While many nutrition hobbyists have relegated pizza to junk food jail, most know it can be a quick and healthy meal when done with good sense. Whole grain crust, lower fat cheeses, vegetables, and lean meats make for a balanced plate. There are endless flavor combinations, so it is easy to accommodate different tastes, even on the same pizza. We have done pesto/chicken/Vidalia onion, pineapple and ham, bacon and mushroom, and BBQ sauce/chicken/cheddar. We always serve it along with a plate of raw veggies and dip.
Several years ago, I remember avoiding homemade pizza attempts for good reason. There was the mess, sure, but also the strong potential that I would end up like this poor guy…
But, after receiving a pizza stone as a wedding gift, I discovered that the little bit of mess and fuss is absolutely worth it for the taste of hot pizza right out of the oven. The kids love to help make it, and they are crazy about the results. They even brag to their friends about how their mom’s pizza is the best. It’s embarrassing, really, because I am telling you it has nothing to do with the ingredients: it is simply in the way it is cooked.
What’s the trick? A super-hot oven. I used to cook on the pizza stone at 350-400 degrees and it would take about 20 minutes. It was good, don’t get me wrong. Then, we read an article in the The Boston Globe that recommended cranking the oven to its hottest temperature (500-550 degrees). Once it’s preheated, you slide the pizza onto the stone, and it takes just 6-8 minutes to get hot and bubbly with a beautiful crust. One try, and we were convinced!
You don’t absolutely need a pizza stone in order to get a similar result. Check out this The Smitten Kitchen post, about the many ways to get great pizza at home without all the bells and whistles. But, if you happen to have a stone tucked away in a cabinet, give it a try. I love using the stone and here’s why – it never needs to be cleaned, you can store it in the oven when you’re not using it, and, as I discovered this week, the stone works even after it has spontaneously cracked in half.
Ingredients? The dough is store-bought. Yes, you heard me– I just can’t see the point in making my own when, for a couple of bucks, I can get it fresh from Bertucci’s or even Market Basket and know it’s going to be good. And, it allows you to get to the fun part much more quickly — rolling it out! Georgia loves this part…
And, of course, the dough tossing is fun too (we usually sing a little bit of Figaro or something equally Italian while doing so). Check out this guy’s technique… shoulders relaxed, eye on the dough…
It is helpful to have a wooden paddle, known as a pizza peel, for transferring the dough to the oven. (But, again, check out the above link for an alternate method, where she recommends using parchment paper and the back of a cookie sheet.) It takes a little bit of practice to get the technique of sliding the pizza onto the stone. The trick is to cover the peel (or whatever you’re using) with a light layer of corn meal before laying the prepared dough down. The cornmeal acts like thousands of little wheels, allowing the pizza to slide off with just a little flick of the wrist. I’m not saying I got it completely right early on– the first couple of attempts at pizza ended up as calzones .
OK, so now you’ve got the basics down — the equipment, the technique — and you’ve stocked up on cornmeal and vacuum bags (haha). What are you waiting for? Get your toppings ready!
Pizza sauce (or even spaghetti sauce)
Or this link for 29 “alternative” sauces
Gorgonzola, bleu cheese
Roasted red peppers
Sautéed Vidalia onions
If, like me, you prefer someone else to do your thinking for you, here’s how I’d recommend you proceed with pizza-making, step-by-step:
1) Preheat oven to 500 degrees, being sure to place a rack and pizza stone in the vertical center of the oven.
2) Prepare your toppings and set them aside so that they are ready to go as soon as you need them.
3) Prepare the room-temperature dough by turning it out onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten it with a few smacks of the palm of your hand, then roll it out to about 1/4″ thick. Then, lay it across your two fists, slow stretching the dough out until it is the size you’d like. Try tossing it in the air a bit — it’s fun!
4) Lay the dough on a prepared peel or similar surface that has been coated with cornmeal as below
5) Pinch up the sides of the dough it you wish, for a definitive crust.
6) Add your sauce and toppings.
7) Slide dough into the oven and cook until the crust is slightly golden underneath (about 6-8 minutes).
8)Remove using the peel (now free of cornmeal) or by using a spatula or two to transfer it to a cooling rack.
9) Let sit for about 5 minutes before slicing.