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Pizza perfection

Forget takeout and turn your kitchen into a pizzaria

January 19, 2018
By KAREN K. WILL - GRIT magazine , Farm News

By KAREN K. WILL

GRIT Magazine

If you live rurally, you probably haven't "enjoyed" the convenience of home pizza delivery in years. But there's no sense crying over lukewarm, mediocre pie - make your own right at home. Homemade pizza is not only delicious, but it can be an adventure. Deciding on a suitable crust, then the melange of toppings and sauce, and who's going to do what, makes pizza night an event rather than just another meal. Get cooking the best from-scratch pizza right at home - no tip necessary.

Article Photos

-GRIT photo by Karen K. Will

If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can use a large cookie sheet to achieve a crispy crust.

As the vehicle for transporting pizza toppings, the crust is the most important part of this equation. Thick, thin, chewy or crispy, I don't think I've ever met a crust I didn't like, but the choice usually boils down to the weather: If it's cold and blustery, maybe a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza - the kind where one slice weighs about a half pound. If it's midsummer, perhaps a thin, crispy crust gently sprinkled with sweet corn, knobs of fresh mozzarella and garden veggies. As tempting as it may be to pile on the toppings, remember to give the crust a fighting chance. Don't overload and smother it. Use a light hand when it comes to toppings and allow the crust to bake and crisp.

Whether you're new to baking pizza or an old experienced hand, I've presented the easiest methods for the home cook - that means no sliding uncooked pizzas off peels into a flaming hot oven - and flexibility when it comes to baking vessels: baking sheets, pizza stones and cast iron all work. This pizza pie is yours to make.

Pizza crusts

Chewy semolina pizza crust

1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 teaspoon honey

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 3/4 cups semolina flour

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Olive oil

In bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, honey, and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until yeast is foamy.

Stir in flours and salt. Knead with dough hook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth yet still sticky. Shape dough into a ball and put into an oiled bowl, turning once to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for 45 to 60 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a work surface. Punch down and divide into two equal parts. If you do not intend to use both crusts, place leftover dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to one month. Yields 2 large crusts.

To bake:

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Rub olive oil generously on a heavy baking sheet or round pizza pan.

Using your fingers, press out the dough roughly into an 8-by-6-inch rectangle or to partially cover the baking vessel. Brush with olive oil. Cover and let rest for about 15 minutes.

After dough has rested, roll or press it out to fit prepared pan entirely. Spoon on the sauce, followed by desired toppings. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling.

Slide pizza off baking pan onto a cutting board and cut to serve.

Crispy pizza crust

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons quick-rise yeast

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

2 teaspoons honey

3 tablespoons olive oil

In bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, yeast, and salt. Stir in water, honey, and olive oil until combined. Knead for about 6 minutes, or until dough is smooth and satiny.

Shape dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat all sides. Cover and set in a warm spot to rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn dough out onto a work surface. Punch down and divide into two equal parts. If you do not intend to use both crusts, place leftover dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to one month. Yields 2 large crusts.

Place dough on oiled baking sheet or cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.

To bake:

Heat oven and baking stone, pizza pan, or baking sheet to 500 degrees.

Sprinkle dough with flour and, based on pan you're using, roll out to a 9-by-13-inch rectangle, or 12-inch circle about 1/16-inch thick.

Drape dough over a rolling pin and transfer to preheated vessel, carefully unrolling it and being careful not to burn yourself. Quickly spread sauce over crust, and then assemble desired toppings.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbling.

Crunchy cornmeal pizza crust

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

1/4 cup cornmeal (medium grind)

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

In bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together water, yeast, and honey. Set aside for 10 minutes to proof. When surface appears foamy, add oil and stir.

In separate bowl, whisk together flours, cornmeal, and salt. Add to liquid mixture in bowl of stand mixture and set to knead for about 5 minutes, or until dough is soft and pliable.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn once to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled or tripled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into two equal portions, refrigerating or freezing portions you don't plan to use within two days.

