It’s definitely not my favorite food – I can take it or leave it. And when I tell people that, they tend to look at me as if they’re wondering what it would take to have me legally committed, and if they have the authority to do so.
It’s a tad ironic, really, when you consider the fact that I seem to have moved to the Pizza Capital of the World. You think I jest, but I do not – there are more pizza joints here in Podunk, Ohio than there are Dunkin’ Donuts shops in Boston.
But don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate pizza, it’s just if we’re going to an Italian restaurant (Podunk also seems to serve as the Italian Restaurant Capital of the World) I’m going to order something else. Just about anything else, as a matter of fact, and 95% of the time it is not going to include pasta or tomato sauce.
Needless to say, we don’t eat at a lot Italian restaurants, much to the dismay of The Young One, who would eat pizza and pasta every day of his life if it weren’t for his cruel, pizza-and-pasta-disdaining mother.
However, once in a while, I get the urge for a slice of pizza – so I make it. I like to make pizza myself, because that means I can get it exactly like I want it – a thin, crispy crust with a minimum of tomato sauce, tons of onions, just the right amount of black olives, sausage, mushrooms and cheese, NO pepperoni thankyouverymuch, and pineapple.
Yes, I know – pizza purists around the world are now waving flaming crucifixes and screaming “Heretic!!” Ask me if I care – I like pineapple on my pizza, damn it.
But I digress.
Making pizza by hand is not hard, although I cursed like a sailor the first time I made it because the recipe I used said the dough was enough for a 10″ pizza, which was utter crap – a 10 centimeter pizza, maybe. But once I got the crust perfected, I found I can throw a homemade pizza together in the time it takes the rest of the family to decide 1) where they want to get the pizza from 2) the size and quantity of pizza(s) necessary 3) what they want on the pizza(s) and 4) if they want to go out to get it or have it delivered (which in some cases, takes you right back to step 1).
So here is my recipe for pizza crust – what you put on top of it is up to you. And for the record, I make my pizzas on standard-size cookie sheets, so they’re always square. I believe this will also make a 12″ – 14″ round pizza if you have round pans.
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup tepid water (about 90° F)
1/3 – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together the flour, sugar and yeast in a medium-size mixing bowl. Whisk in the salt next (if the salt comes into direct contact with the yeast, it could kill it). Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Using a large spoon, mix the flour into the water until all the flour is moistened and a dough just begins to form, about 20 seconds. It should come away from the bowl but still be sticky and rough looking. Do not overmix – you’re not trying to develop the gluten in the flour.
Pour the oil into another medium-size bowl. With oiled fingers, place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat all sides. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 475° F. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone on it, if you have one, before preheating.
When the dough is finished rising, lift the dough out of the bowl and pour a little of the oil onto the pizza pan, spreading it around the pan with your fingers until the pan is lightly coated. Set the dough on the pan and press it down gently to deflate it. Shape it into a smooth, round ball by tucking under the edges. Allow it to sit, covered, for 15 minutes to relax.
Uncover the dough and using your fingertips, press the dough from the center to the outer edges of the pan, leaving the outer 1/2 inch slightly thicker than the rest to form the outer crust. If the dough resists stretching (which could happen if the gluten was activated by overkneading), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few more minutes. (Admittedly, this part takes practice, but once you’ve got it down you can pat out a crust in under 3 minutes).
Brush the surface with the remaining olive oil; cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 45 minutes, until it becomes light and slightly puffy.
Bake the pizza (set the pan directly on the hot baking stone if you have it) for 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and add the pizza sauce and toppings of your choice.
Return to the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is crisp and golden.
Again, this does take practice, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily you can have pizza on the table – I usually double the recipe because The Young One won’t eat anything but sausage, pepperoni and cheese on his pizza and I won’t eat mine without onions and olives.