In 2006, Manhattan bread guru Jim Lahey's procedure for making excellent bread at home, with little work and no kneading, became one of the most celebrated breadmaking advancements in ages.
Lahey had people stirring together flour, water, yeast and salt, and letting it ferment overnight before plopping it into a hot pan and baking it into crackling-crusted, full-flavored loaves. Years later, home bakers are still thanking Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, for making bread great again.
Now it's pizza time. "My Pizza," Lahey's new book, is subtitled "The easy no-knead way to make spectacular pizza at home," which is enough to set hearts aflutter among homemade pizza lovers.
Lahey's approach is essentially, "I'll tell you how to make a great crust. You worry about the best ingredients possible, and the results will be pizza well worth messing up your kitchen."
Lahey wants to free home bakers from worrying about the dough, but that doesn't mean he has no rules. You're going to need a pizza stone; he recommends commercial-grade 3/4 -inch-thick ones that still fit in a standard oven. You're also going to want a peel, the big wooden paddle used to get pizzas in and out of the oven most smoothly.
He thoughtfully included a page on serving strategies, or how to feed a bunch of people when you can only make one 10- to 12-inch pizza at a time. (Serve everyone samples of the first few from the oven, then let guests pitch in and top their own, reclaiming the term "pizza party."
Then, it's to the pizzas. Tomato-based pies come first; Lahey recommends using the best canned tomatoes you can find when it's not tomato season. Failing that, make white pizzas or their sauceless cousins. "My basic sauce is so very simple and pure that an inferior tomato will be beyond useless," he writes.
There's vegetable pies, the giardineria with its fresh corn and arugula, the radicchio, even a zucchini version. Then there's the meaty types, with prosciutto, with veal meatballs, and one with guancianale and honshimeji mushrooms. There's even a pepperoni pie that features merguez sausage and red pepper sauce but no pepperoni sausage, following the meaning of the original Italian: plural peppers.
Lahey provides simple, straightforward recipes for doughs, sauces and toppings, plus a few salads and sides that have become popular at his Sullivan Street pizza restaurant. Bruschettas topped with canellini bean mixture, broccoli rabe or Japanese eggplant salad; pea soup; and salads ranging from baby octopus to esacarole.
"Don't be intimidated; making a pizza is not haute cuisine," Lahey writes. He calls for readers to join him in seeing pizza as another staff of life: "I'll know I've done my job when you come to see pizza as healthy, artful, and so infinitely variable that you wouldn't mind eating a pizza pie just about every day."
By Jim Lahey
$27.50, 191 pages