Some might think the toppings is what makes the perfect pizza, but local pie-tossers agree the dough is the foundation of it all.
Hajro Muminovic, cook at Depot St. Cafe in Manchester, Vt., may have over 20 years of baking and cooking experience under his pizza apron, but he still sticks to a simple recipe for making the restaurant's signature wood-fired Mediterranean pizzas.
"I like the old-fashioned way, the way it was done a long time ago," he said. "I think it is the healthiest way. We don't use preservatives. That's the best way."
The recipe: flour, yeast and a little salt. If anything goes on the crust, Muminovic said it's just olive oil. He doesn't use butter or milk. When it comes to the cheese topping, it's the best quality and a small amount of it.
Leigh-Anne NiCastro is the produce, meat and cheese manager at Wild Oats in Williamstown, Mass., and has years of experience making pizza, including time spent in Italy and an education from the Culinary Institute of America. She too sticks with a simple recipe, but she's also tried other unique styles of pies.
"For those that like to live on the edge, you can try anything really. There's no qualms. I know people who make an eggplant dough," NiCastro said. " ... Cauliflower is a really good no-flour option these days."
She also suggested chickpea flour for a flat-bread pizza, Italian style with more flavor.
The first step to cooking a pizza, NiCastro said, is to heat up the oven with the pan inside and to "get it super hot." Next, mix the dough with a mixer because it's too sticky to do it by hand. Then, knead the dough out from the inside to the crust so that there isn't a clump or bubble in the middle, she said. Brush olive oil on the crust and then season tomato paste for the sauce, or cook up a white cheese sauce. Top the sauce with a variety of cheeses and whatever toppings, then wait for it to cook.
"Use lots of different cheeses, Parmesan is not my favorite. I'm a big fan of fresh mozzarella unless there's feta and I'm weird I throw blue cheese, pears and arugula. In south Italy they throw salad greens on the top of their pizza," she said. "Get creative. In northern Italy they crack an egg in the center of the pizza before it comes out, absolutely delicious."
Basic pizza dough
Courtesy of The Food Network
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling (Note: Using bread flour will give you a much crisper crust. If you can't find bread flour, you can substitute it with all-purpose flour which will give you a chewier crust.)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water, 110 degrees F
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons
Combine the bread flour, sugar, yeast and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine. While the mixer is running, add the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil and beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball. If the dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.
Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.
Before you start making your pizza dough, remember these tips from Leigh-Anne NiCastro, produce, meat and cheese manager at Wild Oats in Williamstown, Mass.:
• Be patient when working with dough and stretch inside to outside.
• Use a mixer because dough gets sticky.
• Use seasoned tomato paste, not pasta sauce.
• Leave the crust alone except for olive oil. She's not keen on putting meat or cheese in the crust.
• Preheat the oven with the pan in it.
Leigh-Anne NiCastro, produce, meat and cheese manager at Wild Oats in Williamstown, Mass. stretches out a small dough to prepare for a pizza.