Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ray's Focuses On Pizza

A wedge of Ray's Pizza
We went out for pizza recently while visiting family in New Jersey. There's no shortage of pizzerias in the area, many of them notable. My mom and sister chose Ray's Famous NY Pizza, in Verona, NJ.

The surprisingly small building  is located on a busy suburban corner, and is shared with two or more other businesses. Ray's has counter type seating facing out the big windows, and a few concrete picnic type tables outside. One would imagine that most of its business is takeout, but it seems to do a good trade in slices. When we were there, they were running a special of two slices and a soft drink for either $5 or $6, depending on the chosen toppings.

We ordered a large pizza with sweet peppers and onions; a family favorite. The pizzas are made up at a baker's table in a narrow nook to one side of the ovens, The small space doesn't seem to inhibit the skills of the pizzaiuolo. The wait was about 20 minutes, but worth it. While we waited, I scoped out the pies that they had ready to offer by the slice. The variety was large and most all very attractive.

When our pie came, it was a beauty, heaped with thickly cut sweet onions and red peppers, simple crushed tomatoes, and just the right amount of cheese. Less is best. The crust was a bit unusual, with an even, regular texture. But it was o.k. We had no problem consuming the entire pizza on the spot. It was filling, but without the heavy greasy feeling one might get from over the top toppings.

Rays ratings:

Food: ***1/2
Service: friendly, but limited. Order at the counter, carry food yourself to car or table.
Price: unavailable, but probably average for the area.
Ambience: very casual and functional
Hygiene: looks very good

Back home once more, the memory of that pizza remained with me, so I indulged an impulse and on Monday made pizza. I decided to keep it simple for a change. For the dough, I used only 1 teaspoon of instant yeast in over 4 cups of flour, plus a 1/4 cup of gluten. The fermentation took place over some 4 hours. That gives a better flavor.

For sauce, I followed the simple instructions of various Italian cookbooks. A can of Italian plum tomatoes in puree and juice, coarsely chopped and drained over a strainer. The saved juice and puree made the foundation of a great Bloody Mary later on.

The seasonings were salt, freshly ground black pepper, a little orégano, a bit of (o.k. A lot) of crushed garlic, and a tiny squirt of olive oil.

The toppings for the two medium pizzas would be alla Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella* and fresh basil; and the second alla Puttanesca; with anchovies, two kinds of olives and a dusting of hot red chile flakes.

*I used a funky chunk of mozzarella that needed to be trimmed of mold before being sliced and placed on the pizza. Nothing to be scared of. It tasted fine when baked and there were no ill effects.

I stretched and rolled the dough balls gradually and placed the circles on my dark, solid (not perforated) medium sized pizza pans. They baked well and in a shorter time than than I'd experienced with the perforated pans. The finished crusts were more characterful than Ray's.

The pizzas not only looked good, but tasted wonderful. Different from Ray's, both good in their own way.


Pizza dough (adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas)

1 tsp dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp sugar
3 or more cups of flour
1/4 cup gluten flour (optional)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of the water with the sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.

Put the dissolved yeast and the rest of the water in the mixing bowl, along with the salt and 3 cups of flour and the gluten, if used. Add the tbsp of olive oil.

Begin mixing with the flat paddle beater. Beat on low to medium speed two minutes, approximately.

Switch to the dough hook, and mix on low speed about 8 minutes, adding enough flour to make an elastic dough. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl from time to time.

When the dough forms a ball, wrapped around the dough hook, and cleans the inside of the bowl, it's ready. Oil lightly the ball of dough and put back into the bowl, covered with a clean kitchen towel or similar. Let rise until more than doubled, about 2 to 3 hours.

During this time, you should prepare your sauce, cheese and other toppings.

Lightly punch down the dough and form into two balls. Cover with the towel and allow to rest 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450º F or as high as it will go. The oven racks should be well spaced to allow for optimal heat circulation.

Gently pat, stretch and roll a ball of dough into a circle of even thickness and enough diameter to reach up the shallow sides of your pan.

Set that aside and repeat with the second ball.

Cover each pan of dough with chopped and well drained canned Italian tomatoes, seasoned as above, or the sauce of your preference. In either case, they must be thick and not runny.

Place toppings sparingly, and when done, place pizza into oven. With our oven, they take about 20 minutes to bake.

Rotate the pizzas top to bottom and reverse on the shelves to ensure even cooking. When the toppings are cooked, the cheese melted nicely, and the bottom of the crust is browned, they are done. 

Remove each pizza from the baking pan to a cutting surface, and with a large, sharp knife or pizza cutting whel, divide into desired serving sizes.

Try to wait a few minutes before eating, as mouth burns may otherwise result. 

More Pizzas In History

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Puttanesca


Felipe Zapata said...

Those are fine-looking pizzas. You've made me hungry.

Don Cuevas said...

The lovely Lady Zapata might make a pizza for you if you ask her nicely.

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Man, I would love to have a decent place in town to get pizzas, you know, I have some extra cash to spot you in a nice joint in town. I'll pay for a nice Blodget Oven for you in-trade for your endless talents. The only problem the people that would appreciate it you can count on both hands.

Steve Cotton said...

Wow! Popeye's chicken. And now pizza. Given the choice, I would take your pizza. But I don't have the choice. There are no pizza joints in our neck of the woods worth visiting.

Don Cuevas said...

Steve, you can make the chicken tenders at home. Look for "Popeye's Chicken Copycat Recipe" on Google.

Tancho, why not build a wood burning pizza (and while you're at it, for bread as well.) Then we could come on up and bake some high altitude pizza!

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Tell you what, find a master albanil who know how to built one of those babies, and I just may go for it. You can then come on up and stoke the fires for some stellar bread, pizzas will be a reward....