We have some traditional meals around here. I’m not talking about ham on Easter or turkey for Thanksgiving, but more run-of-the-mill weekly traditions – pasta on Wednesday (“Anthony! It’s Prince spaghetti day!”), Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken when J is travelling, grilled burgers or chicken on the weekends. And Friday? That’s pizza night here at Casa SITFOB!
We used to get it from a local pizzeria; J would call home when he was leaving work, I’d call in the order, and he’d pick it up on his way home. It was good, it was easy – add a tossed salad and a glass of wine (milk for the kids!), and we had a meal.
It was also expensive. Well, not expensive on a per meal basis, but it added up … $30 a week for take-out pizza? Over $1500 a year? That’s a lot of money for pizza! And it wasn’t always piping hot by the time we sank our teeth into it; it did delay J’s return by 15-20 minutes; we had that waste from the pizza boxes, etc. I decided there had to be a better way.
So, for the past six months, I’ve been using the method outlined below. I’ve tweaked my technique, had fun experimenting with various combinations, and enjoyed sharing the prep with the kids; here’s what we do:
We start with store-bought pizza dough. There you go, I’ll get the shortcut confession out of the way right away. A pound of dough, refrigerated in our deli department, costs $1.69. I pull it out of our fridge about 30 minutes before I want to start forming the pizzas, form it into a ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl to rest. It puffs up a bit as the chill comes off it, and the dough regains some of its elasticity.
When I’m ready to form the pizzas, I preheat the oven to 500° F, with the stone on the center rack. I now use a pizza stone for a nice crisp crust, but have used pans in the past. My favorite pizza pan is a thick Calphalon with solid bottom; I’ve also had success with a thinner pan with a perforated bottom. But, the stone is now my favorite “pan.”
When I first started baking bread, I was agonizing over semolina vs. corn meal vs. parchment paper. Beth Fish suggested using cornmeal on the peel, saying “it acts like ball bearings, and the dough slides right off the peel onto the stone.” Sage advice, and I use the same tip with pizza dough.
Grab one of those balls of dough and flatten it slightly between your palms, making a thick disk. Then, using your fingertips under the disk, push gently toward the sides, stretching it wider and wider. When the disk gets too wide for your fingertips, hold it by one edge and let gravity do the work as you “walk” your fingertips around the edge until it has been pulled into a circle about the size of the pizza peel (or pan). Then, flop it down on the peel, and start the toppings!
This is where we really have fun! One of our children will eat only cheese (yes, the eldest, this is what happens when you coddle them as babies!); two will eat either cheese or pepperoni, and one will eat anything you put in front of him. J and I like to vary the toppings (and I’ll confess to reading some pizzeria menus to gather ideas.)
I put the tip of the peel toward the edge of the stone closest to the back of the oven and give a quick push forward and pull back, kind of like shooting a pool cue. I was wimpy about the maneuver when I first started using the peel, and had a number of pizzas flip back on themselves – be bold! (a good motto, in any case!)
After about 12 minutes I take a peek to see how it’s doing – there’s a fine line between melted/browning cheese and inedible (especially with a picky eater). The peel goes under the front tip, I rock it slightly left and right as I push it all the way under the pizza, then pull it out and put in on a wire rack for a minute or so before cutting. Yum!
Here’s our favorite combo: pesto, mozzarella, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and spoonfuls of ricotta. Let me know if you’re coming for dinner, and I’ll pick up and extra ball of dough!
What’s your favorite pizza topping? Do you have a favorite pizza cookbook to recommend?