Growing up in New York City, which is arguably the best pizza city in the U.S.– sorry if I offended anyone just now–my children have their pick of fabulous pie eateries. My favorite pizza joint, Grimaldi’s, happens to be located in Brooklyn, NY, just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. Now, with two kids in tow, you can imagine I don’t make the trek too often. But when an out-of-town guest arrives, I always suggest walking over the bridge and stopping for a slice.
What I love about pizza is its versatility. You can add just about anything to the top. And believe me, I’ve seen just about anything. Like the time I was in Taiwan, and the local Pizza Hut offered shrimp and corn as a topping choice! You may not want to be that adventurous, but whether you’re a legume lover, or a carne connoisseur, there’s a topping right for you.
To make your own pizza crust, it does not require a lot of your time or effort. You do, ideally, need to plan a day ahead, as the pizza dough functions better after it has risen and then allowed to rest overnight in the fridge. However, if you opt out of the refrigeration, it will still “work,” just not as well. If you want to skip the homemade dough part altogether, there are quite a few options out there. Trader Joe’s sells fresh dough in three varieties, and most supermarkets sell frozen dough. I usually pick up a ball of dough and some fresh mozzarella at the beginning of the week, just to have in my fridge, in case I feel like making a quick pizza and salad for dinner one night. You can always keep sausage in the freezer, as well as spinach, for possible toppings, and sweet peppers keep nicely in the fridge for about 5-6 days. Add some sliced garlic and onion and you’ve got a supreme pizza worth raving about. My favorite canned tomatoes are the Muir Glen fire roasted brand. They give the pizza a nice smoky flavor. Feel free to add some crushed fennel seeds or freshly ground pepper on top of your pizza, too.
And now for the most important component of making a pizza: the pizza stone. Skipping the pizza stone is the biggest mistake people make when attempting to make a pizza at home. Without it, your pizza crust doesn’t cook quickly enough, and you are left with a burned-on-the-top, soggy-on-the-bottom pizza. Pizza stones are sold at numerous price points, ranging from about $10-$100. To tell you the truth, I have a $15 pizza stone, which has served me faithfully over the last 7 years. It works fabulously, and because you can’t really clean a pizza stone (except with some hot water), and any oil that may drip from the pizza while baking leaves permanent stains, I don’t feel so guilty since I only spent $15, which probably wouldn’t be the case if I had spent $100.
Pizza is like an artist’s blank canvas, so the resulting painting is up to you. Experiment, get your family involved, but most importantly, have fun!
Basic Pizza Dough Recipe:
1 1/2 c. flour (unbleached, all-purpose), plus more for kneading and rolling out
1 packet (1/4 oz.) yeast
3/4 warm water (90-110°F)
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Warm your water, and empty the yeast into a a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. (Be careful not to heat your water above 110°F, as you will end up zapping your yeast to death. A simple baking thermometer–you know, the kind you can stick into a piece of meat in order to see how done it is–will give you a good temperature reading. If the water is too hot, just wait a few minutes for it to cool down.) Add the water with the yeast, give it a good stir, and allow the yeast to begin to work while you mix the rest of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. When the yeast becomes somewhat bubbly, add it to the rest of the ingredients, and begin to mix. Continue kneading the dough with your hands, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky. After a few minutes, form the dough into a ball, placing it inside a lightly greased large mixing bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a fairly warm spot, like on top of your stove range. After an hour, punch down the dough, reform into a ball, cover, and allow to rise another 1-2 hours. Punch down dough and form into another ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (This step can be skipped, but the dough will rise better in the oven if allowed to rest for a day.)
Preheat the oven to 475° F. Be sure to place the pizza stone inside the oven and allow it to warm with the oven while you prepare the pizza. (Usually 30 minutes is a good amount of time for it to really get hot.)
On a floured surface, roll out your dough. Transfer to parchment paper, or if you happen to be lucky enough to own a pizza paddle (a.k.a. pizza peel), leave it where it is. (I have great success using parchment paper between the pizza and the pizza stone, greatly facilitating entry into and removal from the oven.) Add a very thin layer of tomatoes. You don’t want to put too much sauce on top, or else your pizza will become soggy. Slice some fresh mozzarella cheese and place it over the surface of the pizza. Now add any toppings you desire, such as mushrooms, spinach, garlic, peppers, pre-cooked sausage, pepperoni, etc. (Be sure to wring out all the extra moisture from the spinach with a cheesecloth, or through a strainer, before adding to the pizza. Otherwise your pizza will be extremely soggy.)
Using a thin cookie-sheet, scoop up your pizza with the parchment paper underneath and slide it onto the pre-heated pizza stone. If using a pizza paddle without the parchment, sprinkle a little corn meal on the paddle underneath the dough before constructing your pizza to facilitate the “sliding” of the pizza dough from paddle to stone. Allow the pizza to cook anywhere from 13-16 minutes. Remove from the oven with either a pizza paddle or cookie sheet. Place onto a cutting board and slice into pieces using a pizza wheel.
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