Chopped Pepperoni Neapolitan Style Pizza
General Pizza Thoughts:
This is a Neapolitan style pizza, which means a crust that’s crunchy but still chewy. A traditional Neapolitan pizza is cooked for ~1:30 in a wood burning oven at temps anywhere from 800-1200*. At that temp the pizza gets lots of black spots on the dough, called leopard spotting, both on the top and the bottom. But because the pizza is cooked so fast the dough doesn’t get crunchy all the way through. It’s exceptionally difficult to pull off that kind of pizza at home without a wood fired oven. Most indoor ovens can get to 550 degrees these days, which still puts us short of a traditional Neapolitan pizza oven. As such, we’re going to require one piece of specialty equipment for this recipe, which is a Baking Steel. Some of you that have been following my cooking know that I like to use a Baking Steel Griddle for everything from pizzas to steaks, breakfast, smashed burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The magic of the Baking Steel is that compared to a pizza stone, it radiates heat at 15-20x the rate, which means when you put your pizza onto it, it’ll cook the crust from the bottom at a much more rapid pace than a pizza stone. That thermal output is required for Neapolitan style pizza in your oven. We’re going to employ the “broiler method”, which utilizes the natural ability of the Steel, combined with the intense heat of the broiler to try to mimic the wood fired pizza oven. If you’re doing the pizzas one at a time (as in not prepping a bunch in advance and letting them sit, ready to go), and cooking more than two, I recommend switching the oven back to 550* or whatever hottest temp your oven can get to after the second pizza is cooked. You’re reheating the Steel and the oven, and making sure things don’t over-heat from being on broil for too long. Then you can flip back to broil once you start topping pizza #3 and continue cooking.
Serious Eats (1) Basic Neapolitan Pizza Dough:
- 1 packet Instant Yeast
- 4 tsp Kosher Salt
- 20 ounces Bread Flour (2)
- 13 ounces Water
- Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix until the flour is fully absorbed.
- Create an even dough ball, and place back into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and rest 8-12 hours.
- Split dough into 4 dough balls. Form each piece by hand into a smooth dough ball and place in individual plastic bags. Put in fridge for 2-5 days. (3)
- Tomato Sauce (4)
- Boar’s Head Natural Casing Pepperoni, chopped small (5)
- Fresh Mozzarella, chopped small (6)
- Dry Basil
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Semolina Flour
- ~2 hours before making the pizza, take the dough out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temp before beginning.
- An hour before cooking, place Baking Steel (7) on 2nd highest rack in your oven and put the oven as hot as it can go, 550* or 500*.
- Stretch pizza dough by hand (8) to as thin as you can get it, using extra bread flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
- Switch oven from bake to broil high.
- Put stretched dough onto a pizza peel (9) that has a thin layer of semolina flour applied.
- Give the peel a shake to make sure dough is moving, then put a very light layer of sauce on the dough, and lightly salt it.
- Give the peel another shake, then add dry basil and red pepper flake, if desired.
- Add cold chopped mozzarella and shake peel to make sure dough is still moving.
- Add pepperoni, and a splash of olive oil if desired.
- Place pizza into oven and cook until edges of the dough have black spots, cheese begins to brown, pepperoni is crusty, and the bottom of the dough has some stability and firmness to it, ~3-4 minutes. (10)
- Remove pizza from oven and add fresh basil and parmigiano cheese, if desired. Slice and enjoy!
- This dough recipe is taken from the Serious Eats website. It’s by far the easiest dough I’ve ever made, as the only thing it requires is time. It’s the least labor intensive dough I’ve found and it really doesn’t need any kneading.
- I use traditional bread flour here, but I know some people love the “00” style of bread flour. Honestly I haven’t used it yet, but if you like it then go ahead. I’ve used AP flour for pizza dough before but typically I do that for New York style crusts, and like the bread flour here.
- The dough will be ready to cook after 2 days and for as long as 5. After 5 you’ll start to risk losing its stability and integrity, I wouldn’t push past this point.
- Being as true to Neapolitan style as possible, I use San Marzano tomatoes for this sauce. I typically buy the whole peeled Cento branded San Marzano tomatoes at Trader Joe’s. I drain the tomatoes from the sauce and simply puree the whole tomatoes, which can be done with a blender, food processor, or stick blender. Some guys like to crush the tomatoes by hand, which can be very fun, but I prefer as smooth a sauce as possible here because the pizza only needs a very thin layer of it.
- I have done sliced pepperoni, and to great results, but lately I’ve chopped it up into pieces about 1/4 in. x 1/4 in. and I’ve loved the outcome. It greatly increases the surface area and leads to a lot more pieces that get nice and crispy. As such, the natural casing pepperoni is key here, as it allows those edges to crisp up nicely. I really like the Boar’s Head and that’s a brand that’s available in most cities.
- I like fresh mozzarella over pre-cut and packaged mozzarella. You can pull the cheese by hand, slice it, or chop it as I recommend. Because the pepperoni is in little pieces, I like cutting the cheese the same way. Due to the intense heat we use from the broiler I recommend keeping the cheese cold, as that will buy it a little time when it hits the oven so it doesn’t overcook before the dough is done. If you buy the fresh mozzarella in liquid, I highly recommend drying it out on a paper towel after pulling or chopping, as it will expel some moisture during the cooking process. Some people like that but I prefer as little of that moisture as possible. Also, typically I use one 8 oz fresh mozzarella ball per two pizzas. I stretch my dough very thin so I end up with a lot of surface area to put the cheese. If you are going to do a slightly thicker dough then you’ll end up using less cheese.
- The Baking Steel Griddle is what I use, and it’s a monster. 3/8 inch thick steel, 18 x 14 in size, and weighing 25 pounds. I like the Griddle because I use the opposite side for everything from smashed burgers to breakfast to searing steaks. It’s the ultimate kitchen tool, and if you’re going to buy a specialty tool, make sure it can do a lot and do it really well.
- Neapolitan pizza dough is designed to have some chew to it, and stretching by hand will preserve some of the air pockets and chewiness of the dough. That’s what we’re resting the dough for those 2-5 days for, and by applying too much pressure with a rolling pin we’re losing what we waited all that time for. You start by pushing the dough from the middle with your hands, and then literally just pulling the outside of the dough to stretch it and rotating the pizza as you go. You don’t need to be tossing the dough in the air or doing anything fancy, I sure don’t. There’s no style points here so however you can best stretch it, do it.
- A pizza peel is highly recommended for this but not totally necessary. You can make do with a flat surface, such as a cutting board or cookie sheet, but you’ll have the peel forever and they’re not too expensive. A worthy investment for the pizza aficionado.
- You can push the timing closer to 4 or even 5 minutes for a crispier dough, but if your oven is able to put out 550*, your steel is fully preheated, and your broiler is hot, it should be done in 3:30-4 min. You can take the dough and turn it once during the cook if you’d like. Usually I end up doing that after I check it for the first time and it’s not quite done. When to take it out is a personal decision, and one you’ll probably play around with throughout the cooking process to determine your favorite stage of dough doneness.