Food for Thought: Homemade Pizza

Second in my “food for thought” series, I offer a recipe and instructions (that even the most timid cook can follow) to prepare delicious homemade pizza.  For this recipe, the dough (though easy to assemble) takes an hour to rise  —  the perfect amount of time for a quick session of writing or editing!

HOMEMADE PIZZA

serves 2 (recipe can be easily doubled or trebled). allow 2 hours for start to finish preparation

The first thing to do is make your dough.

Everyone seems so intimidated by the idea of making homemade pizza dough, but its honestly incredibly easy.

Step 1: preheat your oven about as high as it will go – 475 is good.  If you have a pizza stone, be sure it’s in the oven heating up too.  You want the oven preheating for at least an hour to get good and hot.

Step 2: get out a nice, large mixing bowl and put 1/2 cup of hot water in it.  Sprinkle 1/2 a package of active dry yeast onto the water and let it sit until dissolved (a few minutes).  Swirl to incorporate the yeast and water.  Then add 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 cup flour, and 1 tbs olive oil.  Using a large, wooden spatula (or other favorite stirring device), stir these ingredients until wet, shiny, and smooth.  Gradually incorporate another 1 cup of flour.  The mixture should grow denser but still remain sticky and pliable.  Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and kneed 2-3 minutes, adding additional flour as needed to keep the mass of dough soft and stretchy.

Spill a bit more olive oil back into your dirty mixing bowl, drop in the ball of dough, turning to coat, then cover it up with a towel and leave it in a warm spot (perhaps near your preheating oven) for 1 hour to rise.

While the dough is rising, go write!

Step 3: peek at the dough.  It should have doubled in size.  Punch it down and give it a few turns on the floured work surface to get it pliable again.  Get out a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle it with a little flour, and roll the dough out on top of the parchment.  I like to curl the edges of the dough up a bit so the sauce doesn’t run out.  Easy!  Now you’re ready for toppings. 

Step 4: Sauce.  You can buy pre-made pizza sauce.  It’s fine.  You can also make your own very easily.  Run open a can of tomato sauce and pour it into a saucepot (I like to do this while the dough is rising).  Add some olive oil, salt, a tsp of sugar, and assorted dried herbs: oregano, basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper.  Stir it up over medium heat.  Taste it.  Adjust to your liking.  Boom.  Done.

Spoon sauce onto the rolled dough and spread it around with the back of a spoon.  I like a thin but not pathetic coating.  If you like a lot of sauce, then put on a lot of sauce.  It’s your pizza!

Step 5: Toppings.  Okay, gospel from me to you:  buffalo mozzarella.  Use this stuff.  It’s like a present from god, I swear.  Way better than regular mozzarella (though the later will certainly work if you can’t get your hands on buffalo mozzarella).  Slice off some pieces of the mozzarella (you’ll need about 1 large ball per pizza) and space them out across the dough (they’ll expand a little as they melt).  As for the rest of the toppings, the sky is the limit.

My favorite combination is Speck (smoked prosciutto), little dribs of pesto, and caramelized onions (for the latter, save a bit of the reduced onions from your French Onion Soup preparations).  Artichoke hearts and goat cheese are a nice combination.  So are spicy Italian sausage crumbles and onions (and red pepper!).  When you’ve finished topping the pizza, be sure to grate a layer of fresh Parmesan cheese on top, sprinkle with kosher salt, fresh thyme leaves, and grind with fresh pepper.

Step 6: Baking.  If you’re using a pizza stone, you’ll need a pizza peel to transfer the pizza on parchment into the oven.  These items might seem like expensive, specialty goods…but once you become addicted to making pizza, you’ll want to do it all the time and having a stone & peel will be a good investment. 

While a pizza stone is the best way to end up with a crispy crust, if you don’t own one, you can use a regular pizza pan or cookie sheet just as well.  Carefully slide the parchment onto the pizza pan/sheet and put it in the oven.  You should cook the pizza at a very hot temperature (at least 400, 475 is better) for 14-16 minutes to allow the crust to get crispy and everything on top to get bubbling and awesome.

You can eat the pizza with a salad, but really…pizza stands alone in its awesomeness and needs no accompaniment.

Bon Appetit – and please let me know if you try the recipe!

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