I Love Friday Nights! Movies, teenagers, and being tired at the end of the week just makes you want to order pizza, right? I am at least just sophisticated enough to make sure that I am drinking good red wine with my pizza. I remember late nights at the Zeta house at Alabama when Mr. Meggs, our over-night security guard would answer the door and yell up the stairs, “PEETTTSA”! And it was always Bama Bino Pizza! Anytime you see that Pizza Hut sign on top of a beat up Corolla drive down your street, you always think to yourself, “Lucky neighbors.” It gets bad though, when your kids order a pizza from their bedroom and you have no idea until the doorbell rings. The idea of making pizza at home freaks people out. They are looking for the delivery taste and quality, and it is never the same. But, it can be so much better! Making your own pizza is so easy and the topping ideas are limitless.
After lots of practice, my family has the art of making pizza from scratch down to perfection. Most of the credit goes to Tom, who has the science of the dough nailed. Our crust is always crispy on the bottom, and tender bread on the top. You can make your dough as thick and chewy or thin and crispy as you like. Good pizza dough is very user friendly.
We have tried many recipes for pizza dough, but this one from Ina Garten is always a success. It rises beautifully in a short period of time. Watching any dough rise is such a rewarding accomplishment, so pizza night becomes a lot of fun. Do not be intimidated by bread dough ever – especially if you have a Kitchen-Aid standing mixer. So here is our favorite dough recipe, courtesy of Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics:
Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, slowly add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.
When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic.
Let it rise- place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
A couple of tips about any bread dough – never add salt to the yeast without the flour along with it – it will kill the yeast. The sweetener, in this case the honey, feeds the yeast. If you see the yeast foaming up when mixed with the water and honey, it is good yeast and you will have success. Have extra yeast on hand in case your yeast does not activate, because it is easy to start that step over. Also, body temp is about 98 degrees, so 100 to 110 will feel nice and warm to the touch, it you do not have a thermometer.
Now here is my favorite dough tip. Publix Grocery Store sells pizza dough in their bakery. It is their french bread dough and it is just a ball of dough in a bag. It tastes wonderful! Keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it, then let it rise in an oiled bowl, with a tea towel over it. They usually have it stored in a small fridge in the bakery so it will not rise until you are ready for it to.
There are two items that you absolutely have to own in order to make awesome pizza – and neither of them should be expensive. Buy a wooden pizza paddle and a large round pizza stone. My pizza stone is from Pampered Chef and it is black from use.
Now I know this is starting to sound like more trouble than calling Domino’s, but stay with me and you will see the benefit of making your own pizza!
The technique for baking the pizza is easy – heat the stone in your oven at 500 for 20 to 30 minutes – keep that hot stone in there the whole time, and keep your oven at 500, because basically, you now have a brick pizza oven. Usually the dough recipe makes 2 large or 4 individual pizzas. Publix dough makes 1 large or 2 individual pizzas. Roll out a piece of dough, on a floured counter, until it is as thin as you like it. Transfer it to the floured pizza paddle and make sure it will slide around. Add your toppings while it is on the pizza paddle, slide it into the oven onto the stone and bake for until brown and bubbly. Use the paddle to take it back out of the oven, and let it rest for a minute on a cooling rack.
If using a tomato based pizza sauce, make sure to buy sauce that says pizza sauce, not a marinara or jarred pasta sauce – it is much thicker and prevents your pizza from being soggy.
Now here are some of our favorite topping ideas:
*Browned sweet Italian sausage, crumbled out of the casing and sauteed with onion and mushrooms.
* Pizza Sauce, Mozzarella, Pepperoni – of course
* White Pizza – a blend of yummy white cheeses like parmesan, mozzarella, gruyere, and garlic olive oil
* White Pizza with Arugula – bake the white pizza, and make a salad with a dressing of lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper and olive oil tossed with arugula. Take the dressed arugula and pile it on the hot pizza so it will wilt a little – then sprinkle with shaved parmesan.
* Spread a thin layer of fig preserves – top with fontina or gruyere and slices of prosciutto or shaved ham.
*Top dough with pulled pork from a Bar-B-Que restaurant, top with cheddar cheese and diced purple onion and a drizzle of Barbeque sauce.
*Margarita Pizza – Fresh Mozzarella, sliced tomatoes – salted, and when it comes out of the oven, top with slices of fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
* Once, I caramelized every type of onion I had – sweet onions, red onions, scallions and shallots with garlic and olive oil – I topped this with a blend of mozzarella and feta.
*Think globally! Greek, Mexican, Asian are fun options.
*Pull out leftovers and get creative.
I know these are lengthy instructions, but after the first try, it will be easy cheese. Practice and play and enjoy your pizza party.