Pizza

Three Summer Pizzas Worth Turning on the Oven For

August  3, 2016

I had set out to the farmer’s market Sunday morning in search of figs, but distraction hit me at every turn: basil bundles the size of house plants, brilliant orange Turkish eggplants, pints of golden teardrop tomatoes, fuzzy yellow peaches with their green leaves still intact, sweet peppers in nearly every hue: purple, green, red, and yellow.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For simple salads! For no-fuss dinners! For, yes, pizza! (Even if it means sweating by your screaming-hot oven because you wouldn’t let a little heat stand in the way of maybe the best toppings season of the year, right?)

Here are three summery combinations—peach and basil, broccoli rabe and sausage, and roasted peppers and tomato—all of which share one common ingredient: crème fraîche, which I discovered as a pizza topping last fall, when I made a version of Dorie Greenspan’s Alsatian tart flambée. Crème fraiche lends, of course, a lovely creaminess and tang, but it also eliminates the need for lots of (or any) cheese. I in fact prefer each of these three pizzas without any cheese, and this is not because I don’t love cheese—I do!—but because its absence allows the other toppings to really shine.

Many of my tips for making great pizza at home have been voiced by others, but here goes:

Lahey Dough

The virtues of the Jim Lahey pizza dough recipe (here and modified, below) include minimal effort (active time to prepare the dough is 5 minutes), nice yield (6 rounds of dough that can be stored in the fridge for 3 days), and high quality (the long, slow rise produces a dough with pockets of air trapped throughout, which when heated, expand, creating a beautiful, light crust).

I find in the summer that I need to cut back on the flour, so in my adaptation of the recipe, I use 950 grams as opposed to 1000 grams—but depending on the humidity (and other weather conditions) in your region, you may not need to make any adjustments.

Baking Steel

The baking steel not only creates a thin and crisp crust but also allows any air pockets trapped in the dough, especially along the outer rim, to expand beautifully—so if you like that ballooned edge characteristic of Neapolitan pizzas, the baking steel is a great tool to add to your collection. If you don’t have one, a rimless sheet pan (one you don’t care about, because it will get ruined) or turned-over rimmed sheet pan can be used instead, though the underside of the pizza will not be as crisp.

Parchment Paper

It may feel wasteful, but using a bit of parchment paper allows for easy shimmying from peel to steel, and it’s a way to avoid the mess of flour or cornmeal (which would be used in place of the parchment paper) burning on your baking steel or pizza stone or oven floor. (Note: Parchment paper is not all created equal. I had been buying it online in bulk until I discovered my dough—and other things—were sticking to it. I have not had this issue with most brands I’ve found at the grocery store.)

Plan Ahead

For pizza to be an endeavor that does not demand every pan, cutting board, and inch of counter space in your kitchen, it requires advanced planning. With dough on hand and a few toppings prepared—onions caramelized, broccoli rabe sautéed, sausage browned—on one day, pizza can materialize quickly on another.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

What do you pile onto pizza in the summer? Share your ideas and your best pizza-making tips in the comments below.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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11 Comments

jyBBQ May 24, 2018
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Smaug August 4, 2016
The "Uni" oven sounds interesting- I've never worked with wood pellets, but I understand they're pretty easy and neat. I see it fires from the top, which seems a bit unusual- one or two of the reviews did mention disappointing bottom crusts. For comparison, the P. Pronto (mine, at least) maxes at about 750 degrees, but it does heat up quickly- the stone is two part, with a small air gap in between. They claim you can make a 14" pizza, but the opening is only 13 1/2", and it's really best to keep down to about 10" pizzas; it's difficult to be totally accurate sliding a pizza off the peel through the narrow slit, and if you overshoot it is bad. There is a 1" or so gap around the stone for heat circulation, and if you overshoot you won't be able to move it until the crust starts to set; really too late. Free tip; if your pizza sticks to the peel (which it will usually do if you leave it on more than about 10 min.), it can easily be loosened up with a metal spatula. A cookie sheet makes a great peel if you don't want to spring for one- it's best to have at least a couple if you want to make a succession of pizzas. All in all the reviews on the "Uni" are very positive; a few did complain of problems with parts fitting and with rust, but most seemed to have no problems. For the next step, the guy at the local "Barbecues Galore" showed me a non portable outdoor oven that went to something like 1500 degreees- beautiful if you have 5 grand or so to blow.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 4, 2016
That would be SO disappointing! I mean, it's all about the bottom crust. Very interesting about P. Pronto, too, re gaps and narrow slit, etc. — it would be hard to anticipate these issues before actually making a few pies. And you are so right about peels — I have two, which is so nice, because I can assemble one pizza on one and have another free to remove the pizza in the oven. Great tip re sheetpans. I'll have to give that a try. <br /><br />And I know, a non-portable outdoor wood-fired oven ... it's fun to dream! I'm actually always relieved when I read negative reviews, because it makes me feel I've saved (or earned!) money. I might have to think a little more about that Uni.
 
