There’s no such thing as bad pizza. Even not-so-great pizza is better than no pizza at all.
This is a driving motto of my generation, a rally cry that draws us together in sauce-blotched unity and brotherhood.
Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a food snob, and I’ll have to disagree slightly with my generational brethren and sistren. There is such a thing as bad pizza, and not-so-great pizza is much worse than no pizza at all. Good pizza, however, is a beauty and a wonder, a primal force of the universe. I have a feeling that if physicists ever solve the mysteries of the cosmos, at some sub-atomic level they will discover cheese is a primary unifying force.
Good pizza has a crust with a crispy, delicate crunch, and inner solidity and chewiness that reflects the realities of its composition: flour, water, yeast, salt, oil. Any sauces are a light, fresh smear, enough to flavor and ground without becoming soggy or over-powering. Real, fresh-grated cheeses, a selection of full-flavored toppings, another sprinkle of cheese… good pizza is gorgeous. It is a symphony of taste, yet easily approachable at any time of day, including cold the next morning for breakfast.
(Pizza is also a stark generational dividing line: my Tall, Dark, and Slightly-Neanderthal fellow, while he enjoys to eat pizza, does not consider it an all-hours sort of food, or an appropriate breakfast. He also listens to the BeeGees because he likes them, without a hint of irony.)
And, making it at home, we can feed the whole family a divine pizza feast for under $10, so the ultra-Scots blood that runs through my veins can’t even gripe at the cost.
I’m posting this on a Tuesday, because making pizza pockets is very nearly sandwiches: easy to heat and eat on rushed nights, and no hardship if someone needs to eat late after returning from activities.
Nice Pizza Crust
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- Anywhere from just under 1 cup of warm water, to just over… use just under if you’re in a moist area, just over if you live in the Idaho Rockies or other similarly low-humidity areas. If you live in the deep South, and it’s summer, you may not need water at all…
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- about 3 cups unbleached flour
- a slightly heaping teaspoon of salt
- about 1/4 teaspoon or a tad more of garlic granules, or a small clove, crushed, just for fun.
- Other herbs as desired… but remember, you’ll still have sauce, so don’t go wild.
Mix the yeast with part of the water and get it cheerfully reproducing. Then, add the rest of the water, the oil, and the dry ingredients, with only about half the flour to start.
Beat it nice and smooth, and keep going until you can feel and see the gluten developing nicely. Add more flour, a bit at a time, until you have a soft, shaggy dough. Err on the side of a bit soft.
You can either rise it on the counter and use it immediately (well, in about 2 hours), or rise it on the counter for a bit, then pop it into the fridge (covered) for up to 48 hours. Just punch it down if it’s getting a bit vigorous and threatening to take over.
This recipe makes enough for 2 thinner-crust 9×13 pizzas, which is what we usually work with.
Oil your pan, and pat the dough out to fit. Go a little thinner than you think you ought to; a 1/8″ dough to start will expand about three times in the oven, and you don’t really want to have a smear of toppings on a loaf of bread. If the dough is fighting you, give in: take a 15 minute break and let it relax under a lightly damp towel. It will get bored and allow you to pat, pull, and otherwise shape when you return.
Plan to bake at 450*; some call for baking the crust naked for about 10 minutes, then adding toppings and returning it to the oven to finish (another 10-15 minutes). I tend to be a bit lazy and just top/bake in one step. Definitely go for a thinner crust if that’s your preferred slacker tendency. Thicker crusts need some naked baking time to avoid a squongey middle.
The two main sauces we use are a marinara (garlic and basil flavors predominating), or a white garlic sauce (see the Stromboli post for the recipe there.)
Use any combination you see fit, really! I prefer to keep things chopped quite fine, so there’s a smattering of each flavor in every bite without overloading the crust. After grocery shopping, I’ll prep a good number of ingredients and just toss them in the freezer for future use, which makes pizza a quick option any time; well over half the time involved in making pizza is in prepping the toppings! Give a go with:
- Browned ground beef or pork-sage sausage
- Browned Italian sweet-hot sausage
- Diced ham
- Chopped grilled chicken (marinate it in Italian or Greek dressing before grilling… YUM! One decent-sized chicken breast will top an entire pizza.)
