Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Classic Plate: Make Your Own Pizza

Just about everyone appreciates a good pizza. With so many varieties, we can all find something to like: thin crust, deep dish, classic, gluten-free, and sans cheese for The Vegans. Even dogs enjoy a good slice now and then.

On a pleasant Spring day, when we hadn't had Henry very long, we decided to take him on an outing into the Fell's Point neighborhood of Baltimore City - a lovely spot - to practice seeing lots of people and being social. As we strolled back to the car at the end of a successful afternoon, he zeroed in on it. Head down. Tail up. Sniffing. One stealthy chomp towards the ground, and he had it. A fully intact, day-old slice of cheese pizza no doubt dropped there in the wee hours by a bar-goer stumbling home. Unfortunately, this was before Henry knew "out" (he still hears it only selectively), and we were in the "prying things out of jaws" stage. Eventually, I believe he was willing to trade for a large bite of hot dog.

Dan hearts pizza!
Since not everyone enjoys Cold Dirt Pizza, I'd like to share our recipe and some special techniques for a successful homemade version. Dan and I have been making pizza together since the very beginning. In fact, one of our first forays into the adventures of cooking together found us newly dating, making cute heart-shaped pizzas for each other.

Note: The sauce and dough recipes are thanks to "Rabbit Food" - one of our favorite cookbooks.

The Dough
The first thing you need is some good pizza dough. You can buy it pre-made at a store, but it's very simple, inexpensive, and tastes better when you make it yourself. Mix up the dough around the time you eat lunch (it won't take longer than 20 minutes), set it aside, and it will be ready when you want dinner.

Makes two 12-inch pizzas.

2 tsp active dry yeast
4 cups of flour
1 1/4 cups hot water
3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Dashes of garlic powder, pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, and/or red pepper flakes

Mix together the yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of flour. Add the warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Mix in the oil and spices. Begin to add the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time until kneading is required (meaning you can't mix it with a spoon anymore). Then, knead in the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is no longer too sticky to handle. Dan had to add in more water than is called for to get the mixture right - you be the judge!

Separate the dough into equal two parts. Set it on an oiled baking sheet (very important!), cover with a kitchen towel, and let it rise. It will be ready after about 60 minutes, but you will have better results when it's left for several hours.

When ready, channel your inner Italian to twirl the dough into pizzas or simply press them flat.

The Sauce
Again, you can buy the sauce pre-made but I recommend making it yourself. It's very easy and you have total control over the spices and flavor. I would add loads of garlic whereas Dan would toss in extra crushed red pepper.

Makes enough sauce for two 12-inch pizzas.

1 can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp sugar
Dashes of garlic powder, pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, and/or red pepper flakes

Mix it all together. Taste often, and adjust spices as necessary.

The Toppings
Go wild! Topping your pizza is the most fun; use your favorite fresh vegetables and herbs. In my most recent pizza I used finely diced mushrooms, onions, and a bunch of garlic. Dan used mozzerrella cheese slices, sliced mushrooms, a green chili pepper for some kick, and fresh basil leaves (don't add the basil until the end of cooking). We also used a shredded Italian cheese blend along with some grated parmesan. Both pizzas were fabulous!

Cooking Tips
Everything has been really easy so far. Just put your pizza in the oven, cook at about 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden and cheese bubbles. Take it out, slice it up, and enjoy.

But wait.. if you don't have a pan that will hold a 12-inch pizza, how do you get it from the counter to the oven? And how will you get it out when it's hot? Success at these steps has eluded us until recently. I would pile the toppings and cheese on, making my pizzas so heavy that they could not slide into or out of the oven without dozens of mushroom and onion casualties.  One simple piece of equipment (and a bit of practice with it) can fix all that: a $10 pizza peel like this one.

I would also recommend investing in a pizza stone, which goes for about $50 and really does make a difference in the texture of the crust.

Buon appetito!

Check out more great ideas at the Real Food Wednesday blog.

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