You may not know who Jim Lahey is, but in fact you do. Perhaps you've heard about the phenomenon that is no-knead bread. It's the bread dough recipe that simply stirs together flour, yeast, water, and salt, before allowing it to rest for about 18 hours. No kneading involved. Plop the oozy glob of dough into a preheated cast iron pot, cover and bake, to create an incredible loaf of bread with a crackling crust and chewy interior. Lahey's recipe and technique was first shared by Mark Bittman in The New York Times in 2006. Since then, it's been written about, adapted and adored more than nearly any other recipe in recent memory.
Jim Lahey studied baking in Italy and went on to open Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City in the mid-1990s. Then in 2009 he opened Co., a pizza restaurant in New York, which combined his years of bakery experience and his passion for Italian food. The no-knead recipe, which in many ways made Lahey a household name, is not far off from his approach to pizza dough: The dough is essentially fermented, allowing time--not kneading--to create a dough that is flavorful, yet delicate, and crunchy, yet chewy. In his cookbook My Pizza, Lahey shares his recipe and technique for making pizza dough, along with dozens or recipes for pizza toppings, along with salads, sides, and desserts.
The trick to great pizza crust, other than great dough, Lahey writes, is in shaping the dough gently, so you don't release all the air bubbles you created during fermentation. There are step-by-step photos showing you how to shape the dough either on a work surface or in the air. The introduction of the book also shares other tricks to great pizza crust, including tools you'll need, such as a pizza peel and baking stone, as well as picking the best flour, olive oil, tomatoes, and other key ingredients for creating great pizza at home. And perhaps most importantly, Lahey explains how to hijack your home oven to make it hot enough for turning out crispy, charred pizzas like a pizza oven (hint: it's all about the broiler). Otherwise, the book gets right to the recipes.
There is the recipe for Lahey's basic pizza crust, a red sauce, white sauce (a béchamel sauce), plus dozens of salad recipes, and a handful of desserts. Most recipes include tips in the sidebar like how to construct a pizza, such as layering toppings so they don't burn, etc. There is nothing particularly earth-shaking, but sound advice nonetheless. Lahey's red sauce recipe recommends using the ripest tomatoes you can find, although I wish he'd mention a canned alternative he finds suitable, since that's what most people can consistently find year-round.
In addition to the pizzas and their topping combinations, there are recipes for caramelized onions, veal meatballs, lardons, pork sausage, merguez sausage, and homemade ricotta. Some simple recipes are scattered throughout like creamy onion sauce and garlic confit. Appetizer, salad and soup recipes include the ubiquitous tomato and mozzarella salad, in addition to radicchio salad, baby octopus salad, poached artichoke salad, and a salad made from salt-crusted roasted beets. There are various toasts topped with beans, eggplant, and a pesto made of garlic scapes and lovage as well. And for desserts, there's banoffee pie, olive oil cake, and several flavors of gelato.
My Pizza won't bring the pizza restaurant into our home, but it will get you pretty damn close. And when you consider that good artisan, wood-fired pizza costs you $15 or more when dining out, investing in this book, plus some time to learn the technique, is money well spent.