PHIL August 3, 2016
Hi Alexandra, I saw on your website you were in Lake George, I have a place in Bolton Landing. I probably walked by you at the farmer's market that weekend. Anyway, I use the Bakerstone insert in my BBQ to make pizza. I make fig/prosciutto/ smoked mozzarella combo. Also sliced heirloom tomato & basil over ricotta. I had peach / prosciutto at Co. in NYC recently, really nice. I look forward to trying your broccoli rabe pie..
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 3, 2016
So funny! Bolton Landing is so much fun. Next time I want to explore the restaurant scene a little bit more. Very cool re Bakerstone — I've never seen this product! Would be a nice way to avoid turning the kitchen into an oven during the summer. Co. is high on my list of NYC restaurants to get to. I love smoked mozzarella. All of these combos sound delicious!
 
PHIL August 3, 2016
Most of the restaurants are just okay. We usually cook home cause we are a big group. Lake George is a great place for kids. Co. is excellent, I am a fan of Sullivan street bakery who owns them.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 3, 2016
Ok, actually that's kind of a relief to hear—we are a big group as well. I have yet to make it to Sullivan Street bakery though I am a big fan of all of Lahey's recipes.
 
Smaug August 3, 2016
Trouble with stones and steels, especially in summer, is the extended preheat time. For a really crisp bottom crust, use a perforated pan (perforations should be large, about 1/4") and cook at the bottom of the oven- you also won't need any cornmeal, though I've never had problems with it when using a stone. Parchment and other silicone products are generally not advised above 415-450 degrees; you could use foil if you really want to do it that way.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 3, 2016
So true regarding the long preheat in the summer ... not ideal, but the pizzas have been worth it. I'm intrigued by the perforated pan! Do you grease it? I have a vision of a circular perforated pan from somewhere — do you use circle or rectangle? I use parchment at 550ºF — it chars and sometimes crumbles, but otherwise it works. I'm curious as to why it's not advised at higher temperatures?
 
Smaug August 3, 2016
No grease- bread doughs really don't stick to much of anything once they start to cook. I use a circular pan (14")- I think it's Chicago Metallic, though no logo on it. I'm pretty sure I got it at BB&B; not hard to find,, anyway.I have some aluminum pans with smaller holes, but they really don't work as well, not sure why. Also not sure what's with silicone at high temps (other than paper burning), but every silicone product I've used has come with advisories against using it above the temps. I mentioned; I've never considered it worth messing with. I actually use an outdoor pizza oven in summer (Pizzeria Pronto)- it's a fun tool, not horribly expensive and works quite well, though I actually prefer the pizzas I make indoors.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 3, 2016
Thanks for all of this! I'm always looking for alternative ways to cook pizza (and other foods) because everybody's set up is different — I don't mind turning my kitchen into an oven because I can eat outside, but I understand this isn't ideal for everyone :) Going to get my hands on one of those circular perforated pans. I like the Chicago Metallic brand — very reliable. I'm going to look into the parchment paper thing more. Obviously, I don't want to advise people to use it if there's some sort of harmful chemical reaction that occurs at the high temps. Curious about the Pizzeria Pronto, too. I have my eye on this guy: http://uuni.net/