Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza with Italian Sausage and Hot Cherry Peppers

tonyr_cook_k  Tony writes: I’ve become slightly obsessed with cooking pizza in cast-ironWhy cast-iron? It retains heat well (think Chili’s fajitas), so the dough gets a crisp crust and a nice, puffy texture. Over the last while, I’ve been tinkering with the method for both a regular pie and deep-dish and each is relatively easy, This cast-iron technique entails two more steps than your basic pizza method: pre-heating the pan and blind-baking the crust (see below). After that, just top the pizza amply and bake until the cheese bubbles and browns: home pizza that looks and feels like a pizzerias’.

– “Blind-bake”Blind-baking, or pre-cooking a crust without its toppings, is standard procedure with pies (pie pies like blueberry pie or apple pie). I like to follow this technique with cast-iron pizza. I don’t full-on cook the dough through, just lightly brown it (about 8 minutes) to ensure the bottom crust doesn’t have a soft, doughy texture once the toppings get added. After this initial browning, I add the toppings to the browned shell and finish baking.

Photo Note: The recipe below is for my favorite deep-dish pizza pairing (sausage and cherry peppers), but the pictures are for my favorite photogenic pairing (broccoli, pepperoni, and mushrooms). Use the base recipe and then you do you with the toppings.

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The recipe (Serves 4) 

1. Make the dough: Measure out 3/4 cup lukewarm water (technically, it should be 100F to 110F; if the water is warm-ish, you’re good) and mix in 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar and 1 tsp. active dry yeast (about half a packet). Let sit for 10 min to check that the yeast is alive and well (the top of the liquid will foam and thicken). Add 2 cups all-purpose flour (10 oz.) and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt to a food processor (or standmixer) and pulse (or whisk gently) to mix. Still pulsing (or whisking), pour in 2 Tbs. olive oil and the yeast mixture. Pulse (or whisk) until the mixture comes together into a uniform dough. Adjust with a splash of water or flour if the mixture is wet or crumbly and dry). On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for 2 or 3 min so it becomes uniform and elsasticky; it should spring back when pressed. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl, top with a dish towel, and hold somewhere warm until it doubles in size, about 1 hour; or hold in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

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2. Organize the toppings: This is really up to you; far be it from me to tell you how to top your own pizza. I like 1/2 lb. roasted Italian sausage (cut in 1/2-inch pieces) 3/4 lb blend of cheeses (Parmigiano, mozzarella, and fontina), 2 cups tomato sauce (2 cups whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed in a food processor and seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh basil, and 2 jarred hot cherry peppers.

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3. Roll out and blind bake the dough: Heat the oven to 425F; give the oven at least 30 min to properly preheat. Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven for 10 min to heat. Meanwhile, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into an 18-inch round. Brush the top side with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Using an oven mitt, remove the skillet from the oven and set on a trivet or dish towel.  Using both hands (without the mitt now), transfer the dough (oiled sound down) into the skillet; use a small heatproof spatula (or carefully with your fingers) press the dough to fit the contours of the pan; against and up the sides. Use the tines of a fork to lightly mark the dough (this will prevent it from puffing), brush with some more olive oil (especially the edges) and transfer to the oven. Bake until the dough browns lightly, 8  to 10 min.

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4. Top and bake: Sprinkle half of the cheese on the dough, top with half of the meat or vegetables, and half the sauce. Repeat, reserving the remaining sauce for after baking. Bake until the cheese bubbles and browns and the pie cooks through, about 20 min. Top with the remaining sauce and let cool for a couple of minutes; then cut into wedges and serve.

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