Getting in Touch with My Inner Child {pizza}

I have mentioned this before.  I love pizza.  It’s my favorite food (yes, I still have that – and a favorite color – green, and a favorite song at any given time).  If I were to be stranded on a hypothetical desert island where you could have one person and one food, I decided a long time ago the food would be pizza and recently figured that being stuck with Steve Inskeep or Robert Siegel of NPR fame would be interesting since they know a lot of stuff about a lot of things.  Also, whoever invented this scenario, I’d also like to get my pug on the island too if possible.  Thanks.

There are only a handful of pizzas I won’t touch most of which begin with “Papa” and/or feature a buffet.  I really like making pizza at home though because I know exactly what’s in and on it and feel pretty good about eating it before, during and after the meal.  Fall is around the corner and although work gets busier, when I am home on the weekends, I really like to get into the kitchen for a while and pizza is a good way to do this.  There are lots of shortcuts that can be taken for time’s sake, and I encourage you to do whatever keeps you sane, but for me, I like to make the dough and the sauce from scratch.

To make all of these things from scratch takes a bit more time, but it’s not difficult – you just need to plan accordingly.  I also think it’s helpful to have a standing mixer with a dough hook rather than having to knead on your own.  You’ll need (knead!? ha!) to prep your dough a couple of hours before you want to eat the pizza so it has time to rise.  You’ll also want to make your sauce a couple of hours ahead so it can cool down before you make your pie.  Hot sauce means the dough gets really gooey on the paddle and occasionally won’t slide into the oven.  Also, if your oven sucks like mine (recurring theme here), then you’ll want to start heating the pizza stone in advance.  I start Tuesday for a Saturday pizza.

Here are some other tips I’ve picked up along the way:

– I’ve heard if you have a self-cleaning oven, you can use that setting to cook your pizza.  Generally these things get into the 900°F-1000°F range.  I’ve never done this (my oven doesn’t have that feature.  Have I mentioned I hate it?) and so I can’t warn you against it or recommend it.  I’m just pointing it out.  I am not liable for any damage incurred as a result of this bullet-point.

– Make sure you have cornmeal on hand – without it, your pizza will cling to a board.  Flour burns too.

– Use either Pomi crushed tomatoes or buy whole tomatoes in puree for your sauce.  If you buy whole, throw them in a mini-prep or food processor to break them down.  They work best.

– Use a pizza stone and put it near the top of the oven.  I move my rack to the second highest position in the oven and put the pizza stone there.  That way you get a crispy bottom and the top cooks more evenly near the coils at the top.  Thanks Christopher Kimball.

– Don’t use fior di latte or bufala mozzarella for all pizzas – I only use it on a margherita pizza.  Use part skim or whole milk mozz from the store.  Those cheeses melt more evenly and make for a more familiar pizza.

Now, onto the tastiness:

To make your dough you’ll need the following: active dry yeast, flour, water, sugar, salt and olive oil.

– 3/4 cup water (between 105°F and 115°F) with 2 1/4 TBSP (or one package) active dry yeast and a pinch of sugar.  Let yeast snack on the sugar and warm water and watch to make sure it becomes foamy and increases in size.  You’ll know your yeast is good at that point.

– 2 1/2 cups AP flour (or more if the dough is super sticky)

– 3 TBSP olive oil

– 2 TSP kosher salt

Place all ingredients in your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and combine over medium-high speed.  Once the dough begins to pull away from the side, turn the mixer to medium speed and let knead for 10 minutes.  My mixer once leapt off the counter onto the floor during this process because things get wild.  Don’t go far or you will end up with a large dent in your linoleum.  (I was renting, don’t judge).

Once it comes together, place it in a lubed up bowl in a warm place, cover with saran wrap and let double/triple/expand in size considerably.



While all of this crazy chemistry/magic is happening, make your sauce.  Option one: I generally dice up 1/2 a Vidalia or other mild yellow onion, mince 2-3 cloves of garlic, and open up a box of Pomi crushed tomatoes.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 5-10 minutes or until translucent and somewhat sweet.  Add minced garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, kosher salt to taste, some fresh or dried oregano and cook for a minute.  Then dump in your tomatoes and cook for about 45 minutes over low heat until sauce begins to thicken and come together.  I didn’t have those tomatoes this time so my sauce was chunkier but still tasty.

Option two: open jar of sauce.

Now for the fun part… pizza parlor time!  Make sure you have everything you need on hand – dough, flour, rolling pin (yes, I roll my dough, sue me), cornmeal, sauce, pizza peel, cheese, toppings, wine and the like.

Go ahead and roll out your first hunk-a-dough.  Before you dress it, place it on the peel that you’ve dusted with cornmeal.  Now you build your pizza.

Slide that sucker into the oven and watch it bubble and transform into the world’s most delicious treat.  Pull it out once the top is nice and brown and the crust is crunchy.  Add some basil and eat immediately (without burning yourself if possible).  Also try to share.

When I die, I’ve always said I wanted a memorial natatorium named for me, but I’d also like a pizza named for me not unlike madame Margherita above.  I will revise my will accordingly.  (Spell check suggested sanitarium for natatorium – that would work too).

We made this one, a pepperoni pizza (for the 13-year-old trapped within) and a wild mushroom pizza (for the 45-year-old also trapped within).  Evidently I have an entire family trapped inside me.  Help.  Here is a photo of the mushroom pizza for you to enjoy as well.  I’m off to the fridge to get a piece of this right now.

I love cold pizza.  Not as much as my sister-in-law’s father.  He once told my husband that there were only two things he liked to eat in the morning and one was cold pizza.  The other wasn’t and never will be appropriate to say out loud.