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Essential tools for making restaurant-quality pizza at home



Pizza has undergone a renaissance in New Orleans in recent years. From foldable New York-style slices to deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas, there's a pie for every palate. And for people who want to bake delectable pizzas in the comfort of home, there's a cornucopia of tools available. Whether your budget allows for a modest investment (a pizza stone and quality olive oils) or a lavish one (an open-flame home pizza oven), there's a way to add pizzazz to your pizza.

  The first key is to start with quality ingredients. Kristina Bradford of Whole Foods Market (citywide; wholefoodsmarket.com) recommends a corn flour-based crust. "Corn flour ... gives the pizza a tender yet nutty crust," Bradford says. Corn flour is an easy-to-use ingredient for pizza crust because it keeps the dough from being too soggy. She recommends coating the crust with a quality olive oil.

  Different sauces pair better with different crusts. "With a hearty, wheat crust, a deep marinara is a good pairing, but if a lighter crust is selected, you might go with an oil or vinegar dressing," Bradford says. Olive oils and infused oils add earthy and spicy flavors and are an unexpected alternative to tomato-based sauce.

  "Many people go straight to a pungent marinara, but there are plenty of oils that can be used as the base for your ingredients," says Denise Dussom, co-owner of Vom Fass (5725 Magazine St., 504-302-1455; www.nola.vomfassusa.com). The ingredients that will top the pizza should determine which oils you will use.

  "Go with what works best with the ingredients you have at hand," Dussom says. "If you plan on making a pizza with vegetables as the main ingredient, basil extra virgin olive oil will serve its purpose. Dipping the ingredients in the infused oil beforehand is always a great idea."

  She recommends pairing olive oils with flavorful cheeses. For example, truffle extra virgin olive oil pairs well with sheep's milk blue cheese and creamy goat cheese. "We use a blend of white and black truffles to create a complex web of flavor, with hints of garlic and mushroom," Dussom says. "Coat a thin layer over the dough before cooking, and once the crust is done cooking, begin placing bite-sized pieces of the desired cheeses."

  Sweet and spicy vinegars pair well with poultry and seafood toppings. "If you put star fig chili vinegar with garlic extra virgin olive oil to dip your crust in, it's divine," Dussom says.

  After deciding on toppings and a sauce, it's time to choose a cooking method. A traditional yet rarely used cooking method is a cast iron skillet in a conventional oven.

  "Many customers ask how to get the crispy yet tender crust we produce in our pizza station. Our first suggestion is to invest in a cast iron skillet," Bradford says. "It is an affordable item that gives the pizza the same texture as a wood-burning oven. A cast iron skillet raises the temperature of the pizza. It does not trap moisture in, keeping the dough from getting soggy."

  Pizza stones are another affordable option for baking a crisp crust. Their porous, ceramic materials essentially recreate the conditions of a brick oven.

  "A pizza stone is designed to distribute the heat in the oven evenly through the pizza and keep moisture out," says Leah Drill, a spokesperson for Bed Bath and Beyond (citywide; bedbathandbeyond.com). The store offers a 15-inch round pizza stone by Hartstone Pottery for $29.99. "This particular design is easy to convert from the freezer to the oven, and its surface allows for easy cleanup."

  Since this pizza stone is ceramic, drastic temperature change can cause it to fracture. To prevent this, preheat the stone in the oven for 45 minutes prior to cooking.

  For people who want an authentic crust cooked over an open flame and have the means to install a pizza oven, Nordic Kitchens and Baths (1818 Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Metairie, 504-888-2300; www.nordickitchens.com), offers an artisan pizza oven made by Kalamazoo. The stainless steel oven's gas flames give pizza crust the texture and crispness a traditional wood-burning oven brings, but with greater convenience and faster cooking times.

  "The cooking time for an artisan-style pizza in this oven when preheated for 45 minutes to 500 degrees is only three minutes," says Antoinette Theriot-Heim of Nordic Kitchens.

  Whether you cook your next pizza in a cast iron skillet, on a pizza stone or over flames, creativity and proper tools are the secrets to success.

  "Pizza essentials don't have to be a hassle to get your hands on," Drill says. "With a bit of insight and a few easy-to-use tools, you can craft a pizza with a nice bite to it."

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