Q: We're hosting a party for my 9-year-old. What do you recommend we serve that will satisfy both the parents and the kids?
A: Let us return to the classics: the pizza party.
Often, the best way to entertain family and friends is to invite them into the kitchen. Even 9-year-olds. Pizza is perfect for kids and adults both fastidious and adventurous. So long as they're happy to eat standing up.
Every pizza starts with a delicious dough. Italian villages have all but waged wars over the recipe for pizza dough. But dough need not be complicated or fussy. It's a simple combination of water, flour, sugar, salt and olive oil. The potentially frightening aspect of dough making is the use of yeast. Make the dough at lunchtime, or even the day before your dinner to eliminate the stress entirely. (If you're pinched for time, ask your local pizza shop for ten pizzas' worth of dough. It'll work just as well.)
This is my favorite dough recipe of the moment because it's easy and versatile. I use the same basic recipe for many flatbreads.
I form each ball of dough into 9- or 10-inch circles and then parbake them on a cast iron griddle, skillet or any hot, flat surface so that it's lightly cooked out the outside but almost raw on the inside. Once the dough is set, it's impossibly easy to work with. Just top the pie and finish it in the broiler.
In Italy, you won't find a pie with "the works." What Italians understand is that more is not necessarily better. There is an elegant balance in simplicity. Use only enough sauce to coat the dough and then sprinkle just enough of each topping so that you can smell each flavor with every bite, including the smell of the toasted wheat.
Consider your lactose intolerant friends when topping your pie. Pizza without cheese is the new black. This pie is napoletana -- that is, of the city of Napoli -- because of the toppings rather than the consistency of the dough. The anchovies, olives and capers will have you singing down the streets of Napoli in no time.
1/4 cup Pomi strained tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 anchovy fillets, cut into 3 pieces
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed and soaked overnight in cold water (change the water several times)
7 or 8 Gaeta olives, pitted if desired
Spread the tomato sauce evenly over the parbaked pizza crust, leaving a half-inch border. Drizzle the olive oil over the sauce, arrange the anchovies on top, and scatter the capers and olives over the pizza. Broil until almost charred, about 4 minutes, then cut into 6 slices and serve.
Makes about 1 3/4 pounds.
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, and mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the warm water, wine and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until the mixture is too stiff to stir, then mix with your hands in the bowl until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn the dough out. Knead gently, dusting the work surface lightly with more flour as necessary, for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky.
Oil a large clean bowl, add the dough and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, set in a warm part of the kitchen and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough, and it is ready to use.
(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind twenty-four restaurants including Eataly, DelPosto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!)
(c)2013, MARIO BATALI. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.