Well, you live and learn, and the latest in my long-running pizza education has brought me to this Neapolitan-style dough and a method for cooking it that doesn’t require any special equipment or nail-biting anxiety.
The dough comes from food writer Katie Parla’s new book, “Food of the Italian South,” and it’s a beauty. It’s Neapolitan-style, because as the official organization of the pizza will tell you, true Neapolitan pies must be cooked in a wood-fired oven, among other requirements. True to Neapolitan pizza’s spirit, though, this recipe produces a thick, raised rim and a springy crust, thanks in part to the use of higher-protein bread flour. A long, cold rise in the fridge provides excellent flavor.
While I’ve previously experimented with pizza-making without a stone, I wanted a method that got me a little closer to restaurant pies. Another new cookbook, “Mastering Pizza,” by Marc Vetri and David Joachim, held the answer. It uses a cast-iron skillet, preheated on the stove top, and the broiler to try to replicate “the intense bottom and top heat of a domed wood-fired oven,” the duo writes. I like to think Parla and Vetri would approve of my mash-up, as the two are friends and “Mastering Pizza” recounts how Parla joined Vetri and Joachim on their pizza research trip in Rome.
Not only does the skillet-broiler strategy contribute to a rip-roaring hot cooking surface, but using a skillet — a cheap piece of kitchen equipment many home cooks already own — also solves a couple of other problems. While Vetri and Joachim suggest sliding the dough round off a floured peel, I found it even easier to immediately transfer it to the skillet after shaping. As far as the shaping itself goes, Parla’s combination of patting it out with your fingertips and then draping it over your clenched fists really does work. If you struggle, don’t worry. Because of the contained nature of the skillet, even a slightly off-kilter round of dough will bake into a perfect circle. One word of caution: Because the broiler runs so hot, certain toppings, especially soft cheeses such as mozzarella, can overcook, so you might want to add them partway through baking.
A backyard wood-fired oven, or pizza residence in Naples, was always going to be a pipe dream anyway. But excellent, easy homemade pizza? That’s my kind of reality.
Recipe note: The dough needs to rest for 30 minutes, then in the back of the refrigerator (so it’s as cold as possible) for 20 to 30 hours, and for 2 hours at room temperature before shaping. The dough can be frozen after being shaped into balls following the first rise, for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few hours before proceeding with the second rise.
- About 5 cups (590 grams) bread flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) instant yeast
- About 1 2/3 cups (380 grams) cold water
- 2 teaspoons (12 grams) sea salt
- Olive oil, for greasing
Combine the flour, yeast and cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment. Mix on the lowest speed until the dough just comes together and there is no trace of dry ingredients. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Return the bowl to the stand mixer; mix (still with the dough hook) on medium-low speed. Add the salt; mix on medium-low for 7 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly flour your work surface. Turn out the dough there, shaping it into a tight ball. Use some oil to lightly grease a separate mixing bowl; transfer the dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 hours, and up to 30 hours.
Re-flour your work surface. Turn out the chilled dough there, allowing it to gently release from the bowl. Divide it into four equal portions; about 250 grams each.
Lightly grease a baking sheet with oil.
Work with one portion of dough at a time, pulling its corners toward the center so they meet; press lightly so they attach, but do not flatten. The dough will tighten up and take on a rounded shape. Flip over the dough so it is seam-side down. Gently cup the dough in your upturned hands. Carefully move it in circles, taking care to prevent any tears. This will help create a tight, even ball.
Repeat this process with the remaining portions of dough. (At this point, the dough can be sealed in zip-top bags and frozen, for up to 3 months.) Place the dough balls on the baking sheet. Brush them lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let them rest at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in size, about 2 hours.
At least 30 minutes before baking, position a rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element of the oven; preheat to 500 degrees or whatever its highest numbered temperature setting is. Have your pizza toppings assembled and ready to go.
Place one dough ball on a well-floured surface, then sprinkle more flour on the dough itself. Starting in the center, work the dough into a small disk by pushing your fingers flat into the dough, leaving the edges untouched. Flip over the disk and continue until you have shaped it to about 8 inches in diameter.
Before you move on to stretching the dough, preheat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on the stove top over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Open the oven door for 10 seconds if you have an electric oven (this lets some heat escape to make sure the broiler will actually turn on even though the oven has reached its maximum temperature) and then turn on the broiler (to high, if you have a choice).
Drape the dough over the back of your hands and knuckles, being careful not to tear it. Gently rotate the dough, stretching it little by little until it is 10 inches in diameter.
Carefully transfer the dough to the hot skillet, smoothing it into place with your hands or by sliding and shaking the skillet (use a folded towel or oven mitt because it will be very hot). Add your toppings, leaving a 1/2- to 3/4-inch border around the edge. Give the dough an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute to cook; this will help ensure the bottom crust will be crisped.
Use oven mitts to transfer the skillet to the oven. Broil the pizza for a total of 3 to 5 minutes, rotating front to back halfway through, until the crust looks puffed and browned. Don’t walk away. A little charring on the crust or toppings is okay, but even a few seconds too much will burn the pizza.
Remove the skillet from the oven, then use tongs to transfer the pizza to a wire rack to cool. After a few minutes, transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Cut it into slices, and serve right away.
Adapted from “Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic Disappearing, and Lost Dishes,” by Katie Parla (Clarkson Potter, 2019); baking method adapted from “Mastering Pizza: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pizza, Focaccia, and Calzone,” by Marc Vetri and David Joachim (Ten Speed Press, 2018).
Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to email@example.com.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe, plus topping suggestions, here. The nutritional analysis is based on 1 crust.
Calories: 570; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 1180 mg; Carbohydrates: 108 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 20 g.