Not to toot my own horn, but I make a darn good pizza. (Okay, I totally am going to toot my own horn, but I don’t do it that often, so it’s okay right?) Even if it’s a cheapo cheese pie from Costco that I put the fixin’s on, myself, pizza is a subject at which I excel.
Homemade, from-scratch pizza is a labor of love, but no one has time for that every time a pizza craving rears its ugly head. So I’ll share a few pizza-making secrets, which can probably be found on the Food Network, either as Rachel Ray shortcuts or looked upon with disdain by Emeril Legasse. But pssh. Who cares? This isn’t a food blog!
The first suggestion is find a decent base. If you’re not picky, even a Totino’s cheese pizza will do (and, despite my quarter-Italian heritage, I’m so not picky). Costco’s cheese pizzas are great, and come in a four-pack. Hey, if D’Giorno can claim to be gourmet, so can your homemade concoctions. Just sayin’. You know what you like, so go with that. I make mini pizzas with Orowheat Oatnut bread, because it’s what I’ve got.
I can make my own crust — and I’ll post a recipe — but I do it in the bread maker, because I also don’t have the patience/attention span to do it by hand. 🙂 Unfortunately, I have not managed to develop my own sauce that tastes right, so to save myself time, I’ve used Contadina’s “Pizza Squeeze” and Kroger’s “Pizza Sauce” in a jar (the latter is my favorite so far; it has the fewest additives and tastes yummy). As for cheese, fresh mozzarella is tempting to use, because it’s SO delicious, but it is also labor intensive, because you have to drain all the moisture out of it or it will “weep” all over your pizza — and no one likes soggy pizza. Alternatives are block mozzarella and pre-shredded. I’ve used both and they’re fine. However, you have not lived until you’ve tried pepperjack on a pizza. Trust me and do it. You will wonder where it’s been all your life.
ANYway, back to the base… Regardless of how you do your crust, sauce, and cheese, the toppings are the most important part. I can make gourmet out of cheapo, with just the right toppings. And you can, too! So here is a list of toppings we have used to “decorate” our pizzas, with great success:
- Canned chicken, browned in butter or oil (make sure it’s a very chunky variety. Kirkland is my favorite, and you’d do well to avoid Hormel)
- Bacon (sliced and browned)
- Onions (I use Mayan Sweets and sauté or caramelize them in butter. Scallions work well, too)
- Mushrooms (sautéed in lots of butter, with herbs and maybe a little wine)
- Hamburger (browned — in a pinch, you can slice frozen meatballs in half)
- Herbs, like sage, rosemary, basil, savory, chives, garlic powder, thyme
- Sauces, like Smoked Chipotle Tabasco
Honestly, the best thing to do is to use your imagination. For instance, we usually do some chicken/bacon combination that includes onions and garlic. Tonight, I made bacon, onions, garlic, and sautéed mushroom (with sage, basil, thyme, and red wine), and put them on a cheapo Costco pizza, then sprinkled it with grated Asiago. It was excellente! If I’m feeling super-lazy, but also super-hungry, I’ll just cut frozen meatballs in half and place them evenly over the top.
I am by no means a gourmet cook, so don’t think I learned any of these techniques anywhere but the School of Hard Knocks. So when I say “caramelize”, I’m probably not doing it right. The onions are lightly browned and soft, and crazy delicious. Good enough for me! By the time they reach that stage, our mouths are watering and we couldn’t care less if they’re properly caramelized.
However, it has taken a bit of trial and error to get the crust just right. I have a basic recipe, which I have tweaked shamelessly until I got rid of the bitter taste and dense texture. Again, this is for a bread maker. I’m really not one to ask for tips on how to do it by hand, so that will have to be something to look up on your own, unless you already know how to do it. More power to you if you do!
BASIC 12″ Pizza Crust (with tweaks in parentheses):
* Put these ingredients in the bread pan in the order given, unless your bread maker says to do otherwise:
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 Tbsp olive oil (substitute with a dollop of yogurt)
- 1 & 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 & 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar (substitute with a dollop of honey, in a corner of the pan)
- 1 tsp yeast (in a divot in the center of the flour)
* Set to the “pizza dough” setting and check once to make sure it’s wet or dry enough while mixing (I tend to eyeball the yogurt and honey, which add extra moisture content, so you might find you need a little more flour than just the 2 & 1/4 cups). It should take about 55 minutes, or so; about as long as it would take doing it by hand.
* When it’s done, dump it out on a floured surface (wet fingers will make this easier) and coat it in flour. Squish it a little, then ignore it for a minute (go pour a glass of wine — or another, if you’re like me 😉 ).
* I’ve discovered that rolling pins do not work well with fresh pizza dough. Lift the lump of dough and balance it on your fists, letting gravity stretch it while you kind of walk your fists around the edges (I should probably do a video on this…)
Now for the rest of the pizza!:
* Preheat the oven to 425°F
* Once the crust is the right size and even through the middle (don’t let it get too thin!), place it on your pizza pan or pizza stone, in a circle LARGER than the finished product will be.
* Brush sauce over the whole crust, and sprinkle cheese (pepperjack, I’m telling you!) over the entire circumference.
* Start rolling the outer edge of the crust inward, folding in the sauce and cheese. Gently pull the crust in the direction you are rolling (left or right), and it will stay rolled better than if you just roll it toward the center.
* Finish cooking or prepping your toppings and spread them evenly over the cheese.
* Brush the outer crust with a thin layer of sauce. Finely grate Asiago or Parmesan over it, or sprinkle with garlic powder or garlic salt.
* Depending on your oven, cook for 15 minutes or so, checking after 10, until crust is golden brown and cheese is thoroughly melted. Sometimes, I’ll start it on a low rack to make sure the crust is well done before transferring it to an upper rack to brown the rest of it.
* Take it out when it looks done and let it cool as long as you can possibly stand it.
There you have it! I hope you have success in your future pizza-making endeavors! If you have any interesting tips (especially on how to make sauce), post them in the comments! 🙂