Pizza

I love pizza. My wife and I don’t eat out much, but pizza is our one regular splurge. But as routine as pizza is, there’s always something special about home-made:

Pizza fresh out of the oven

Slice of pizza

I had a lot of fun making this one. Its amazing how much better something as simple as pizza is compared to ordering in. Usually, pizza is a gut-bomb…delicious, but way too filling (or when its not so delicious, its a good excuse to try out one of my new hot sauces, another regular splurge). This was pretty easy to prepare at a leisurely pace and tasted vibrant, fresh, and light, which is a nice change from greasy and heavy. Plus, it gave my pizza stone, an oft negelected tool in the kitchen, some much needed TLC. 😉 Also, a nice side benefit to making this dish: you’ll have extra dough leftover which you can store in the fridge/freezer so that the next pizza(s) go much quicker (fresher is better, but it still works really well).

The sauce matches the dough nicely–fresh and light, and so much better tasting than cracking open a jar. Making a tomato sauce from scratch can be intimidating to some, but no worries becase this is not a very involved sauce that demands hours of your time. That might raise a few eyebrows, but just remember that what works on a hearty lasagna isn’t necessarily the same as what works on a pizza.

Feel free to do whatever works for you with the toppings. I chose to go with something light that still felt Mediterranean: sliced red peppers for some sweet crunch, halved kalmata olives for rich awesomeness (can you think of a better description?), some prosciutto for a light, but tasty meat (mmmm), and finally, the star of this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, lots of fresh basil (my basil seeded itself well last year and has taken over the backyard. Not that I’m complaining…). This week’s WHB is hosted by Pille at Nami Nami.

  • Dough: (enough for 2 pizzas)
    • 3 cup flour
    • 1 cup warm water
    • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1.5 tsp active dry yeast
    • 1-2 tsp honey
    • 1 tsp salt
  • Sauce: (enough for 1 pizza)
    • 3 vine tomatoes
    • 6 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 red bell pepper
    • 5 scallions
    • dried oregano
    • dried basil
    • crushed red pepper flakes
    • fennel seeds
    • ground black pepper
    • ground thyme
    • ground majoram
    • drizzle of balsalmic vinegar
  • Toppings: (enough for 1 pizza)
    • 10 or so fresh basil leaves
    • a few fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
    • 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned and then cut into thirds
    • a dozen kalmata olives
    • 2 slices of prosciutto
    • freshly grated parmesan cheese (actual parmigiano reggiano, not that prepackaged stuff)
    • mozzarella cheese

First, you’ll want to get a head start on the dough. Like making bread and many yeast-based things, time is the most important ingredient (well, and living, active yeast).

Wake up the yeast  Form the dough ball

Making the dough is really simple. In a small bowl, pour in your warm water (as in pretty warm, but not piping hot) and your yeast. Let these two sit together for about five minutes so as to wake the yeast up. Things ought to get a little cloudy and/or foamy. While you’re waiting on that, mix your remaining dough ingredients together. A food processor with a dough hook is definitely easier, but you’re welcome to use a hand mixer, too. Once the yeast seems good to go, pour that bowl in with your other ingredients and mix it well. Pretty soon, the dough should pretty naturally come together into a ball, being neither goopy nor overly tacky. If it is, add small amounts of water or flour to get the right consistency. Punch it and work it a few times–for stress relief and to toughen the dough a little more.

Cover and let the dough rest

Once you have your dough ball, very lightly oil a bowl and put your dough in there, covering the top with some plastic wrap. Let this sit in a warm place for about an hour. A good warm place would be a really sunny window, for instance. I preheated my oven for about 2 minutes just to warm it up a little bit, turned it off, and then let my dough sit in there. The idea here is not to cook your dough, but simply to let the yeast do its thing, and a warm environment makes yeast happy.

Cut the dough in half and rest some more

In about an hour, you’ll notice your dough ball has grown a good bit. Cut it in two, form a ball out of each half and place these two on a lightly floured surface. Cover with a towel and place this back in your warm place again. In about 45 minutes time, we’ll come back to the dough, which should roughly double in size. Note that at this point, you have enough dough to make two pizzas.

While you’re waiting on the final leg of dough rising, now’s a good time to get everything else ready. I felt like making my own sauce, but you’re certainly free to go the jarred route if you’re so inclined. If so, skip a little further down.

