Dana Cowin is the longtime editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, so you might think her kitchen skills are as strong as her editorial prowess. Take it from a self-professed dish-ruining home cook: sometimes you need a real chef to step in and show you the ropes. Cowin’s new book, Mastering My Mistakes In The Kitchen, was inspired by (and with help from) some of the country’s most beloved chefs, to bring your confidence up to your taste buds’ level.
Determined to make pizza, my family’s favorite food and the zeitgeist dish of the millenium, I elected to start the easy way, with premade dough. So when I stopped off at Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery in Boston and saw gorgeous balls of dough wrapped in plastic, I bought one. During the long train ride to New York, it expanded, until it looked like a gargantuan heirloom tomato with deep ridges and creases.
When I got the dough home, I set to making the pizza right away, flattening it and trying to push it with my fingers into a big circle. The dough refused to stretch. Assuming that something happened to it on the ride, I gave up and just baked the rectangular lump of dough with broccoli rabe and a mix of cheeses and crème fraîche on top. Though it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t good either.
To improve my luck the next time around, I consulted with Nancy Silverton, who makes some of my favorite pizza in America at Mozza in LA, and I discovered that the dough most likely wasn’t the problem after all. After the trip, it was rested and at room temperature, two important qualities for a pizza dough. I had given up too soon. Nancy told me I needed to work the dough into shape slowly, first tapping my fingers in the center of the dough, as if on piano keys, then draping the dough over my fists, moving them around like the hands of a clock, to enlarge the shape.
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 small bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and roughly chopped (about 3 cups)
- kosher salt
- flour for the work surface
- 1 pound store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
- 3 - 4 tablespoons creme fraiche
- 1 cup coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese (don't use the fancy kind here)
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- freshly ground black pepper
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Rub 2 tablespoons of the olive oil all over a large baking sheet.
- Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, just a minute.
- Add the broccoli rabe and 1/2 cup water and season with salt.
- Cover the skillet and cook, uncovering to stir the broccoli rabe occasionally, until it's bright green and tender, about 6 minutes.
- Transfer the broccoli rabe to a plate and set aside to cool.
- Dust your work surface with flour and place the dough on it.
- Since you're making a rectangular pizza, first form the dough into an oval.
- Starting in the center, tap the dough with your fingers, then move out to the edges to flatten it and go around the edges with two fingers.
- Flip the dough over and repeat.
- Drape the dough over your fists and move them around in a clockwise direction, letting gravity pull and stretch the dough, until it's about 1/4-inch thick and about 10 by 12 inches.
- If the dough is being stubborn, simply return it to the work surface, cover it with a clean towel and let it rest for 10 minutes before trying again. You might have to do this a couple of times.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet.
- Using the back of a spoon, spread a very thin layer of crème fraîche over the dough.
- Scatter half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan on top.
- Scatter the broccoli rabe evenly on top of the cheese layer and then sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil all over the pizza and sprinkle with pepper and a little bit of salt.
- Bake the pizza until the bottom of the crust is golden brown and the topping is bubbly, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve hot.
Make Ahead: The cooked broccoli rabe can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Chef Tips From Nancy Silverton:
- On the importance of room temperature dough: Don't ever try to shape dough that you've taken straight from the refrigerator—the warmer the dough, the more pliable it will be.
- On shaping the pizza: Flatten the rested dough with your hands and then go around the edges with two fingers to create a puffy center. Then flip the dough over and do the same to the other side. A silky dough basically stretches itself. And remember that pizza doesn't have to be round–it can still be delicious even if it's not!
- On editing your pizza toppings: The worst pizza is the one you order with "the works." You do not want to weigh down the dough with too many toppings. Edit your toppings.
- On pizza stones: A pizza stone or oven tile is helpful but not totally necessary. If you do have one, make sure it heats up for at least an hour in your oven. A good one is the metal pizza stone from Modernist Cuisine (modernistcuisine.com).
- On the best oven: For making pizza at home, a convection oven is best.
- On entertaining: Set limits when you are first beginning–don't invite twenty people over, because they're all going to be standing around waiting for pizza. Make pizza for the family to start and limit the toppings.
On Pizza Toppings:
- Use bacon that is still raw—the bacon will cook completely in the oven. If you put cooked bacon on the pizza, it will burn.
- Sausage should be cooked slightly to render some of its fat before going on top of the pizza. If you put it on raw, the pizza will be greasy.
- Arugula is best added after the pizza is cooked.
- Escarole, a much sturdier green, can be put on a pizza raw and cooked in the oven.
- Mushrooms are far better if roasted first before going on top of your pizza.
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