If I’ve ever had you over for a food get-together of sorts, chances are I’ve made my homemade pizzas the main event. Ever since my sister and I traveled to Italy two years ago, my hunger for artisan pizza and how to perfect it has been a never-ending project. Since good, authentic pizza is one of my top comfort foods, I never get tired of it. I’ve never made a pizza that let me down, and I always leave the night with a fresh appreciation for interesting flavor combos, a new level of perfectly blistered crust, and surrounded by happy people I love. Many people think of homemade pizza-making as something beyond what’s possible with their limited kitchen experience or simply are fine leaving such a seemingly daunting task to one of their foodie friends. I’m here to tell you that you can have the confidence to create a beautiful night of imperfectly perfect pizza that you can proudly deem “from-scratch.” Another tasteful and healthful benefit of making your own pizza is you know exactly what’s going into it as opposed to the mysteries of sodium-loaded (yet still bland) sauce, piles and piles of cheese (low quality mozzarella trying to cover up sub-par toppings), and dough that wasn’t hand-kneaded just hours before eating (like yours will be). Trust me, it’s worth it.
Now onto some of the pizza making tips that really take it to the next level.
1. HEAT! Seriously, this is what makes a pizza great. If you go to any pizzeria, those ovens are usually close to 1000 degrees and the pies get flash-baked for less than three minutes. So unless you’re cooler than me and have your own wood-fired pizza oven in your backyard, your kitchen’s oven can be maxed out to give you that perfect pizzeria crust. I have a pizza stone that I really believe is a key player for the perfect crispy crust, but if you don’t want to invest in that for $20 or less, a baking sheet/pan that’s been preheated with your 500 (or as high as it will go) degree oven for about thirty minutes will give you similar results. I’ve also grilled my pizza which can be even better, and I might make a later post about that as an option. To maneuver a delicate pizza in and out of that fiery furnace, I recommend a lightly floured with a sprinkle of cornmeal pizza peel (those giant wooden “spatulas”). Usually ten minutes (max – just check periodically to make sure nothing is burning) or until the crust is lightly charred and the cheese is bubbly.
2. As far as ingredients go, try to resist the urge to load up one pizza with every single topping that you love. Your pizza won’t be able to handle all that love at once and will give you a soggy crust. When I make pizzas, I typically will have 2-4 different kinds, each with no more than about 3 different toppings. That way, I can experiment with different flavors and try to make all my guests happy. Since I am a self-proclaimed “flexitarian,” I’m not known to have a meat-lovers pizza, but I do love the occasional splurge on prosciutto or pancetta for my pizzas. The main thing here is to have fun and play with toppings that YOU like, but don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things.
3. I’m a fan of light sauce. Again, to not weigh down your beautiful hand-made dough, but also so you can actually taste that dough as well as the individual toppings or maybe that specialty cheese that would otherwise be drowning in sauce. I usually have a general menu of one tomato sauce-based, one pesto, and one “white” (no sauce – just maybe an herb/oil brush or ricotta base).
Those are essentially the basics! I’m attaching the link to the whole wheat dough that was the first dough I made, and I’ve stuck with it. Adjustments I make are to usually divide it up into two or three pieces because I’m a fan of thin crust, as well as sometimes freezing the dough balls before I let it rise for a later day. Then I just take it out about 4-5 hours before to allow thawing and then rising. Dividing it up can make the same size pizzas, just with the crust being 1/2 or 1/3 as thick. I also like to mix in a pizza seasoning (basically just S/P and italian herbs).
Here are some of my creations to get you thinking, but I didn’t want to post pizza “recipes,” because that’s the fun of pizza making! It really is an art-form because you create YOUR work with your hands, your imagination, and your friends. If you have any specific questions, just comment on this post, and I’ll try to answer them.
Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan
Herbed ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons
Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)
Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto
Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion
Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil
Now go make some pizza. Tonight.