When the moon hits your eye…

Pizza: it can be a dry scrap of cardboard, with a squirt o tomato paste and topped with a collection of items that could be bits of lint from the trap in the dryer or could be some laboratory creation that a megacorporation is trying to pass off as “cheese” or worse, “meat.” But as you’re three sheets to the wind yourself, it’s pretty darn tasty. Until you sober up the next morning, that is.

Pizza: it can land on your restaurant table with a dull thud, and as you reach with your eyes over the wall of crust that has now cast a shadow across your drink, you might spy a scrap of the free range meat that came off of some animal that was listening to “Tura-Lura-Lural” as it calmly and serenely passed on to the next life, having lived one on this earth that left it feeling immensely satisfied, for a quadruped.

Pizza: it can be thrust at you by some bubblegum-cracking, eye-contact-avoiding sullen individual who’s busily slapping the Velcro flap over the insulated carrier while retreating down your sidewalk and muttering “have a nice day” over his shoulder. While you hear a suspicious rattle inside that cardboard box you were left holding that leaves you wondering whether there’s something in there that’s not dead yet.

Homemade pizza isn’t something we’ve really tried at home before. That’s due in part to the fact that, when we want a pizza, we don’t want to wait for the dough to rise, or put together the ingredients or risk the rare event that we’d lose power and the ability to cook the pizza we want. And since the power is out right before dinnertime, everyone else in the neighborhood will also be on their mobile phones trying to get their “Plan B” entrée delivered to their doorstep in 30 minutes or less.

But, after hearing stories from someone at work who makes pizzas every Sunday night with his family, I thought to myself that it’s high time to try out from-scratch pizza. And do make sure it didn’t become one of those resolutions that would die quietly in some cobwebbed corner of my mind, I set a deadline: by the end of January, we would make pizza from scratch

Everybody must get stoned

When we got our new oven, we opted to order a special little baking stone kit that the manufacturer offered. Not just some slab of stoneware, this baby came with its own heating element that plugged into the oven, and a special rack to make it easier to slide into the oven. And a peel. But since the oven had a baking setting for the darn thing (and my husband had these nice little fantasies of my creating artisan loaves every weekend), we thought it was worth the investment. Most pizza experts will talk about how you need to let your stone really heat up; having its own heating element working hard helped, but it probably took an hour before the oven reached the temperature needed.

Rising to the occasion

So what does it take to make a pizza dough that won’t be too tough, too doughy? To answer that question I turned to the old standby, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cook Book. And there, before my eyes, was perhaps the easiest pizza dough recipe ever: bread flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, water. That’s it. Just combine in a processor for about 30 seconds, let rest a couple of minutes, process a few seconds more and knead for 5 minutes. Then you let the very wet dough rise for about an hour before you divided the recipe into the requisite three mounds of dough that would become pizza crust. 30 minutes later, you’ve got a rested and refreshed pizza crust dough that’s ready to be stretched and formed into a lovely circle and topped with many delicious things.

Getting saucy

No, not sauced! We’re talking pizza sauce…and some childhood traumas had me leery on this one just because I didn’t want some sugary-sweet concoction that would bring me all sorts of flashbacks to fourth grade slumber parties. Back to the cookbook I went, where I found it would take a can of crushed tomatoes, a couple minced cloves of garlic and a couple tablespoons of olive oil to satisfy. Simmer over the stove for a few minutes just to thicken, and you’ve got a lovely sauce for your pizza.

You’re the tops

In my wild imagination, I envisioned assembling exotic ingredients and many different cheeses to create unheard-of goodness in a pizza. Then I remembered how new I was to this, and decided to start with the simplest of recipes and build my way up from there if those were successful. And if they weren’t, then I had more work to do before I would let myself try again.

  • Pizza 1: cheese. With just a sprinkle more of cheese on top of that.
  • Pizza 2: same as Pizza 1, but a layer of sliced Canadian bacon and some chopped pineapple was snuck in between the layers of cheeses.
  • Pizza 3: this time my husband drove, using Pizza 1 as his base, but adding any bit of meat he could find in the fridge: chopped bacon, sausage crumbles, and some of the Canadian bacon that wasn’t used in Pizza 2.

Before going in the oven…

The final step was a brush of olive oil around the ½ inch or so of crust that was still visible . Then, onto the peel and into the oven it went!

The oven door closed. We turned on the oven light. And wound up sitting on the floor in front of the oven, watching the show that unfolded as the dough, which had sat on a cool stone surface, came into contact with the super-hot baking stone and went poof! Like a big toe that’s been stung by a jellyfish. And we watched the shredded cheese melt and weigh down the crust while bubbling sauce peeked through and the cheese began to brown.

And in less than 10 minutes, the pizza was ready. Out with Pizza 1, in with Pizza 2. Same routine for Pizza 3 until we were looking at the three plates of pizzas that now decorated our kitchen island and were asking ourselves “how are we going to eat all of this?”

As it turns out, it wasn’t all that hard, since as we were all starting to feel quite stuffed we got a couple of surprise guests who hadn’t had their dinners yet…and left just enough for lunch the following day.

The verdict: oh, we’ll be making pizzas at home again.

The crust itself was thin enough under the ingredients. And the ½ inch or so of dough that was left along the outer edges fried up a little bit under that brush of olive oil, so you got this light, crispy surprise as you ate your way up your slice. Not doughy or yeasty in flavor. The sauce was bright and fresh tasting, not some thick glob that you felt like you had to scrape off the roof of your mouth with your tongue. The cheese, which at first I wasn’t sure would be quite enough, was just the right amount of gooey dairy goodness.

Next time, we won’t be scared to get a little exotic in our ingredients list, or try out some combinations we always thought would work but were afraid to say out loud. But the introduction of a homegrown pizza party was a successful one that will certainly bear forth more pizza parties in the future. Especially as our little sous chef gets into topping his pizzas on his own…

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