Sauce ingredients Simmering pizza sauce

A proper tomato sauce would require a lot more time, but this is simple and light. First, mince up your garlic cloves and half of a red bell pepper. Fry these two in some olive oil briefly to round out the flavors and soften them up. Then, add theese to a food processor along with your chopped scallions, diced tomatoes, and all of the remaining sauce ingredients. Pulse all of this will until fairly homogenous and simmer on medium/low-medium heat in a saucepan until your dough is ready to go. I’d recommend at least a half hour (and no more than an hour)–you want to get that a lot of that water out so that you have a thicker sauce rather than soup.

Prep the pizza toppings

Another good thing to do at this point is to prepare your toppings. Feel free to do something completely different from what I did here. I diced up my basil and parsely, pitted and split the olives in half, and cut the other half of my red pepper up nicely (julienned and then cut those strips down into thirds). I softened the pepper slices up by frying very briefly (like 1-2 minutes) in olive oil.

I use a pizza stone for cooking my pizza. This is one of my favorite kitchen “appliances” that I don’t use nearly often enough. One of the best ways to make a great pizza is to have an intense, regular, dry heat (like in a brick oven). A pizza stone is a good way to achieve this when you don’t have such a regulated heat source. So at this point, put your pizza stone in the oven and get it cranking to 450?F (the stone takes extra time to preheat–figure 45 minutes or so). I did this for my first pizza. When I made my second pizza a week later, I tried higher heat (it was somewhere around 550-600?F) by using the grill, and I preferred that (much firmer, brick-oven-like crust with a little bit of that inexplicably distinctive “grill taste”), but both ways are great.

After all this, the dough has risen a good bit Flattened pizza dough

So now, I’ll assume you’re done waiting on your dough and that your sauce is done cooking (or you’ve managed to open the jar). Dust a sheet of parchment paper with some corn meal (not flour!), take one of your dough balls, and toss it around (or just stretch it out carefully–this is not a rolling pin situation) until its just as big and round as your pizza stone. I chose to wrap my second dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for another pizza a week later (when you want to use it, just move from freezer to fridge a day in advance and you’ll be good to go).

Sauce and herb the pizza Top with halved olive, sliced peppers, and prosciutto Grate on some parmesan and top with mozzarella

Lightly brush your flattened dough with some olive oil. Then, spread all of your sauce evenly and leave some of the edge exposed (after all, that’s your crust). Then, sprinkle your diced herbs on top, spread your toppings over your pizza, grate your parmesan cheese, and then finish it off with mozzarella cheese.

Put the pizza in the oven

Carefully slide your pizza onto the stone whether it be in the oven or on the grill. If you can slip the parchment out from under the pizza, good for you, go for it. I play it safe as I’ve had some unfortunate results trying to be a hero.

Done cooking, pizza fresh out of the oven

After 10 minutes, carefully remove your stone from the heat (especially if you had it on high heat on the grill–I burnt clean through my oven mitts! Smoking hands will wake you right up if you’re not paying attention! 😮 ), give it some time to cool, pour a cold beer, slice your pizza, and enjoy!

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7 Responses to “Pizza”

  1. Katie Says:

    Lovely pizza! Since I usually want to eat the whole thing anyway, lighter is definitely better. In prime tomato season I just use paper thin slices of tomato – no sauce at all! Too late for that now, tho..Ouch on the oven mitts!

  2. Lydia Says:

    We do a lot of pizza on the grill in the summer, and sometimes on a grate over our fire pit! In the winter, I don’t make pizza too often, but your photos are inspiring me — that looks like such delicious pizza.

  3. Pille Says:

    Great step-by-step photos, Mike – and that pizza is positively vegetable-laden!
    Thanks for a great WHB entry – the round-up should be up tomorrow!

  4. Kalyn Says:

    Lovely top photo of the pizza bathed in light. Looks just delicious. I am suitably impressed since I keep promising to make pizza crust and never do.

  5. mike Says:

    Katie: thanks. I agree, being seasonal would have been better–it definitely cost more to pick up tomatoes at the grocery, but the craving was there. And yea, time for some more reliable oven mitts–thankfully, I have no burns to commemorate the occasion.

    Lydia: a fire pit sounds like a fun way to go and thanks about the photos. :-)

    Pille: thanks and so far, roundup looks good!

    Kalyn: thanks–I was really happy with the photos for this one. Haha, surely the sheer number of photos didn’t give that away… 😉

  6. holler Says:

    That looks delicious and you explained it very well. My last dough wasn’t so successfull, so i will try the oven trick and I should by a pizza stone!

  7. Pumpkin Pizza from Mike's Table Says:

    […] prepare the pizza dough as that needs time to […]

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