You know when someone asks you a question and you know the honest answer would make you sound like a total tool, but qualifying your answer is even more tool-ish? For example: What’s your favorite pizza? True answer: a little hole-in-the-wall joint near the train station in Naples where no one spoke english. But that is such a douchey answer because it isn’t helpful, no matter how awesome the pizza was. No one is going to fly to Italy and then take a train to Naples and walk around for 5 minutes to find that one place that I loved that one time. Ok fine, those two times and one of them was breakfast but the pizza was SO GOOD.
But, also, omg can we talk about the pizza? Because it was life-changing. The Boyfriend and I discovered it on our way to Amalfi. We had a layover in the train station so we left and walked around and had the most incredible lunch — chewy crust, blistered from the wood-fired oven; acidic, almost sweet tomato sauce; and melty, gooey, stringy mozzarella cheese with little torn basil leaves strewn on top infusing the whole dining room with their fresh smells. It was so amazing that when we were again passing through Naples a few mornings later, I guarded our luggage at the train station while The Boyfriend ran out and picked up a couple pies . And we ate them for breakfast, standing over our suitcases, waiting for the next train to Rome. And it was awesome. If you’re annoyed with me right now, just know that we also both got fat that trip. But you know what would make that pretentious answer even worse? “Well, my favorite pizza in the U.S. is…” Because I’m just so damn fancy that I have awarded prizes for favorite pizzas in both the domestic and international categories.
So usually I just answer a different question. “My favorite pizza in New York is …” from a totally hipster outpost in Bushwick called Roberta’s. The pizza is delish, and has a lot in common with the pizza I loved so much in Naples — it’s cooked in a wood-burning oven with perfect, chewy crust, but the folks at Roberta’s get crazy with their toppings. Take, for example, the Bee Sting. The Bee Sting has Roberta’s signature fluffy, chewy real fire crust hosting a confusing pile of cured meat, spicy chili oil, and honey. The meat is salty and the oil is spicy and the honey is honey. (Sometimes in life, grasshopper, things just are what they are.) And the Bee Sting is perfect.
The problem with Roberta’s and her perfect Bee Sting is the wait. It’s basically always more than 3 hours and can get much worse on the weekends. Which means if you’re going to go, take a snack. It also means that I don’t really get to eat at Roberta’s … ever. So I started making my version of the Bee Sting at home. I call it the Knock-off Bee Sting Pizza and it’s delicious. I can’t ever get the perfect Roberta’s crust at home (I know! My manhattan apartment didn’t come with a wood-fired oven. I was totally surprised/disappointed too). But the perfect combination of spicy, salty and sweet, I almost forget that my favorite pizza is halfway around the world and my favorite pizza in New York may as well be too.
Remember last time when I promised to be better about taking pictures? Well … I had a dinner party. And I love dinner parties. And I obviously can’t be bothered to take photos of food I after I’ve started drinking wine and I definitely cannot be expected to remember my camera when my friends are filling my kitchen with gossip. So this is not a photo of Knock-off Bee Sting Pizza. It’s a photo of pear, arugula, and blue cheese pizza (which also has a recipe below). Maybe I’ll be better next time?
And while we’re talking about dinner parties: pizza is a great dish for a very informal dinner party. If you prep the dough and toppings the night before, all that is left to be done is assembling the pizzas and manning the oven. But that means the bulk of the cook’s evening (ehm, that would be my evening) is spent on my feet in the kitchen. Pizza night totally works for girls nights, when everyone is perfectly happy to gather at the counter in my kitchen and talk shit and drink too much wine and snack on cheese (a whole wedge of brie is still a “snack,” right?), while I assemble and heave pizzas in and out of a hot oven. And then we attack each pizza as they come out like those sad fish at the zoo that go bonkers for the food you can buy out of the automatic dispenser for, like, a quarter. But pizza isn’t the best pick for a dinner party where you want to, you know, sit down and actually eat at the same time as your friends. For my girlfriends, pizza night is a go-to. But for “real people” I usually go for something that requires less kitchen-time while my guests are over.
