Alison Ashton of Nourish Network and I were talking about a favorite subject—no-knead bread—and soon enough found ourselves wondering whether the dough would work as a pizza crust. I was sure it would but had not specifically tried it. Naturally, that meant I had yet another reason to stir up a batch of bread.
Then, over this past weekend, G and I went to Pizzeria Delphina on 18th Street in San Francisco. We sat at the counter where I could watch one of the chefs shape the pizzas. No flying, circling pizza-shaping dramatics—but it also didn’t look like there was room for theater where he stood perhaps 4 feet from the pizza oven. He had a big white tub of risen dough balls on his left, and a pile of flour to one side in front of him. He dipped the dough in the flour, put it on his work counter and prodded the dough into a circle, working from the middle out so he had a nice double-thick rim around the outside edge. Then he picked up the dough, holding it just high enough so one edge brushed the counter top, and fed the dough though his fingers, working it around and around. The dough stretched naturally thin in the middle and retained its rim. Only when it was as thin as he wanted it did he put it on the back of his fists and immediately transfer it to a wooden paddle, stretching it slightly into shape as he laid it down. If it was a tomato-based pizza, he poured a small laddleful onto the crust and smeared it around with the back of the ladle. Then his neighbor slid the paddle onto his own work station to finish assembling the pizza. All of this took probably less than 60 seconds. I didn’t time it—reason enough to go back. As if the pizza itself and the tempura-battered, deep-fried heirloom broccoli(!) were not enough.
Now I had two reasons to try pizza: the no-knead dough question and the shaping technique. No-knead dough works great. When I do it again, I think I will use just 10% whole-wheat flour instead of 30% and that will, I believe, improve the dough’s performance in terms of rising and blistering around the edge. (Even though I keep two pizza stones in my oven as well as a 14-inch cast iron frying pan to add mass and retain heat, after the first pizza, the oven cools significantly. How I wish I had a convection oven.)
I need more practice with the technique (tough duty, I know) but even doing it for the first time, it was faster and easier than my normal method of rolling and then stretching. The dough handled very like that at at Pizzeria Delphina. I was interested, too, that at the pizzeria, the dough was not brushed first with olive oil which I have always done. Not doing so made assembling the pizzas quicker and the resulting pizza a little lighter to eat but no less concentrated in flavor. What is definitely true is that if your pizza is going to be as simple as bread, tomato sauce, garlic, and a little cheese, all those ingredients need to be of superior quality and intense flavor.