by Nancy Sweet, director, culinary programs and operations, LLCC
My husband loves pizza. Like “L-O-V-E let’s eat it at minimum three days a week if possible” loves it. Thin, thick, stuffed, traditional, fancy, taco, even ham and (gasp) pineapple, he will be game. So, I indulge him, and we make pizza at home often.
I like pizza at home because there are so many options – various dough and sauce recipes plus the endless amount of topping and cheese combos. Be as seasonal, modern or traditional as what suits you and what you have on hand.
Some basic tips before getting started. If you are in a hurry, just grab some fresh dough from the store. But if you have the time, make your dough from scratch. I’m including a recipe for a very quick dough that goes from start to baked in less than two hours. But you may find some recipes that require a much longer ferment (dough rising) of up to 5 days! Those recipes make for a dough with a much deeper flavor, sometimes bordering on sourdough. Find what you like and experiment!
Don’t go crazy with too much sauce or too many ingredients. When I was at a pizza making class in Italy last year, the Italian chefs were horrified when we American started adding four, five or six different ingredients. Simplicity is best – use fewer toppings, just use good, flavorful toppings. Plus, too much sauce can make a pizza gooey and glopping and there is no fixing that.
Consider some pre-work on your ingredients. Instead of using raw onions, I like to slice red onions and sauté them in olive oil and finish with some balsamic vinegar for a topping. Purchase some good quality raw Italian sausage and cook it at home. Pre-shredded cheeses have preservatives in them which causes them not to melt as nicely. Buy a whole block of mozzarella or a wedge of Parmesan and grate it at home. And, think outside the box! One of my favorite combos is steak, sliced roasted fingerling potatoes, and rosemary with a garlic olive oil sauce.
Add herbs or greens for freshness after the pizza comes out of the oven. Take some fresh basil leaves, roughly tear them with your hands, and sprinkle over the pizza. Or, mix some arugula with just a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper, and scatter over the pizza. They will retain their freshness but will wilt just a little from the heat of the pizza, making for a perfect punch of freshness.
And, most importantly, get that oven HOT. Like 500 degrees plus hot. Pre-heat the oven and the pan (ideally a baking stone) that you will cook the pizza on. Resist opening the oven while it’s cooking and instead look through the window.
Quick Pizza Sauce
Makes 32 ounces
1 can San Marzano tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, rough chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh basil, rough chop (optional)
In a blender, combine tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar until tomatoes are just broken down. With blender running on low, slowly add olive oil then herbs. Taste for any extra needed seasoning.
Basic Pizza Dough
From Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 2 pounds dough, enough for 2, 14” pizzas
4 – ¼ cups bread flour (All-purpose can be substituted if needed)
2 ¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups water, heated to 110 degrees
Pulse 4 cups flour, yeast and salt together in food processor until combined, about 5 pulses. With food processor running, slowly add oil, then water; process until rough ball forms, 30-40 seconds. Let dough rest for 2 minutes, then process for 30 seconds longer. (If after 30 seconds dough is still sticky and clings to blade, add remaining ¼ cup flower 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.)
Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand into a smooth, round ball. Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl; cover bowl tightly with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours before using.
One hour before baking, place a baking stone in the oven and set oven on 500 degrees.
Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and cover with greased plastic wrap. Use fingertips to gently flatten 1 piece of dough into an 8-inch disk (keep other piece covered.) Using hands, gently stretch disk into 14-inch round, working along outer edge and giving disk quarter turns. Transfer dough to piece of parchment paper and reshape as needed.
Using back of spoon nor ladle, spread ¾ cup tomato sauce over d dough, leaving a ½ inch border around edge. Add toppings except for cheese. Slide parchment with pizza onto pizza peel (or a cookie sheet turned upside down so there are no sides/edges) and then slide onto baking stone. Bake until crust begins to brown, 7-8 minutes. Remove pizza and quickly top with cheese.
Return pizza back to oven and bake until cheese is melty and starting to brown about, 3 minutes longer. Remove pizza from oven and slide onto a cutting board. Let cool about 1 minute then slice and serve.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.