By Paula Roy –
If you are interested in adding a little pizzazz to your homemade pizza, we are fortunate to have a lot of local spots where you can purchase excellent ingredients. Here are a few tips regarding pizza-making components and techniques:
Pizza dough is surprisingly easy to prepare and doesn’t require special equipment. My tried-and-true recipe is on page 16. You can also purchase premade dough at local shops including Nicastro’s, Metro, the Superstore, and Parma Ravioli. For gluten-free options, be sure to check out Farm Boy’s cauliflower crusts or the “Caulipower” brand crusts available at Metro.
A few of my favourites include Parma Ravioli’s arrabiata sauce for a spicy kick as well as Farm Boy’s house-brand jarred pizza sauce. It’s not the same as the sauce they put on their takeout pizzas, but it’s pretty good! If you’re keen to make your own sauce, start with San Marzano or Roma tomatoes and add in what you like, such as minced onions, garlic, and fresh herbs, plus a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acid in the tomatoes. Authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce is not cooked – it typically consists of tomatoes, olive oil, salt, oregano (and hot pepper flakes, if desired) – blitzed together until smooth in a blender or food processor. Pesto – basil, sundried tomato, or other varieties – is a great alternative to tomato-based sauces, as is thick alfredo-style sauce for a pizza bianco.
Mozzarella is the traditional pizza-topper and which kind you choose depends upon your preference. Many swear by the saltier, low-moisture mozzarella because it melts more quickly and has that stretchy, stringy texture we typically associate with pizza. It comes pre-shredded in bags or in firm, shrink-wrapped spheres which you can slice thinly or grate. Fresh, high-moisture mozzarella has a shorter shelf life and is usually sold packed in liquid; it can be made with cow’s milk or pasteurized water buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala). It’s best to slice fresh mozzarella thinly and pat the slices dry with paper towel before adding them to the pizza. Some claim that a mixture of low-moisture and high-moisture is the ideal combination. Others add a little shredded provolone to their mozzarella for a bit more flavour. Crumbled feta and goat cheese are also delicious and BC-based Daiya makes shredded vegan ‘mozzarella’ from cassava and arrowroot that melts well on pizza and is widely available. Here in Kitchissippi you can easily locate the pizza cheese of your preference – including lactose-free mozzarella – at many different shops including the Herb and Spice, the Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli, Il Negozio Nicastro, Farm Boy, and Produce Depot. Find Bella Casara mozzarella di bufala at the Superstore.
Why limit yourself to pepperoni when there are so many other possibilities? Visit the deli counter at Farm Boy to find some creative alternatives such as Rosette de Lyon, a French-style dried salami or Seed to Sausage’s delicious bleu d’Elizabeth jalapeno sausage. Duck confit and spicy Soppresatta are available at Il Negozio Nicastro; Hintonburg Market offers bison and lamb sausage (pre-cook and slice thinly to use as a pizza topping) and the Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli also has a great selection of cured meats. For a fancy treat, indulge in a little Iberico ham from the Piggy Market and use it to top your pizza after it comes out of the oven.
Additional toppings and winning combos
It’s a good idea not to go overboard with toppings as too many makes it hard for the dough to cook properly. Consider dicing all the toppings, so they cook evenly. Get creative! How about brie and poached figs from Il Negozio Nicastro? My fave combo: shredded prosciutto, sliced pickled artichokes, caramelized onion and mushrooms on top of a blend of goat cheese and mozzarella. Pizza is also a great way to use up leftovers. I’ve added potatoes, steak, chicken and broccoli, to name just a few ‘clean out the fridge’ successes. You can also add toppings after the pizza is cooked – sliced fresh basil is great; so are a few leaves of arugula for a peppery pop. My family loves a dash of spicy oil and – believe it or not – a few drops of white vinegar for a tangy twist.
Tools of the trade
Stretch your dough by hand or use a rolling pin, with the dough placed between two sheets of parchment paper. You can cook pizza on a baking tray or round pizza pans, but pizza stones are even better, offering consistent heat and serving to draw moisture out of the dough for a crisper crust. You can transfer your shaped pizza dough by hand to the preheated stone (remove it from the oven) and then top it. Alternatively, prep the pizza for the oven on a pizza paddle (peel) and slide it onto the stone. Another option is to assemble the dough and toppings on parchment paper and transfer the whole thing to the preheated stone. Halfway through the cooking time, sneak the parchment out from under the pizza and let it finish cooking directly on the stone. Find pizza stones, peels and cutters at Kitchenalia.
We may be blessed with hundreds of different pizza possibilities here in Kitchissippi thanks to our many professional pizzaiolos (a.k.a. pizza makers), but making pizza at home can also yield fantastic results, plus it’s a fun and deliciously rewarding activity to enjoy with friends and family.