One of my favorite childhood memories was going out for pizza. Not something we did often, it was a much anticipated event. We had two choices of where to go. One was in a large, open, dark room with wood tables and wood benches. We always got a pepperoni pizza and a green salad and a pitcher of root beer. We had to eat our salad before we could have pizza. I wasn't big on the salad, quickly finding and eating the black olives, then poking the greens around in the bowl. Then came the skinny strips of pizza with mozarella cheese pulling into long strands as the pieces were handed out. Gooey, spicy goodness. I was a small child, but I did a credible job of putting away pizza!
Our other pizza tavern choice was my favorite. We didn't go there as often. It was farther away and I suspect a bit pricier. It was more of a sit-down restaurant and in the waiting area were two things which fascinated me. One was the paintings on the wall depicting a bachanalian scene, with one boy holding a bunch of grapes up, about to bite one off. When I tired of looking at the paintings I could go to the counter where they had a step to stand on and a glass pane separating me from the artist making my pizza. In hindsight I know they were probably just high school kids working a part-time job, but to me they were pizza wizards, tossing the dough up in the air, whirling it around, deftly ladling sauce, sprinkling just the right amount of cheese, and flicking toppings on in rapid fire.
When I started thinking about creating memories for my own children, pizza was a natural starting point. I went on quite a long hunt for a dough recipe. I wasn't comfortable working with yeast yet, so that was something of an adventure. But I finally found a recipe that has become my old reliable. I have made it so often I don't even need the cookbook, Good Housekeeping Illustrated, anymore. I experimented with various sauces and found that for speed and convenience I like Prego sauce. I'm sure it's much tastier with fresh sauce made with fresh ingredients, but most of the time I don't have the time for that because I make pizza every week.
We started pizza night every Saturday night. We would watch Star Trek, The Next Generation and have pizza and root beer. It was a fun, family time to look forward to all week. With my little kids we still do the Saturday night pizza tradition, only now we watch the Lois & Clark- The New Adventures of Superman. And just ask any of my kids what you eat on Saturday and I'm sure they'll tell you pizza.
Since I've made so many pizzas over the years, I've tried lots of variations and I'm going to blog about some of our favorites this week. Today, though, is just a basic pizza, starting with the dough. Once you've got the dough down, you can decide what you like best in the way of sauce and toppings, but the dough is essential!
1 pkg active dry yeast
about 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups water
Prego spaghetti sauce
Italian herb seasoning
Garlic or garlic powder
about 1 lb. grated mozarella cheese
Toppings (whatever you like)
1- In a large bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer), combine yeast, 2 cups flour and 1 tsp salt. For a stiffer dough, at this point you can swap one cup of all-purpose flour for 1 cup whole wheat flour. Either in a saucepan or microwave, heat water until very warm (120 to 130 deg. F). I am blessed with an Insta-hot so I just add hot and cold water into my liquid measure until it's the right temp.
2- With mixer at low speed, just blend water into dry ingredients. At medium speed, beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in 1/2 cup flour to make a thick batter; beat 2 minutes more. Stir in about 1-1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough.
3- At this point either switch to the dough hook on the KitchenAid or put the dough on a floured surface to knead. Knead, adding flour as necessary, about 8 minutes. I like to let the KitchenAid do the work for a while and then finish the kneading by hand. That way I can tell by feel when the dough is ready. It should feel smooth, not sticky. If it's sticky, just keep dusting it with flour and kneading till it feels smooth like a baby's bottom.
4- Shape the dough into a ball: place in a large, greased bowl (I give the bowl a hit of cooking spray. I don't want it super oily, just enough so that the dough doesn't stick to the sides. Then I turn the dough so that the top is now light greased so it can expand.) Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
5- While the dough is rising, make sure you have all our toppings ready to go. Chop olives, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, or whatever you want to put on your masterpiece. Cook sausage, if you're using it, and press out excess grease.
6- Punch down dough. I love this part. My kids clamor to be the one to punch a fist into the soft mound of dough and watch it collapse. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cover for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 deg. F. and grease your pizza pan with olive oil. I have an Airbake pizza pan that I love. Actually, I own two. It's large, about 14" in diameter, and has holes in the bottom. This allows the crust to crisp up on the bottom. I've tried using a stone and unless you have a pizza peel, a stone is not my recommendation. You need to have the stone preheated in the oven and then use the peel to slide your pizza onto the stone. If you try to build your pizza on the cold stone and then put that into the oven, the stone will take a long time to heat up and the crust will be soggy on the bottom.
7- With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle slightly larger than your pan. If you have a small pan, you might consider cutting the dough in half for two pizzas or freeze half for a later pizza. Otherwise you'll end up with a very thick crust.
8 - Transfer the dough to the pizza pan. I like to drape it over the rolling pin to move it. Fit the dough to the pan and pinch up the edges to form a rim.Pour on the pizza sauce of your choice.Again, for taste and convenience, I like Prego, but I add herbs to punch up the flavor a bit.
You can press fresh garlic over the sauce or dust it with garlic powder, sprinkle Italian seasoning over it. Fresh oregano and thyme taste amazing here. Make sure the sauce completely obscures the dough beneath it. Too little sauce and you see the dough, too much and you have a swimming pool of sauce and your toppings will slide off when you try to eat it.
9 - Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce. I use 1 lb. as a starting point, but you can use more or less, depending on your preference. Good quality mozarella makes a difference, too. Usually I just use the Costco pre-grated mozarella, but for a special pizza I'll buy fresh mozarella.
10- Spread your toppings. Remember that whatever is the topmost layer will receive the most heat, so items that are prone to scorching, such as pepperoni, I'll put on first. Items that are particularly juicy, like fresh tomatoes, I'll put on last so that some of the juice will cook off.
11- Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese if bubbly. Take out of the oven and let rest for a few minutes if the center seems jiggly. Then using a pizza cutter, cut into slices, serve, and enjoy the thrill of fresh, homemade pizza! Oh, and have some root beer, too. Lois and Clark is entirely optional.