One of a dozen of our favorite dishes, pizza and schiaciata and Italian (sorta) bread are all based on the same dough, which, roughly, begins with water, yeast, salt and olive oil. For one or two sheets or loaves, start with two cups of lukewarm water, 1 Tablespoon yeast, 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon of olive olive, and one teaspoon of salt. Knead in enough bread flour to produce a workable dough. Whole wheat flour is also good. Expect to knead from five to ten minutes. Allow to rise a minimum of an hour, but longer doesn't really hurt.
ITALIAN BREAD. This dough will make plain bread if you shape it into long or round loaves. Sprinkle a layer of corn meal of approximately the same shape as your dough lump on a cookie sheet, place the dough on it & allow it to rise, covered with a clean cloth, until doubled (approximately another hour). Preheat the oven to 425E. Slash the top with a cross or several diagonal lines before baking. When you put the bread in the oven, throw half a cup of cold water on the oven bottom. After about half an hour, remove the baking tray and finish cooking the bread directly on the oven rack.
BREAD STICKS. Roll small pieces of dough (about the size of a walnut) into long sticks and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Press the ends of each bread stick firmly onto the sheet so they will stick and not shrink back. Do not allow the bread sticks to touch each other and bake immediately once you have filled the sheet, at whatever temperature is needed for the main batch of bread or pizza. Remove when the bread sticks are golden. If you sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on your work surface, they will become embedded in the dough as you roll the sticks. Ditto corn meal. Bake as above. You may use regular bread dough as well as pizza dough for bread sticks.
OLIVE BREAD. PEPPERONI BREAD. This bread may be adapted by mixing drained olives, patted dry, into the dough before the second rising. Or you may roll the dough out flat, lay a layer of pepperoni slices on it with a little grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese and roll it up like a jelly roll. Seal the edges carefully & allow it to rise for an hour on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, as above. Slash the top before baking as above.
SCHIACIATA: Pat the dough out on a greased baking sheet, allow to rise for an hour, prod a few times with your fingers to create some valleys & drizzle on some olive oil. Grate parmesan on top of it & bake at 450E. Schiaciata in its simplest form. Top it with slivered onions or rings of green pepper, slices of tomato or zucchini or potato. Shove olives into it. Every fall in Florence they make it with ripe sweet grapes, seeds & all, and the city smells like Heaven.
PIZZA. Always set the oven at its maximum for open faced pizza. I use full sized cookie sheets, greased, as the base for the dough. It is usually a good idea to top the dough with tomato sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, oregano & parmesan cheese and then to pre-bake for 5-10 minutes before adding more sauce and the more complicated toppings. Also, when baking two pizzas at a time in a conventional oven, rotate top and bottom shelf, so that both cook evenly. Sauté mushrooms, peppers, etc. before using on pizza, in order to release extra water & not sog up your dough & sauce. Precook sausage or hamburger meat to break up lumps & make sure they cook through.
Non-traditional pizza types:
Ricotta Pizza. For one sheet of ricotta pizza, you need a 15 ounce tub of ricotta cheese. Add chopped parsley and oregano or basil, pepper, salt and grated parmesan cheese. Spread directly onto the pizza dough, then sprinkle with a small amount of mozzarella cheese.
Eggplant or zucchini pizza. Thinly slice peeled eggplant, salt & drain, then sauté in olive oil before layering on pizza dough with tomato sauce and cheese, as you would do for egg plant parmesan. Sauté zucchini slices & proceed as for eggplant, without salting first.
Potato pizza. Pat dough out on baking sheet, then drizzle with a little olive oil and spread with one large clove of garlic, minced. Peel potatoes & slice into paper thin slices, arranging them close together (overlap or not, depending on your own taste) to completely cover the dough. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves, pepper, parmesan cheese and a small amount of mozzarella. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil and bake until the cheese on top is brown & bubbly.
Spinach or broccoli pizza. Sauté chopped spinach (2 ten ounce packages of chopped spinach for a deep 8 inch square pie) with a finely chopped onion and one or two minced cloves of garlic. When liquid is gone, mix with crumbled feta cheese, to taste. Roll pizza dough as thin as you can and gently fit over and into a greased 8 inch square or 7 by 10 inch baking tin. Be sure to leave a generous margin hanging over on all sides. Spread the filling inside the dough and then roll out a second piece, large enough to cover the pan with a generous margin on all sides. Use the rolling pin both to seal the two layers of dough together and to cut off the extra dough against the edge of the pan. Smooth a small amount of olive oil over the top of the dough and then sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese. Make several holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake at 400E until browned. For broccoli pizza, substitute lightly sautéed broccoli flowerets and mozzarella or provolone cheese for the feta. You could add a few pine nuts, if you like. Proceed as above.
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