A City Slice, Cooked At Home
How to Best the Corner Pizza Shop
The November issues of the food magazines have started to arrive and it's all about Thanksgiving. But it's only mid-October. Am I the only one who is resistant to join the rush to the holidays? I expect not. So let's slow things down a little, knowing that the holidays' arrival is inevitable. And before we talk turkey, let's stay in normal mode, which includes wrestling with the daily challenge of what's for dinner. Not on the fourth Thursday in November; but what's for dinner tonight.
Even for those of us who love to cook, the day in, day out responsibility of buying groceries and making meals can become tiresome. Living in New York, it's tempting to walk past the market and instead head for a neighborhood pizza shop on the way home from work. You can give in to that temptation, but an hour after dinner, if only for its excess salt and your swollen ankles, you may be sorry you didn't try harder to resist.
I am a New York City rarity in that I only eat pizza out about once a year. A quick slice for lunch is something I just never got the hang of, probably because I knew I'd dribble olive oil down the front of whatever I was wearing and couldn't go back to the office with any dignity. For some reason it would never occur to me to order a pizza for supper. But the fact is that I love the stuff. I know we can buy truly great pizza in our pizza-crazy city but more often than not, it's really not so great. Sometimes even not so good. So the answer is to make our own.
First, instead of buying a whole pie at your favorite pizza shop, ask them to sell you a ball of raw dough -- most shops are glad to sell them for about $2.50 each. If it's a weekend and you can spare about an hour before making dinner, make your own pizza dough (see our recipe for "Pizza Dough"), adding whole wheat flour for more flavor and nutrition. If you or someone in your household has a gluten problem, Whole Foods and other organic markets sell wheat-free frozen pizza pies and balls of dough. They also sell frozen balls of plain raw dough -- have one of these in your freezer and just transfer it to your refrigerator the night before you'll cook with it.
Regardless if you make it or buy it, having a ball of pizza dough in your kitchen can lead to a wonderful meal that's easy and fun to make. It's fast because once the dough is ready, the most time you'll need is to heat your oven to 450ºF. The pizza itself cooks in about 15 to 20 minutes and you can use toppings that need little-to-no time to prepare.
A ball of dough bought at a pizza shop, or one portion of the dough you make yourself, is usually enough for two 12-inch pies. If you only want to make one pie and have dough left over, you can make pretzels (see our recipe for "EZ Peazy Pretzels").
Technique and Tools
Making pizza at home requires a few basic pieces of equipment but you can do well with very little. Whether you make your own dough or not, you need:
• An oven that can get hot (450º to 500ºF) and stay hot
• A spatula
• Corn meal
• A sheet pan, but as one of the most versatile kitchen items, you should have one of these anyway. For a crispy bottom crust you'll get a better result with a pizza stone or a blue steel pan.
• A rolling pin -- helps you wrestle with the elastic dough that pizza parlors use.
Other tools that are helpful but not necessary:
• A rolling pizza knife helps cut wedges without wrecking the toppings
• A peel, which is that long-handled wooden paddle that's used to slide a pizza into and out of a hot oven
We've done some small city kitchen pizza equipment testing and have done our own list of essentials (see our article, "The Essential Kitchen: Pizza Tools").
There are also some ways to make working with the dough and a hot oven more successful. We've put a list of these tips together in their own article titled "Making City Pizza" and hope you'll find this also useful.
Bespoke Pizza: Your Toppings, Your Way
Almost anything can go on top of a pizza. Make it classic with red sauce and mozzarella or try combos like cheese, red pepper flakes and olive oil, or bits of cooked sausage and roasted red peppers, or a complex combination like pan sautéed wild shrimp and your own hand-mixed basil pesto.
In talking with other city cooks who are regular pizza makers, every one of them told me how they use a pizza dinner as a way to empty the refrigerator. Whatever is left at the end of a week before a grocery store run can end up on top of a round of golden and glistening pizza: steamed broccoli and sliced carrots with a handful of grated cheese; shredded chicken from the single breast left over from last night's dinner dabbed with the end of a log of chevre; cubes of cooked squash and sliced onions that have been caramelized until sweet; a cut-up pork chop that was too good to throw away but not large enough to make a meal.
Here's my favorite: I dress a round of dough with cubes of any soft cheese I have -- like Fontina or Robiola or goat cheese -- along with a drizzle of olive oil. I bake this for about 15 minutes until the cheese has all melted and settled across the top and the crust is golden and cooked through. Once out of the oven I scatter torn pieces of prosciutto, then cover with a handful of arugula and add another drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Because the ham is already cooked and the arugula can be washed and torn into pieces in the time it takes for the pizza to bake, using pizza shop-bought dough means I can make dinner, start to finish, in less than an hour. And this includes the 20 minutes it takes my oven to heat to 450ºF. Add a glass of red wine and it's a happy weekday supper. Should anything oily dribble down my arm, at least I'll know it's extra virgin olive oil, not something out of an unmarked can.
If you've never tried to make your own pizza, do as I did and spend a Sunday afternoon experimenting. You may find it will become a weekday and weekend favorite meal.