- Bits of crisp bacon, thin slices of pepperoni or salami, or other thin-sliced or crisped preserved meats
- Cheese! A good sprinkle of grated Mozzarella, Parmesan, and/or Cheddar cheese is nice. Pizza can handle both mild and strong flavors, so don’t be afraid of the smellier cheeses. Use it as a foundation above the sauce, and also as a unifying sprinkle on top, but don’t overdo it.
- Chopped veggies of all sorts, but beware: if they are watery veggies, they can put off too much liquid while baking, and make for a soggy pizza. So, use raw veg sparingly, but go wild with things like carmelized onions or grilled mushrooms. Bell peppers do best if they’re chopped into rather small bits, and used sparingly, to impart flavor without releasing a lot of water.
- Chopped preserved veggies, like drained marinated artichoke hearts, or chopped black olives, or Greek or Italian olives, make lovely zingery additions that cut the weight of the cheese and meats.
- Veggies to top the pizza when it comes out of the oven might include a light sprinkle of fresh green onion, or a chiffonade of spinach or basil. These add a nice burst of freshness, and a goodly stack of nutrients, too. If your kids are iffy about spinach, though, add the chiffonade (thinly sliced ribbons) to the pizza right on top of the sauce, under the cheese. Kids who eat pizza without deconstructing it will snarf it unawares (though I am not generally approving of hiding veggies to trick kids into eating them… it rather defeats the purpose, which is to communicate that veggies are lovely!)
If you life in the West, chances are you’ve had a Hawaiian pizza: cheese, ham, and pineapple tidbits. Sounds gross if you’re used to Eastern and Chicago pizza, but it’s actually pretty tasty. Blame California.
With pizza, often simpler is better. Consider simple flavor combinations such as:
- White sauce, mozzarella, sausage, peppers
- White sauce, mozzarella, chicken, artichokes
- White sauce, mozzarella (sensing a trend….), tomatoes, and black olives
- Red sauce, mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, bacon
- Red sauce, blah blah, Greek olives, artichokes
Really, you could go on forever.
Pizza is also pretty easy to customize for individual tastes, though we have a basic rule at our house: pick off anything you don’t like, because Momma is not making ninety different pizzas. I break this rule all the time and offer up “build your own” mini-pizza crusts, but it’s a good start, anyhow.
Winding up, one word on making pizza far less work:
You can make your own homemade pizza pockets by filling and folding over small rounds or rectangles of dough, and laying them on a cookie sheet in the freezer to harden for an hour, before wrapping and bagging for storage. Little stickers with the contents listed are quite helpful. To bake, set the frozen, unwrapped pockets on a lightly oiled sheet on the counter while the oven pre-heats, and add a few minutes to the baking time. Keeping the pockets fairly modest as to contents (ie: not uber-fat) helps them cook through with less time commitment.
And, okay, two words:
If you have leftover baked pizza (hee hee hee… leftover pizza! Well, I suppose it could happen…) slice it, flash-freeze on a cookie sheet, then wrap and bag for freezer storage. It will nuke back to steamy, lovely pizza glory with just about 1-2 minutes in the average microwave. Very handy.
If you take the time to prep some ingredients for the freezer, and even make up some flattened dough for the freezer (roll it all the way out, and freeze, then wrap well–to use, pull it out to stand at room temp for about 15 minutes before topping and baking), making homemade pizza can become an actual *FAST* food… 30 or so minutes from freezer to mouth, which is less time than it takes to get take-out. If you’ve prepped the entire pizza ahead, you’re running at about the same time commitment.
Really good, really convenient (well, relatively convenient, and definitely cheaper and more satisfying) pizza? You may never be able to stand restaurant pizza again.