Kitchen Garden

Making Pizza

Homemade pizza.

What different can be said about pizza? It’s ubiquitous.

In Iowa even convenience stores make and sell it in substantial quantities. Few foods are as personal and varied as this combination of crust, sauce and toppings.

In our kitchen we’ve gone through different iterations of pizza making and consumption. We began with home delivery or take out pizza made at a restaurant specializing in the pie. Pizza night was when we didn’t have to cook. After we joined the wholesale club we began buying frozen cheese pizzas, or “pizza blanks” as I called them. To these we added our own toppings, typically kalamata olives, diced onions and bell peppers in season. This method was less expensive than buying take out. The latest iteration is making our own, which is easy for a seasoned cook. Each of the three main elements has its variations.

Crust is hardest to get right and I’m not fully there. My bread-making recipe for a 12-inch pizza pie is basic: one cup of warm water, one teaspoon of active dry yeast, a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a dash of salt. Some oil or fat would add flavor and texture but we are trying to reduce the amount of fat in our diet so I leave it out.

Flour is important. Our pantry standard is 100 percent organic all purpose wheat flour. Before I try other flour types I want to get this one right. I don’t use a specific measurement but gauge the wetness and elasticity of the dough while I’m making it to determine when I’ve added enough flour. It took a while to gain this skill without making too dry a dough.

The dough-making process is to add the water to a mixing bowl then stir in the yeast, sugar and salt. Add a quarter cup of flour and mix together. Prepare a bowl in which to let the dough rise in the oven. We use a cooking spray to make it easier to get the dough out of the bowl after it has risen. Once the raising bowl is ready, add flour until the dough is workable but neither too wet nor too dry. Turn it out on a floured counter and knead it, adding more flour until the texture and dampness is just right. Place it in the raising bowl and cover it with a towel in a warm oven. To reach desired oven temperature I turn it on at the lowest setting then turn it off before I put the dough in to rise. I let it rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. When it’s ready I knead it to bring it together then shape the crust on a pizza paddle lined with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray. It is optional to brush on extra virgin olive oil as a moisture barrier.

I make two kinds of pizza sauce: tomato sauce and cheese sauce. The photo above shows a pizza made with cheese sauce. I have been experimenting with this and haven’t found the right combination of ingredients. This one used ricotta cheese mixed with sliced fresh basil and diced garlic scapes. If the ricotta is too dry to mix or spread, add a tablespoon of milk or cream to make it more pliable. Then spread it evenly on the crust.

Few things are better for pizza sauce than a couple of peeled Roma tomatoes crushed with a fork and drained, mixed with fresh basil and minced garlic. That’s the sauce. When tomatoes are not in season a prepared tomato sauce, or drained, canned tomatoes whizzed in a blender with garlic and basil will serve. The key here is to get as much moisture out of the tomatoes before spreading the sauce on the pizza crust.

Toppings are more about philosophy than ingredients. Depending on what kind of sauce you have, you don’t need a lot of toppings. You want to be able to see and taste the toppings so I use a couple with a final dusting of Parmesan cheese. Spend some time evenly spacing toppings on the pizza. Don’t use too many. It adds eye-appeal which enhances the overall experience.

Most times I top pizza with mozzarella cheese when it is a tomato sauce. I like fresh mozzarella best, although grated hard mozzarella provides a similar flavor and texture after baking. We almost always add diced onions, sliced kalamata olives or bell peppers. If there are fresh tomatoes we slice them thinly and let them drain before adding them to the pizza. Caramelized onions are a great topping. If one can tolerate hot peppers, thinly sliced jalapeno or Serrano peppers are great. Because our pantry has many kinds of dried chili peppers I add them before baking if diners can tolerate the heat. If they can’t, red pepper flakes can be shaken on before serving.

To bake the pizza I place four unglazed floor tiles on a rack at the lowest setting. I heat the oven as hot as it will get using the 500 degree setting. When the oven reaches temperature or close to it, I slide the pizza on the parchment paper on the tiles and close the door. I set my timer for ten minutes and don’t open the oven until then. It’s usually done at ten minutes.

I leave the pizza on a cooling rack for a couple of minutes before cutting and serving to enable it to come together.

Would love to hear your comments about pizza making in your kitchen. Thanks for reading.