To bake:

Heat oven and pizza stone or pan to 475 degrees.

Roll out dough into a thin round. Fold dough over a rolling pin and carefully transfer to the prepared pan.

Quickly spoon on sauce over crust and assemble desired toppings.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Yields 2 large crusts.

Focaccia crust

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1 cup lukewarm water

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Combine yeast, honey, and water in bowl of a stand mixer. Add 1/2 cup flour and mix well using rubber spatula.

Cover with a towel and let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Add olive oil, salt, and 1 cup flour. Attach dough hook to mixer and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase speed to kneading and add remaining flour gradually until dough adheres to hook. It will be soft and sticky. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic, yet still quite sticky.

Remove dough from bowl and shape into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover bowl with a towel and set in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times, just until smooth. Transfer to oiled baking sheet and, using your fingertips, press into a large rectangle about 12 by 8 inches. Brush dough with olive oil and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Using your fingertips, press dough to fill space of the baking sheet. There should be evenly spaced indentations all over the surface without any tears. Yields 1 large crust.

To bake:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Drizzle oil or sauce over dough, and then arrange desired toppings.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and crisp on bottom, and cheese is bubbling.

Let cool for a few minutes before slicing into squares to serve.

Sauces

Fresh and easy tomato sauce

This sauce doesn't need to be cooked before using on pizza. It's light and fresh, and it will heat through while the pizza cooks. Makes enough for 4 large pizzas.

1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes (or the best quality you can find)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, etc.)

Empty tomatoes into a colander and drain for 15 minutes.

Transfer drained tomatoes to food processor or blender. Add oil, garlic, salt, and herbs. Process until smooth.

Use immediately, or store in refrigerator up to three days or freezer up to three months.

Classic Italian pesto

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

2 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1/2 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice

Combine nuts and garlic in bowl of food processor. Pulse until crumbly.

Add basil, oil, salt, pepper, cheese (if using), and vinegar. Process until smooth, scraping down bowl once or twice.

Use immediately, refrigerate up to two days or freeze up to six months. Yields 1 cup (1/2 pint).

Spicy olive oil

This is the "lazy man's pesto." I started fixing this when I wanted a simple herbed oil to use as pizza sauce. Makes enough for 1 large pizza.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Handful fresh minced herbs - basil, cilantro, oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried herbs of your choice

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch sea salt

1/4 teaspoon dried red chile flakes, optional

Place all ingredients in small bowl and muddle together. Let stand for 30 minutes, or use immediately. This doesn't keep well, so just make enough to use right away.

Bechamel Sauce

This addictive, delicious white sauce is so multi-functional, it can be used as a base for pizza, as pasta sauce, the binder for macaroni and cheese, etc. It can be easily doubled.

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Heat milk in saucepan over medium heat just until it boils. Remove from heat and set aside.

In separate saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour, cooking and whisking constantly for 2 minutes.

Slowly add hot milk, whisking furiously to avoid scorching. Cook sauce over low heat for 10 minutes, or until thickened, stirring frequently with rubber spatula.

Remove from heat and stir in salt. Season with pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before using on pizza. Yields 1 1/2 cups.

Toppings

The sky is the limit when it comes to pizza toppings - you're only limited by your imagination. Think about combining sweet and savory foods for some interesting flavors, and remember to always pat dry the toppings before assembling the pizza so the crust doesn't become soggy. Here are some tasty combinations to try:

Fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, fresh basil; sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, garlic; bacon, cherry tomatoes, arugula;

chicken breast, bacon, red onions, cilantro, barbecue sauce; turkey sausage, bacon, mushrooms, swiss; artichoke hearts, onions, red peppers, kalamata olives ; pesto, sweet corn, tomatoes, basil, jalapenos, fresh mozzarella; rosemary-garlic olive oil, chicken breast, red onion, roasted potatoes, mozzarella; apples, bacon, sharp cheddar, drizzle of maple syrup; Shiitake and portobello mushrooms, garlic, herbs, olive oil.

 
 

 

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