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Crispy-Crust Pizza with Sausage and Ricotta

I had an excess of fresh ricotta and some spicy Italian sausage in the refrigerator this week and decided to build two meals around these ingredients: the pizza here, and a fabulous spaetzle. If your ricotta is runny and wet, set it in a strainer over a bowl to drain off water for a few hours in the refrigerator before using, or the pizza will be soggy once baked.

When making pizza, allow overnight rising for the dough to develop good flavor. Don’t rush the process and you will be rewarded with a memorable pizza with truly artisanal taste. I find baking the pizza on parchment directly on a hot baking stone is much easier than sliding pizza off a pizza peel onto a baking stone, and the difference in the crispness of the crust is not discernible.

To learn more about making pizza from scratch, join me in our upcoming pizza workshop on September 6 at noon.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the dough:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cups room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canned chopped Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1/4 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, finely crumbled
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Make the dough: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add enough room-temperature water (about 3/4 cups) to make a soft dough that rides the blade. Process for 45 seconds. Add a little water if the dough is dry or a little flour if it is sticky. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if you add too much flour, or not enough water, the pizza will be dense and heavy.

Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, shape into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to shape the dough, return the dough to room temperature before cutting it and shaping it.

About 1 and 1/2 hours before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 550 degrees (if your oven only goes to 500 degrees, that is fine too). The baking stone needs to get VERY hot for at least 1 hour before you bake your first pizza on it.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Shape into 2 balls on a lightly floured counter. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax, making stretching easier). Using your hands, shape into 12-inch circles; the edges should be slightly higher than the center.

Top the pizza: Place 1 dough circle on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet. Rub with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Top with 1/4 cup of the tomatoes and spread gently with the back of a spoon. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.

Top with half of the ricotta and then finally with half of the sausage; be sure the sausage is in tiny pieces as it needs to cook through in just a few minutes in the oven.

Use the upturned baking sheet to transfer the pizza (still on its parchment paper) to the baking stone in the oven. (In other words, use the upturned baking sheet almost like a pizza peel, to slide the parchment paper and pizza into the oven quickly).

Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and browned around the edges and the sausage is cooked. Top with half of the basil. Continue in the same manner with the remaining ingredients and serve each pizza as it emerges from the oven.

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