Pizza Margherita with My Own Fresh Mozzarella! – 30 June 2011

Wow, this turned out better than I expected! I made another variant on Pizza Margherita, and it was really quite good. And I made my own mozzarella balls from cheese curd!

I used the 1/2 crust unused and frozen from a week ago, and instead of Margherita sauce, 1/2 cup of a kind of standard pizza sauce I had in the freezer from an ancient book, 32 Zesty Pizzas. The sauce has dried basil and oregano in it, so the herbs are sorta the same (is dried basil really basil? ;)) but it has added tomato paste, so it is thicker and tomatoier (word? LOL!) than Margherita sauce. It was fine, though really not as good for this pizza as the regular sauce is. I pulled a bunch of basil leaves from our own plants this time. They are thick, toughish leaves, which suggests they are not happy in some way. Taste fine, though. I stemmed them and tore them into large fragments, perhaps 6 per leaf. I cooked the dough alone a couple minutes or less, spread on the tomato sauce and laid out cheese slices, baked till done – perhaps another 6 minutes – and then tossed on the basil.

The big deal was the fresh mozzarella. I made it myself! Well, I made it from curd, not from milk, but still. I bought the curd at the Pop-up General Store on the 22nd, and used the curd directly on a pizza on the 23rd, where I thought it was kind of gummy. It stayed in lumps where it was put. Today I finally got to try pulling the curd into mozzarella. I can’t overestimate the importance of this video in teaching me how to do this. As in: it’s pretty much 100% of what I know about it! A summary, including some things not in the video, or not emphasized:

Heat water to almost-boiling. Bubbles start to form around the top edge of the pan. In the video, she uses a wide, low stainless bowl, and there is good reason for this shape and color. You are going to put the cheese into the water, and you want a lot of hot water so it retains heat well when the cheese is dropped in. You also want to be able to see the cheese to retrieve it; hence, the water should not be terribly deep, and the bowl should not be white. I used a 3qt saucepan, this time. After it reached almost-boiling, I kept the heat on low (which on our stove is super-low) so it would not cool.

Cut up the curd into 1″ or so cubes. Mine were smaller. Drop the cubes into the almost-boiling water. Separate them with a spoon so they get heated on all sides. Allow the mozz cubes to heat till they begin to melt. If they are still springy, they are not melted.

When the cubes have begun to melt, lift them out of the water. They are going into your hand, but they should not go there directly b/c they will burn you. I used a slotted spoon to move the now-melted former cubes into a non-slotted spoon to gather them together. [Next time I will use something bigger and less flat – the cheese kept creeping out the sides – perhaps a 1 cup measuring cup.] Finding all the cheese in the water can be a challenge. I kept lowering the water depth for each new ball for this reason. If you hold some of the cheese out in the air too long while you hunt for the rest of it, it might cool too much. Also, if you leave the cheese in the water too long, it is impossible to pick up. Getting it right consistently will require practice. I did get it right a couple of times, though.

Dump the mass into your hand (even a short cooling period was enough to make this ok for me) and squeeze out the water a bit before kneading. Knead as shown in the video. I will not remotely try to describe this! Pinch off and place the ball in room temperature water for a minute or two to cool. Move to brine. What is brine? Thank you, Google. 1cup:1gal – that is, for each gallon of water, use a cup of Kosher salt. I used 1/4 of a gallon (1 qt) so 1/4 of a cup of salt. This was plenty for all my mozz balls. The video says to leave the cheese in brine for 5 minutes. It’s wonderfully tasty this way, so it’s ready to use. However, the cheese is normally sold in liquid, so I am storing mine in brine. I hope that works ok.  {Added 2 July: The cheese was a bit too salty when stored in this concentration of salt. Ask.com suggests 2t salt: 1c water, which is 2/3 as salty as the original brine. I will try that for storage next time.}

My first mozzarella!

My first ball is – obviously – the one on the left. It’s lumpy and did not pull well. I realized it had not melted well enough, and increased melting gave me the second ball, which was excellent. The third was a bit long and thin, but the texture was still very good. See how shiny #s 2 and 3 are? I used all three of these on the pizza. We didn’t detect any difference between the lumpy and the shiny ones on the pizza, and when I tasted little bits beforehand, the taste was good in all three. Scale: The cutting board is a child’s toy we found at IKEA and couldn’t resist! It’s maybe 8″ long. These are little mozz balls, perhaps2 1/2″ in diameter.

D brought up a bottle of Monte Antico, which was fine with the pizza – nothing special about the match, but good.

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