A pizza classic
This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first Spago restaurant in Hollywood. Although we opened another Spago in Beverly Hills in 1997, and closed down the original location four years later, our dedication has remained unchanged to serving seasonal, modern California cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences (plus touches of my Austrian heritage).
From the start, Spago gained lots of attention for the fresh, contemporary-style pizzas we served. So, it continues to surprise me that people think great pizza is difficult to make. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Pizza is nothing more than a thinly rolled out flatbread with your choice of sauce and toppings, cooked quickly in a hot oven. The most time-consuming part of pizza-making is preparing the dough, and that involves only five basic ingredients -- yeast, water, honey, flour, and salt -- and a few minutes of active involvement to mix, knead, and shape it. The yeast itself does the rest of the work. (And, to make it even easier, some markets today sell good, ready-to-use pizza dough in their refrigerated cases.)
As for what goes on top of that dough, you have an incredibly wide variety of choices. That starts with the sauces. In Italy, many traditional pizzas begin with a smear of intensely flavorful canned plum tomatoes. American pizzas elaborate that a bit by making a pizza sauce fragrant with herbs such as oregano and basil, and the pungent aromatic accent of garlic. But tomato sauce isn't obligatory. You could moisten and flavor your pizza with fruity extra-virgin olive oil, or with creamy and tangy creme fraiche. And one of my favorite pizza sauces is pesto, that richly perfumed blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, and olive oil.
Toppings almost always include cheese. Mozzarella is a standby, with its mild yet rich flavor and its excellent melting properties. But I like to build unique flavor profiles for my pizzas by adding other cheeses, such as rich and nutty-tasting fontina, tangy and creamy goat cheese, and a dash of freshly grated Parmesan. Other toppings add more to the pizza's personality, from meats like sausage or bacon; to seafood, from salty anchovies to sweet, plump shrimp; to all kinds of roasted, fresh, or preserved vegetables.
With so many options, you can put together your homemade pizza as simply or elaborately as you wish. The example I share with you here has become a classic in my restaurants and my home ever since I first made it, to his specifications, for my oldest son, Cameron, almost 20 years ago. He's 22 now, and this is still the way he prefers his pizza.
So, isn't it time you started creating your own pizza classics at home? Get started!
CAMERON'S FOUR-CHEESE PIZZA
Makes one 10-inch or two 8-inch pizzas; serves 2 to 4
3/4 pound Pizza Dough (recipe follows)