We've all done it. We've paid more for a pizza than we should have; be it at the local tavern, or even at some upscale place boasting a wood fired stove; we've over paid. We're drawn to pizza like moths to a flame. We all burn for crispy warm bread covered in zesty tomato sauce oozing with caramelized cheese, and topped cured greasy meats(or fresh vegetables). For most Americans pizza is just a phone call away, for rural shoppers pizza can be purchased in the grocers freezer isle and baked at home offering a hint at how it's suppose to be.
What is Pizza suppose to be though? It's not fine dining in high society, but it's also not recycled leftover meatloaf. It's somewhere between a hot dog vendor steaming precooked links, and a restaurant where your waiter wears gloves. In my opinion pizza is best when shared and as a simple dish without too much analysis.
When you make pizza at home it gets even better. The ingredients in pizza aren't mystical and the items used in your pizza won't differ too dramatically from those used at your favorite pizza place. Pizza is something that you can have at home for a few dollars, and a few minutes of work.
(read more after the break to read just how easy pizza can be.)
Understanding home made pizza starts with understanding the limitations of your home cooking setup. If for whatever reason you have a pizza stone, and a kitchen-aide mixer you're basically home free. If you only have a large pot and a pizza pan then you're starting in a different place. As long as you have some time and an oven I'm confident that you can overcome any obstacles to making a good pizza.
The base of a pizza is obviously the crust, and their are as many crust recipes as their are people. Peter Reinhardt has assembled many crusts in his seminal tome American Pie. I'm not going to post a master baker's recipes here. Instead I'll direct you to his blog where he posts them for you. I will say that if you prefer thin crust, new york crust, deep dish, or a number of other crust styles you'll find them all in his books. I think you'll find that it's well worth a few dollars on Kindle to up your pizza game. A crust should be what it's intended to be, a thin crust should be crispy and thin with a nice crunch or snap when you bite into it. A deep dish pizza should hold all of the toppings and offer stability to the mass. A New York Style pizza should be fold-able without being limp. If your crust isn't right your pizza isn't right.
My pizzas start with that Neo Neapolitan dough. Next I put on home made sauce. Making sauce is as easy as opening a can and stirring. Believe me you can do it. You want to do it, because if you rely on canned sauce you're robbing yourself of flexibility and locking in those flavors. Flavors in the sauce tend to intensify as the pizza is cooked. So if your sauce is salty with heavy garlic then your pizza is going to be saltier with heavier garlic. Besides if you're already opening a can of sauce you've already done the hardest part of making your own sauce.
Cheese is the last pivotal layer of making what Americans understand as pizza. I always start with a pound of shredded mozzarella. You should buy a chunk and shred it yourself; shredded cheese is coated with cellulose(think wood pulp). With freshly shredded cheese I mix in freshly grated Parmesan.
1/2 cup Mozzarella
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Basil
1/8 tsp Black Pepper
Baking is dependent on your setup, Either use a pizza pan or get yourself a peel and a baking stone, The results will speak for themselves. At Serious Eats DBCurrie has already tested your setup for you and she has some advice.
My Setup, and Making a Neapolitan Pizza.
Over the years my home made pizza game has changed and developed from humble beginnings to a treat my friends specifically ask for and ask about. It all started innocently enough with a book I got from Barnes and Nobles for 6.98 in the bargain books area. My first pizza was made on a grill using a "Grill Skillet". Now it's all much more elaborate.
Everything starts from my Kitchen Aide Artisan Stand Mixer. I normally make batches using about 2-3 cups of flour so as not to over work my mixer into an early grave. When I tried with 5 cups of flour it was pushing my bowl loose because of the size of the dough ball and toughness of it. With 2.5 cups it works flawlessly.
Then I transfer the dough balls and a touch of oil to individual gallon bags for an overnight stay in my refrigerator. Smaller dough balls or a larger bag and they can be packaged together
An hour prior to cooking I remove the dough from the fridge and heat up the oven, higher is better, I usually shoot for 500.
I shred cheese, and make sauce at this point. I also wash the peel in the sink and get my work space ready. Because I put my pizzas right on the stone I make them right on the peel. I do this by first sprinkling a generous amount of semolina flower from a shaker. Then I stretch my dough and plop it down. Add sauce, Add Cheese, Add Toppings.
Bake for 8-12 minutes depending on personal preference, temperature, size, and toppings. Trial and error are your friends.
If you have done everything right you'll have pizza, and if you didn't that's okay too.
You can do this, I believe in you. You're one step closer to that pizzarea and microbrew establishment that you always wanted to open but never believed you could. Home made pizza pie is worth the minimal effort, and the results will wow your friends, neighbors, and random strangers drawn in my the aroma of your kitchen.