cheese, the fresh dough, the fresh sauce. This particular pizza restaurant imports ingredients from Italy. Even the water used in dough. Baked in a perfect brick oven, the pizza is sublime–and only vaguely resembles the round, flat, gutless things that Pizza Hut / Papa John / Domino are selling.

Too far away from Wilmington (or their new place in Philadelphia’s Andorra neighborhood) to make a go of it? There are options. One is a book.

20121110-224811.jpgThe book–My Pizza, written by a baker named Jim Lahey–promises a “no-knead way to make spectacular pizza at home”. The book is filled with wonderful photographs of equally wonderful pizzas. No surprise that they look, and taste, as good as the best of DiMeo’s. Fresh ingredients and loving preparation are everything.

You begin with a pizza stone. Three-quarters thick is best because it retains heat more efficiently than the more common half-inch consumer model; visit a restaurant supply shop if you can’t easily find one online. A pizza “peel”–the paddle–is essential, but the long ones used in pro kitchens may be too long for yours, and a smaller one will be fine.

Leahy is okay with conventional flour but extremely picky about the olive oil. The best comes from Chile. The freshest cheese, the finest available tomatoes, these are critical.

Ovens are tricky. They need to reach high heat. Buy the book, read the chapter, because this part is a little complicated. You can do it–make great pizza in your own kitchen–but take care to do the work properly to avoid incident.

Next chapters: how to make the dough, then the tomato sauce, both from scratch. This is not a quick job. This is a messy job, gloriously so. But then here’s that first tomato pie–your freshly made dough, your freshly made tomato sauce, a touch of fin sea salt, and a drizzle of your best olive oil. Three (!) minutes later, maybe five if you let it cool, you’re eating the best pizza of your young life. A week later, you’re completely addicted to your own variation on Leahy’s veal meatball pie, one of a few dozen specialty pies in this handsome cookbook.

Frozen pizza? Domino? Fuhgeddaboudit. Go buy the book and make your own.

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