If you’re not from Jersey, your first thoughts about the state likely involve fist-pumping guidos, swamp lands and a weird chemical smell.
If you are from Jersey, you know what the real Jersey Shore is like, and that in the summer there is no place like it. You also know that, despite the view of the state you get when you first enter it from Manhattan, Jersey is the Garden State, and in the summer there is nothing like a Jersey tomato.
Summer means many things to me: lazy beach days, cold beers on the roof after work, sundresses, sandals, watermelon, lemonade. But one thing it really means is tomatoes.
I don’t know what it is about Jersey tomatoes, but if you’ve had one, you know. They’re the best. Juicy, fresh, vibrant.
My mouth waters.
One of my favorite things on a hot day is a tomato sandwich – thick slices of tomato with American cheese between two pieces of toast. Not fancy, but so good.
Tropical storm Andrea is blowing through right now, though, and she’s blown the heat away. It’s humid out, but kind of chilly too and it’s raining. Hard.
Tomato sandwich isn’t the way to go tonight.
But a hot and crispy tomato pizza? That’s just what the doctor ordered!
What? Your doctor doesn’t order you to eat pizza? You need a new doctor. Ey. Forgetaboutit!
(That was my inner Jersey coming out. You can take the Jersey girl to New York, but that don’t make her a City girl. Not completely.)
This is a great Friday night dinner (I think I told you before, my mom’s family owned a pizzeria and growing up Friday night was always pizza night).
Pizza sounds daunting.
People think you need all sorts of special equipment like pizza stones or special pans, and that making pizza involves making the dough.
Reality check. I don’t have the room to make my own dough. I don’t have the time either.
And like the raviolis the other night, frozen is totally acceptable. There’s a lot of good frozen pizza dough to be had out there.
I asked my mom once for the pizzeria’s dough recipe. It started with 100 pounds of flour.
Besides, mom and grandma used frozen dough when I was a kid. And you know what I say, if they did it, it can’t be wrong.
Now back to the pan.
Yes, you can use a pizza pan. I find lots of uses for mine, so I do recommend it. I tend to cover it in foil and use it any time a baking pan is called for. Sometimes I don’t even cover it because mine is just super easy to clean.
Here’s the pan that I have. I’m a big fan. Easy clean up. Light and easy to store (It gets stashed in the drawer under the oven) and the little ridges let air circulate under the dough so you get a crispy crust.
Here’s mom’s pizza pan, which she took from the pizzeria when the family sold it.
If you don’t have a pizza pan, you can flip over a cookie sheet and use the bottom. Just make sure it’s cleaned really well.
And pizza stones? Never used one. A 425 degree oven does the trick.
In the morning, take the dough out of the freezer and place it onto a floured plate.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and cover with a kitchen towel.
Why a kitchen towel and not a paper towel? Shrug. Mom did it this way.
It probably has something to do with keeping the dough warm and moist, but really I don’t know. I just know hat you could always tell when it was pizza night at mom or grandma’s by the dough resting under its towel on the counter.
When you get home from work, the dough will be defrosted.
Turn the oven to 425.
Drizzle a little olive oil onto your pizza pan.
While the oven preheats, stretch out your dough. Shake off any excess flour.
There are different dough stretching schools of thought. Some people flour the counter and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. I don’t have much counter space, so I go with the stretching in your hand method. This always makes way less of a mess.
Pick up the dough and, over the pizza pan (it will catch the flour that falls) start working the dough outwards with your hands.
Keep rotating the dough and stretching so it stays round (ish) until it’s the size of your pizza pan.
Lay the dough on the pan. It will shrink a little bit. That’s fine. No worries.
Chop up some garlic and slice your tomatoes up into a big thick slices.
Layer the tomatoes over the crust, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic and some black pepper.
Pop in the oven. The cheese is coming, but I want the tomatoes to roast on their own and for the crust to start to crisp up. This is a sauceless pizza, so it’s really about bringing out the flavors of the tomato. Letting them cook for a bit before adding the cheese will give the pizza that real rich, intense tomato flavor.
While the pizza starts to cook, grate up the mozzarella cheese.
I’m going lighter on the cheese than usual because I want this to be about the tomato. But feel free to pile it on. Pizza is totally personal, so adjust to your tastes. If you want to try a twist on the typical Italian pizza, try cheddar instead of mozzarella, or maybe ricotta, or go Greek with some feta. Tomato and feta? Mmm.
When the tomatoes are cooked some and the crust has started to be less doughy, pull out the pan and sprinkle on the cheese.
Throw it back in the oven until the cheese melts and the crust is cooked through.
I’d say it’s about 15 minutes total cook time. Maybe 8 or 9 with just the tomatoes and another 7 or 8 with the cheese added.
This will vary by your oven and by your taste in pizza. If you like the crust a little on the doughy side, cook a little less, a little more crispy, leave it in a little longer.
The tomato almost melts into the crust and the cheese protects the tomatoes from getting too scorched by the oven. You bite into a slice and you get the chew of the crust, the melty cheese and the burst of freshness from the tomato.
It’s summer in Jersey in one bite.
By the way, since Friday night is always pizza night, mom was making pizza too. Here’s hers.
She takes the traditional approach. Crust, sauce cheese.
And hers always comes out better than mine.
1. because of the pan and 2. because, well, she’s mom.
Happy pizza making!!