Dude, Let’s Make a Pizza

When my brother and I were little, we dreaded homemade pizza night. Aside from the fact that we weren’t allowed to run around like banshees and chug pitchers of root beer like we would have at the pizza parlour, homemade pizza protocol in the 80’s was just pitiful by today’s standards. The dough came from a mix and was much too soft for a nice, thin crust pizza.  Vegetables were thrown on raw, causing them to release water when cooked and compromise the already craptacular crust. Oven temperatures were set at 375 degrees. Do I need to go on?

Fortunately for us, great pizza has come into fashion, which means that the information and tools to make great pizza are more readily available. Once you know a few basics, making your own pizza is infinitely more rewarding than ordering one.  And you’ll only get better and better at it the more you do it.

Homemade Pizza

For the Pizza Crust:

1 1/2 C. very warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. olive oil

4 C. all purpose flour (approximate)

Pour the very warm water (think hot tub) into a large bowl and sprinkle with the yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to bloom. Then stir in 3 cups of the flour, the salt and the olive oil. The dough will still be very sticky, but it is important that you don’t add too much flour at once.  Continue adding flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until it begins to come together into a ball when you stir. Place the dough onto a floured surface and knead about 100 times total, adding flour little by little as you go.  Use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands, adding a little more when it begins to get sticky again. The dough can be covered and refrigerated at this point.  Pull it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you intend to make your pizza.

If using a pizza stone, divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape into balls.  If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can still make one large pizza on a rectangular sheet pan. For a thinner, crispier crust using the sheet pan, I recommend using only about 3/4 of the dough (you can use the remaining 1/4 for a mini pizza if you like).  Spread 1 Tbsp. of oil onto your sheet pan.  Place the dough in the center and then gently spread it out to the corners of the pan.  It will almost certainly want to slide back towards the center, and the best remedy for this is to let it sit for a few minutes and “relax” before you try and coax it further.  Once you get it out to the corners, prick it with a fork about every inch or so and pop it immediately into a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. This initial baking will help it get crispy later on.

If you do have a pizza stone, place it in the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. You will need to assemble your pizzas, one at a time, on a pizza peel or large (but not heavy) cutting board and then slide them onto the pizza stone. It sounds daunting, but I know you can do it. To achieve this, start by flouring your board and pushing the dough ball into an approximately 8 inch disk.  Flip it over once or twice and use enough flour that it does not stick to the board at all. Once you have your disc, spread 1/4 cup of cornmeal onto the board into approximately the same size as your pizza stone.  This will help to make certain that your pizza isn’t much too large for your stone. Continue to push the dough out from the center, making a larger and larger disk.  Don’t flip the dough over this time (you just want the cornmeal on the bottom), but be sure to spin the dough as you go to ensure that it is not sticking to the board. Once the dough is the same size as your stone, grab the edge of your cutting board or the handle of your pizza peel and shake it gently back and forth. The crust should slide around easily. If not, toss more cornmeal underneath.

Now you get to top your pizza!.  If using the stone, top it on your board and then carefully slide it onto the hot stone (pull the oven rack out at least halfway first!!) You can run into problems here, but move swiftly and with false confidence.  If the pizza gets folded up at all, just use your fingers to try and spread it out onto the stone more evenly. If using the sheet pan, just top it right in the pan and then return it to the oven to get melty and crisp.

Use whatever suits your fancy for toppings, but if using watery vegetables (mushrooms and zucchini come to mind), be sure to saute or roast them first to release some of their water (season them with salt and pepper while you’re at it, okay?).  If you don’t, the water will seep into and around your crust and make it wet. Nasty!

On the pictured pizza, I used roasted butternut squash slices, a thin layer of spinach, Italian sausage (I cooked it almost all the way through in advance) and bechamel sauce with nutmeg and Parmigianno-Reggiano as the base.  Also worth trying:

– A basic pepperoni pizza (red sauce, mozzerella, pepperoni) drizzled with 1 tsp. of truffle oil after it comes out of the oven.

-My version of a “Supreme” with salami, roasted red peppers (drain and pat dry, friends), sauteed mushrooms and Kalamata olives.

The pizza will bake in anywhere from 8-16 minutes (less time for the stone, more time for the pan). You will know it is ready when you lift up on the edge and you can feel that the bottom of the crust it stiff.  Don’t be afraid to cook it a few minutes longer! Once out of the oven, let your pizza cool slightly before slicing and then devouring it with wild abandon.

Lastly, and to quote the inimitable Neil Hamburger: “Why did God create Domino’s Pizza…?  To punish us for our complacency during the Holocaust.”

So stop punishing yourself with crappy pizza and learn to make it yourself. 

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