Nothing brings people together quite like pizza. Of course you should start with a crust that is the perfect balance between golden crunch and soft, doughy center, that is unless you prefer the distinctive crunch of thin crust, or the thick, billowy mouth feel of a French bread pizza. Whatever your taste, chances are that there is a pizza that makes you smile. This month I want to take a look at pizza and show you how easy it can be to make at home, no matter where your home may be this week!
Don’t limit yourself to greasy, sad delivery pizza (and please don’t even think about a frozen one) when you can create a masterpiece in your own kitchen in relatively short order. If you lack the time, equipment or patience to build dough from scratch, check with the deli bakery and your local supermarket; they often have ready-made pizza dough for sale. Otherwise, grab some French bread and have your pizza on the table in 30 minutes or less!
Good homemade pizza starts with good dough, and this is where most people think they are out of their league when the truth is that with the right recipe, anyone can make their own pizza dough.
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups flour +/- (all-purpose works, so will bread flour)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
When making dough, measurements can never be exact. The consistency you are looking for is one where the ingredients when mixed will form a soft ball. It should not be dry when mixed, but not liquid either. It will be sticky, so a light coating of oil on the hands will make it easier to work.
Truth be told, I use a bread machine on the dough cycle to do the mixing most of the time. The entire cycle takes 90 minutes and I am left with a dough that is ready to work with. If you don’t have a bread machine, a stand mixer or good old-fashioned elbow grease will work just fine. Simply mix all of the ingredients together and allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes in a warm place.
Next, coat the sides of a bowl with oil and carefully transfer the sticky dough, rolling the dough ball around in the new bowl to coat with oil. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rise undisturbed in a warm place for at least half an hour. It will have risen considerably (usually about double).
When the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it in half. On a floured surface, knead the dough until it becomes elastic and pliable and work it into a ball by tucking the sides under a few times. Stretch (or toss, if you’re feeling old school) the dough ball to the desired size for your pizza and carefully place it on a pan or pizza stone. A sprinkling of coarse corn meal on your pan will make the dough easier to work with and keep it from sticking.
At this point, you have two crusts ready to go. If you want to keep one for later, you can partially bake it at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, then wrap it and put it in the freezer for a couple of weeks until you’re ready to use it.
You can find prepackaged pizza sauce in most supermarkets, and that will work just fine. If you prefer, you can make your own using a can of tomato sauce and some dried herbs and garlic powder. I use oregano and basil at a ratio of about 2 tablespoons each per can of sauce, and about ½ a teaspoon of garlic powder. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the crust in a circular motion, leaving about ½-inch around the edge.
Cheese is an individual choice. I have used mozzarella, feta, fresh Parmesan, even no cheese at all. For the non-dairy folks, there are cheese replacements that make a perfectly acceptable slice. Look for non-dairy options from companies like Daiya and Field Roast.
When it comes to the rest of the toppings, the sky is the limit. Think beyond what you would usually find on a delivery pizza and make one that is uniquely you. Spinach and bacon? Caramelized onion and rosemary? Nearly anything you can think of can be made into a delicious pizza!
Bake your pizza at 450 degrees for 12-14 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.
Pizza, En Francais
To make a delicious French bread pizza, start with a good, crusty loaf of French bread, or even baguettes. Slice it in half lengthwise and spread on a thick layer of sauce. Don’t be shy, as the bread will soak up quite a bit as it bakes.
Now dress your pizza as you like and bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
Experiment with fresh ingredients until you find the combination that satisfies your cravings, and then try something completely different next time. And please, drop me a note with your address—I’m available for dinner!
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills, is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.