Pizza has eclipsed other classic American dishes to become the most widely eaten food in the nation. Ordering pizza is fine for busy nights, but nothing beats the freshness and flavor of home-baked pizza.
While sauces and toppings are limited only by the chef’s imagination, the dough is a pizza’s foundation. Whether thin and crisp or thick and chewy, pizza dough is simple to make and requires only a few ingredients. Allrecipes.com lists a number to try. There are also prepared pizza doughs in the frozen foods aisle of most supermarkets for those who are pressed for time.
A pizza stone is ideal for making the perfect crust, but a baking sheet also works. A wooden pizza paddlle (also known as a peel) is handy to transfer pizzas to and from the oven as well. Before rolling out the dough and assembling the pizza toppings, preheat the oven with the cold pizza stone or baking sheet inside it to 450 degrees. Having a pre-heated pizza stone or baking sheet will keep pizza from sticking and cook the crust more quickly.
How thick the dough is rolled will determine how crisp or bread-like the final product will be. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough to about the thickness of a cracker for a thin, crispy crust. For a thicker, chewier crust, roll the dough about half an inch thick or skip the rolling pin altogether and press dough to the desired thickness by hand. (Fancy tossing maneuvers are fun to try, but overzealous tossing can lead to unexpected kitchen clean-ups.)
Transfer the rolled dough to the pizza paddle before topping. A few pinches of cornmeal sprinkled on the paddle act as tiny edible ball bearings to allow the uncooked pizza to slide effortlessly from paddle to stone. Brush the circle of dough with olive oil. The pizza is now ready for toppings.
Tomato sauce is the most common choice for pizza sauce. Choose any prepared sauce that suits the pizza toppings or use pasta sauce left over from a previous meal. Health-conscious pizza lovers can even skip sauce altogether and top the pizza with thiny sliced ripe tomatoes for a light, garden-fresh taste.
Although most pizza sauces are tomato-based, creamy bechamel sauces are an interesting variation on the theme. Especially good with soft cheeses, spinach, or artichokes, a bechamel sauce is the basis for variations of pizza bianca, or white pizza. Try adding a little nutmeg and pepper to a white sauce for an Alfredo sauce.
Add a dollop of sauce to the center of the pizza and spread it outwards from the center, moving the spoon in a widening spiral. Two or three tablespoons of sauce is enough for a personal-sized pizza, while larger pizzas might need more. Too much sauce can lead to toppings sliding off in the oven, though, so add extra sauce at the table if desired.
Mozzarella cheese and pepperoni are a classic combination, but the sky truly is the limit for pizza toppings. Traditionalists may prefer to stick with familiar toppings, but don’t feel constrained by what’s on the menu at the local pizza parlor. Favorite flavor combinations can work just as well on a pizza as they do atop pasta or between slices of bread.
Try a French-style pizza with a white sauce, gruyere and brie cheeses, sauteed onions, and a dash of tarragon. A Greek variation on pizza using feta cheese, spinach, black olives, and spiced minced lamb is another tasty possibility. Sun-dried tomatoes, roast chicken, and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese make a delicious and healthful pizza. A vegan diner might appreciate a pizza topped with spinach, roasted peppers, mushrooms, onions, and fresh basil leaves.
Once the pizza is sauced and topped to perfection, use the paddle to slide it onto the pizza stone. Tip the paddle a little to allow the first edge of the dough to grab onto the hot stone or baking sheet, then slide the paddle out from under the pizza. Fresh pizza bakes quickly; when it looks done and the crust springs back when poked with a finger, the pizza is ready to come out. Remove the pizza from the oven using the paddle, transfer it to a cutting board, slice, and enjoy.