June 9, 2010

Biting Mr. Bittman

I’d like to begin this post with an introduction – well, two introductions to be exact.

First, let me present to you a new, hopefully weekly section of the blog called “Biting Mr. Bittman.” If you haven’t met him before,then here is my second introduction.

Mr. Bittman, or better known to close pals as El Marko – actually, I just made that up, but its a great nickname and he should consider using it – is a pretty famous food writer, if you consider the New York Times a “popular” publication. He pens the food columns Bitten (how clever) and The Minimalist for the Times and has written such kitchen classics as How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and his most recent contribution to food politics, Food Matters.

Since Mark thinks he knows it all – and trust me, the guy does – I thought I would use his recipes as a jumping-off point for my own experiments and finally prove that with the right know-how, you can cook everything – without salt. One by one, I will work my way through Mr. Bittman’s dishes – both from the Times and his books – offering advice on how to twist the basics, the classics, and the complicated into low sodium dishes. And eventually, I will produce a tome on How to Cook Everything, Without Salt (my copy-written title for the book to-be-in-progress with my good friend M) and have it still taste good.

So with that longwinded explanation, let’s begin with something simple: pizza dough.

If you are living on a low sodium diet, one thing you definitely are not enjoying while eating out is pizza. Between the salted dough, the salted sauce, and the salted toppings (cheese, olives, and sausage – oh my!), one slice of pie will have you zooming past your daily allotment of sodium. But this doesn’t mean you can’t eat pizza. It just means you must make it at home. And it turns out that this is not so difficult to accomplish.

To make good pizza, you need to start with good dough, a fact that frightened me because baking is far from my forte. I know I can make a good sauce and that I can get creative with my veggies. But how to form the perfect crust? I was worried this might be beyond me.

To overcome my unfounded anxiety, I did what any smart cook would do and took out Mr. Bittman’s book to see what he had to say about the matter. His recipe for dough was simple: yeast, water, flour, olive oil, and salt. Mix it all up – his preference is to use a food processor, but you can also use a mixer – let it rise, and then stretch and bake. It seemed deceptively simple, but it was simply perfect.

Between brushing my teeth and heading out the door for work, I whipped up a batch of dough and let it rise in the fridge for the rest of the day. When I returned back to my house, it had doubled in size, and the dough was easily manipulated. I stretched out a few pieces to make a mini test round and baked it to discover a soft crust with just enough crunch on the outside.

Now, as for the low sodium substitutions, here’s the truth. The dough without salt is a little ho-hummy. Bread is never bad, especially when the texture is so spectacular, but without salt it is missing some zing. This is where you get to use your low sodium needs as creative license.

For this first batch, I used a dollop or two of truffle oil. Next time, though, I will add some smoked paprika, curry powder, fennel seed, or even dried herbs to give it punch. When deciding on the spice or herb, think of your intended toppings and then work backwards. Making a BBQ chicken pie? Throw in some cumin. Want to cover your dough with pear, ricotta, and walnut. Then use a gentler flavor like powdered garlic. If you match the seasoning to your intended toppings, your altered recipe will go from traditional to exceptional.

So get rolling with the transformed recipe below and make yourself a pizza that is better than the take-out you remember. Chow on.


  • 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons truffle oil or other low sodium seasonings (herbs, cumin, curry, smoked paprika, or pepper)
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil


1. Combine the yeast and flour in a mixer. As it is mixing, add the 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of oil.

2. Mix, adding more water and the truffle oil (or low sodium seasonings) until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky.

3. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free area until it doubles in size (1-2 hours) – or throw it in the fridge for 6-7 hours to rise more slowly.

4. Heat the oven to 500 degrees F while you stretch out the dough onto your pans. The dough is really easy to manipulate, so it won’t take long.

5. Add your toppings.

6. Cook for 10-12 minutes depending on how crisp you like your pizza.

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