Pizza cures nothing and delivers no one from evil, but eaten alone or with friends for company, it can help keep the boat afloat.
For a wild mushroom pizza I use a white, béchamel sauce base—I find tomato sauce too strong for their woodsy mushroom aroma. You can use many kinds of mushrooms for this; in October I use maitake, in December, oyster mushrooms, but even store-bought button mushrooms will taste good, given this treatment.
All the elements of this recipe can be prepared ahead of time, to assemble 25 minutes before you intend to eat the pie.
For the Pizza Dough (see note)
- 1 cup (240 ml) warm water
- 1 tablespoon (1 package) instant yeast
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 2¼ cups (315 g) flour
- Salt, large pinch
For the Mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 6 cups (420 g) cleaned and sliced maitake
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Leaves from 6 sprigs thyme
For the Cheese Sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1½ cups (360 ml) milk
- 1 cup (100 g) finely grated Parmesan
- 2 medium balls fresh mozzarella
Note: This is a basic bread dough, and makes a Pullman-size loaf. I have also used it to wrap around sausage meat filling to carry to a picnic, and for bread rolls. It is a perfect pizza base, yielding a large, thick-crusted base. You may divide it in half if you want a thinner crust, but for these meaty mushrooms I like a hearty base to give the mushrooms’ flavor somewhere to go.
Make the pizza dough: Mix the water, yeast, sugar, and half a cup (TK g) of flour in a large bowl and stir very well until mixed. Cover and allow to proof for ten minutes. Add the rest of the flour gradually, with a large pinch of salt. When the dough is stiff, turn it onto a floured board and knead until it feels smooth and silky, at least 10 minutes. Clean the bowl and lightly oil it, then return the dough to the bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size.
Punch the dough back down.
If you are using a metal tray for baking, grease it. Place the dough in the middle of the tray and start pressing it outward toward the edges—I used the bunched middle joints of my right hand—always working from the middle of the dough and turning the tray as you go. If you are a skilled pizza maker you may be able to stretch the dough in your hands, but I find that the pressing method works pretty well. Keep at it until the dough has reached the edges of the tray, and leave a little collar around the lip, to catch any bubbling juices.
The dough may rest in the pan for 20 minutes to an hour.
Make the mushrooms: In a wide saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until they exude liquid, about 6 minutes. Turn the heat up and allow the liquid to cook off. Continue to cook until the mushrooms begin to turn golden-brown. Lower the heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and the garlic and cook gently until it is translucent. Add the lemon juice, stir the mushrooms well, and allow it cook off. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Add the thyme leaves. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Make the cheese sauce: In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter until foaming. Add the flour, stirring constantly. Lower the heat. Cook this roux for as long as you can stand, but not for less than 3 minutes. Now add a splash of warm milk, and stir briskly as the mixture seizes up and thickens. Add additional splashes of milk, stirring all the time to prevent lumps. Add the rest of the milk once you are certain that your mixture is smooth, and increase the heat. Stir from time to time as the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and add the Parmesan, stirring well. Taste, and add pepper. (Salt may be unnecessary because of the cheese.) I like to add a whisper of nutmeg at this point.
Dot flecks of butter across the sauce’s surface to help prevent a skin from forming. When the butter melts, tilt the pan slightly to allow it to spread thinly across the surface.
Assemble the pizza: Preheat the oven to 550°F (240°C) or as high as it can go. Hide the smoke alarm (remember to put it back later!).
Spread the cheese sauce thinly over the pizza dough. Cut the mozzarella into medium slices and halve each slice, distributing them evenly on the surface. Strew the mushrooms across the top.
Slide the tray into the blazing oven and cook until the crust is browning and crisp, about 20-25 minutes.
Add fresh black pepper just before serving.