During a month-long sojourn in Lecce, Italy one summer, my friend and I met a trio of Italian stallion locals. Fabio, Giorgio and Massimo took us under their care, showing us around their favorite beaches, restaurants and bars. Strolling down the road one afternoon, Fabio pointed out his preferred pizzeria. A dashing pizzaiolo greeted us amicably as we looked inside. In an attempt at making conversation, I lamely asked him how the pizza was that evening. With a throaty chuckle, he replied, ‘Grande, grande,’ accompanying the comment with a peculiar gesture. Yanking me outside, Fabio asked if I realized what ‘pizza’ was a euphemism for in the local dialect. Let’s just say I never got to experience any sort of pizza from that pizzaiolo; I was too mortified to ever return.
I’ve sampled some delectable pizzas in my time (I mean that in the cleanest possible sense), but nothing makes me swoon like the ones from Berkeley’s Cheese Board. With the California touches of a chewy sourdough crust, oven crisped alliums, ample amounts of various cheeses, and a drizzle of garlic oil and herbs, they embody my pizza holy grail.
Luckily for me, the folks at The Cheese Board divulge their pizza (and many other) secrets in their charming cookbook, saving me a drive across the Bay Bridge and a wait in a line snaking down the block listening to live jazz (the horror). If you love sourdough, cheese and baking, you should own this book. (If you don’t, then what are you doing reading this blog?)
This crisp, chewy flatbread is all the more exquisite crowned with foraged chanterelles, caramelized shallots, soft goat cheese and gooey mozzarella. Dry-frying the chanterelles rids these watery mushrooms of excess moisture (which would result in soggy pizza and slimy shrooms if you were to skip this step; but you wouldn’t dream of doing that, would you?). This also enables you to clean the notoriously dirt-encrusted shrooms as vigorously as you like; yes, even with water, as you have likely been admonished not to do. Save the cooked-off mushroom juice to use in a soup, or to cook grains such as wild rice or barley. Feel free to use other mushrooms if you like, sauteing them in a bit of olive oil first and draining off the excess moisture.
As much as a love a creamy boule of fresh mozzarella di bufala, I actually prefer a drier cheese for pizza making as it releases less water as it bakes, and browns up nicely. If you want to use the wet stuff, layer it on the pizza when it is five minutes or so away from being done.
mix the dough: 30 minutes
first rise: about 4 hours
optional second rise in fridge: 12 hours or more (plus 2 hours to bring the dough to room temp)
bake all three pizzas, about 1 hour
Some handy equipment to have:
metal and plastic scrapers
8 ounces sourdough starter, well-fed and ready to raise bread (1 cup stirred down, or up to 3 cups full of bubbles)
pinch of yeast (optional, if you’re not totally confidant of your starter’s vigor)
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) water, room temperature
15 ounces (3 cups) bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
Combine the starter, water and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low (speed 3) until combined, then knead for five minutes. Sprinkle on the salt and knead on 3 for 12 minutes. The dough should be soft, but pull away from the sides of the bowl as it is kneaded. If it seems dry or stiff, dribble in water by the teaspoon until it softens up. For overly wet dough, add flour by the teaspoon until is comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes or so to adjust the final consistency. The dough should feel soft and springy, slightly tacky but not overly wet or sticky. If you round it into a boule, it should softly schlump out and flatten slightly, not sit up high in a pert round, or sploosh out into a flat mass.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or container and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 4 hours.
(Optional: turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, pressing out as little air as possible, fold the four corners of the dough into the center, making a square parcel. Place the dough back into the container, and let it hang out in the fridge for a few hours to a couple days. Bring the dough back to room temp before shaping, which takes about 2 hours.)
1 garlic clove
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds chanterelles, cleaned throughly and sliced into 1-2″ pieces
1 hefty shallot, thinly sliced
1 pound mozzarella (not the fresh stuff in water), sliced
4 oz. fresh goat cheese, in hazelnut-sized crumbles
a few sprigs parsley and/or tarragon, chopped just before serving
Press or mince the garlic into a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet (well-seasoned cast iron or stainless steel, preferably) over medium-high. When the pan is hot, add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom. Let cook without disturbing for several minutes. When the mushrooms have dropped some liquid, carefully pour it off (into a jar to save for doing something else with later.) Continue to cook the mushrooms in this manner, pouring off the liquid as they cook, turning occasionally, until the mushrooms are done to your liking. They should be tender but still have a bit of bite. Remove the mushrooms to a separate bowl or plate and repeat with the remaining mushrooms. Season the cooked shrooms with a few pinches of salt.
When the mushrooms are done, wipe out the skillet and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the shallots over medium heat until tender, translucent and golden, 10-15 minutes. Season with a few pinches of salt and let cool.
Make the pizzas:
An hour before baking, place a rack in the bottom position of the oven and place a baking stone on top. Preheat to 500º.
Gently plop the dough onto a lightly floured surface, leaving as much air in the dough as possible. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into even-ish thirds. Tuck the ends under to form loose, rounded boules, and cover the boules with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so (this will relax the glutens, making the dough easier to pull into a flat round).
Uncover one boule. Begin to gently press, pull and stretch the dough into a 12″ round. I like to pick it up and drape it over my fists, letting its own weight stretch it out. If the dough resists stretching, let it rest some more until it stops fighting you. The last thing you want is to tear the dough, so be patient and it will eventually cooperate.
When the dough is mostly stretched, lift it onto a piece of parchment paper placed on your pizza peal. Trim the edges round so that they don’t burn in the heat of the oven.
Layer a third of each of the topping ingredients onto the dough, leaving a 1/2″ boarder: shallots and shrooms, then mozzarella and goat cheese.
Slip the pizza, parchment and all, onto the stone in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. The dough should be lightly golden on the bottom and edges, and the cheese should be browned in places. (You can form your next pizza while the first one bakes.)
Use a pair of tongs to pull the pizza off the parchment and back onto the peal, then slide it onto a large cutting board. Brush the crust with garlic oil, and drizzle a little over the top. Sprinkle with the freshly chopped herbs. Cut into 8 wedges and serve. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pizzas.
This pizza is heavenly served with a glass of bubbly Prosecco, a medium-bodied white such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, or even a crisp Pilsner.