phynedyning

Building a pizza

In Recipies on June 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

Once in a while, we enjoy a great pizza.  Now, pizza delivery is hardly economical and picking one up at a pizza joint is even less economical.  And, if you want a fancy-schmancy pizza, ya gotta run down to the fancy-schmancy pizza joint and rub elbows with the pretentious ones.

So, I build my own.  Making an acceptable pizza dough is not that hard.  I have an outstanding recipe for pizza dough that makes delivered pies taste like a tombstone.  But, at our place, pizza is usually a spur of the moment decision and a meal where we are trying desperately to keep from making a mess in the kitchen.  Dragging out all of the dough-making ingredients and the equipment usually ends “the moment”.

The Foundation

Without a passable crust, a pizza is just sauce with vegetables and cheese mixed in.  The key word is “passable”.

We are offered three alternatives:  1) Buy a pre-made cheese pizza at Papa Murphy’s, 2) Buy a pre-made (fresh) cheese pizza at the local mass food retailer, or 3) Buy a frozen or refrigerated crust and put our own sauce and cheese on it.

At our place, only options 1 or 2 are viable.  The frozen or refrigerated pre-made crusts taste like the bottom of a freezer.  I have never gotten one that tastes absolutely fresh.  Option 1, the Papa Murphy plan, usually gives the most satisfying result, at a slightly higher price than Option 2.

The Tools

A pizza stone is an absolute must!  Baking a pizza on aluminum tends to allow the crust to get a bit soggy in the center.  The pans provided with the Papa Murphy pizza do a fairly respectable job, but I have found the already good result is made even better when a pizza stone is used.  Just dust it with a bit of corn meal and a pinch or two of kosher (or sea) salt before laying your foundation.

A hot oven is even more critical.  We throw the “instructions” (Duh!) for baking the pre-made crusts out the window.  Our oven is preheated to 500-degrees (F) for at least 30 minutes.  Then, we actually watch the pie as it bakes.  Putting it on a pizza stone allows us to turn it every few minutes, since most home ovens have “hot” and “cold” spots.  Baking a pizza in a very hot oven requires no brain processes.  Take it out when it looks done.

Just a word or two about pizza stones…

…never cut a pizza on a stone.  First, you will dull your pizza cutter.  Second, you run the risk of “scoring” the stone’s surface and this can result in a rather dramatic failure of the stone (shattering) when it is heated again.  Let the cooked pie cool a bit (to help “set” the cheeses) and slide it onto a real cutting board for cutting and serving.  This also keeps your stone from getting cheese and gunk worked into it.  I have never washed my stone, since it never gets any food on it.

If you a a bit adventuresome, you can get some heat resistant clay tile from the home improvement store and line your middle shelf with them before preheating the oven.  If you go this route, you will need a pizza spatula to place and remove the pie from the oven.  This method also lends itself to baking the best breads too!

The Makin’s

One of my biggest beefs with delivered or chain-store pizzas is their stinginess with toppings.  A really great pizza has a lot of topping ingredients in every bite, not just a mushroom or pepper slice.

So, when I pile it on…I pile it on.  My unbaked pies are almost three inches thick.  Not to worry!  Most of the volume of the ingredients is water and this will cook away, leaving a manageable pie.  And, baking the pie at very high temperatures keeps the volume of toppings from turning the center of the pie into soggy goo.

No matter what I put on the top, I always scatter a lot of fresh, (finely minced) garlic on my pie before putting the veggies on it.  Next, comes a lot of fresh herbs brought in from my patio garden.

I cut the herbs and clean them thoroughly under cold water.  Then, a few spins around my salad spinner.  This dries them off nicely.  Experiment a bit with your herb toppings.  Oregano and mint makes a great Greek pie with lots of fresh spinach, tomatoes, artichokes, and feta!  When using basil, or any large-leaf herb, always chiffonade the leaves.

Prepping the veggies properly helps make a great pie.  Cut them thin, but not paper thin or they will scorch.  The more natural water in the topping (such as tomatoes), the thinner they should be cut.  We prefer sun-dried tomatoes on our pies and we also invest in some good quality olives.  Black olives out of a can or green olives out of a jar are not acceptable.

One exception to thin-slicing is made for mushrooms.  I leave these in fairly large chunks.  They shrink by about 50% during baking and, if they are cut too thin, their mild flavors get lost among the other ingredients.

I will not provide a list of suggested toppings.

Why?

The best pies are made on the spur of the moment, using vegetables you have on hand.  I have made outstanding African-themed pizzas with okra and pumpkin!  Eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and even carrot slices can be used as pizza topping.  You have not lived until you have tried a pie covered in squash blossoms.  And, do not get bogged down with using only tomato sauces.  One of our favorite sauces is a big dollop of commercial spinach dip spread under the cheese!  Sure you can make your own cream sauce.

Other fun toppings include: chopped grape leaves, thinly sliced lox, and even very thin slices of pickled herring!  Try scattering a handful of rinsed capers on top of any pizza.

With a little invention, you can build a pie they would order at Pretentious Pies, Inc. and avoid the mega-price.  If you feel an urgent need to be seen eating a gourmet pie, take your homemade version out on the front porch…or post pictures on Facebook.

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