- ¼ batch No-Knead Pizza Dough (recipe below)
- 1 T. hot chili oil
- 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese*
- Soppressata slices (or any salty, cured meat)
- 2 T. honey
- *I used to use fresh mozzarella in this recipe, and it's great. The texture of blistered, melty mozzarella makes me weak in the knees. But the good, fresh stuff releases so much water that the pizza gets a little soggy in the process. I switched to shredded mozzarella and, while the cheese texture isn't quite as amazing, the pizza as a whole is much improved. If you're dying for those melty strings you can really only get with fresh mozz, go for it. (And if you decide to use the fresh stuff, I definitely recommend pre-baking -- see the note to my no-knead pizza dough recipe below). Otherwise, save yourself and your wallet a lot of grief and use the pre-shredded stuff. It's still melty and stringy and delicious and a perfect compliment to the salty-chili-honey combo, which is the real star of this slice anyway.
- 2¾ cups lukewarm water
- 1½ T. granulated yeast
- 1½ T. salt
- 1 T. sugar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 glass of wine, for feeling better about the flour all over your kitchen
- Mix the yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil with the water in a large bowl. Stir in the flour. There is no need to knead! Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours. You can use the dough at this point, or refrigerate and use over next 12 days. I always try to refrigerate the dough for at least a day or two -- it develops great flavor while it's chillin' in the fridge.
- On cooking day, wear an apron. You're going to get flour all over yourself (and your kitchen ... just pour a glass of wine. It'll make you feel better.) Preheat your oven to as hot as it will go -- 500 or 550 will do the trick. Let the dough come to room temperature on the counter. I find it easiest to split the dough into four pieces and let it come to room temp in 4 separate bowls.
- Flour a surface, like a large cutting board, where you can get the dough as big as you need it to be. Stretch the dough to make your flatbread -- best impression of classic pizza tossers here, folks. Flatten the dough a little bit, let it rest over your fist and use your hands, and gravity, to help the dough stretch out. Once it's the size you want it, lay it out on an upside-down baking sheet and brush on a little olive oil. Either pre-bake the dough at this point (see note below) or pile on the toppings and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the crust looks finished.
- Note: I don't have a pizza stone so I usually pre-bake my crusts a bit. Sometimes, particularly with wet ingredients like fresh mozzarella, pizza dough can be a little too ... doughy. I find that pre-baking gives the dough a chance to firm and fluff. Stretch out the dough, stick in the oven for 5 minutes or so to give it a little crust on the bottom, pull it out, flip it over, pile on the toppings, and then back in the oven for the rest of the cooking time.
- Preheat your oven as hot as it will go -- 500 or 550 will do the trick. Flour and stretch the pizza dough until it's large enough to cover an upside-down baking sheet. Brush the top of the dough with hot chili oil, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread the canned tomatoes over the dough. I usually start with half a can and add more if it looks too dry. We aren't going for anything super tomato-y here. Sprinkle the mozzarella and arrange the meat to cover the tomato sauce. Here comes the fun part -- drizzle the whole pizza with honey. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust looks done. Taste, die, repeat.
- Pear, Arugula, and Blue Cheese. Slice a pear into the thinnest slices you can. Brush the dough with olive oil (instead of hot chili oil) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a handful or two of blue cheese and arrange the pear slices in a pretty, overlapping pattern to cover the pizza. Bake for 10-12 minutes and top with a handful or two of arugula when it comes out of the oven.
- Poblano, Goat Cheese, and Corn. Roast a poblano pepper, peel, and slice it into strips. Defrost a bag of frozen corn in a colander by running hot water over the kernels until they lose their chill. Pat dry with a dishtowel. Brush the dough with olive oil and 3 tablespoons of creme fraiche, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the poblano strips and corn over the pizza, then sprinkle a few handfuls of goat cheese on top. Bake for 10-12 minutes and, when it comes out of the oven, top with fresh-chopped cilantro and a tablespoon or two of fresh-squeezed lime juice.
- Grape Rosemary Flatbread. Brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle on a handful of chopped fresh rosemary and a handful of halved grapes. Sprinkle on a little more sea salt, for good measure. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Eat standing over the oven, while it's still too hot. A good, large salt crystal perfectly contrasts with the gooey, melty, sweet grape halves. If you have fancy sea salt, this is a great way to use it.