Friday, February 19, 2010

Weeknight Meal: Pizza

Everyone loves pizza and most people order out rather than attempt to make it at home. And that's a shame, because pizza can be a quick and easy weeknight meal if you know how to do it. On top of that, it makes a fantastic meal where the entire family can get involved.

Here are my tips for making great homemade pizza:
  • Not into kneading? No problem. Buy pizza dough in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (usually, near the cheese). This dough usually comes from local bakeries who drop-off bread products for the store to sell daily and is as-good as any pizzaria.
  • Take the fresh pizza dough out an hour ahead of dinner, put it into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. It's not necessary to let it fully rise, but bringing it to room temperature and letting the gluten relax will make it easier to shape the dough.
  • Prep all your ingredients ahead of time. If any toppings require cooking, cook ahead and let cool in a small bowl. Use a good jarred tomato sauce.
  • Shred your own cheese from the blocks of mozzarella you can usually find below the bags of shredded cheese at the grocery store. It melts so much better and tastes great. If using fresh mozzarella from the deli (a special treat), slice it thin and put the slices on the pie as you would pepperoni.
  • Work with smaller pies and stretch them as thin as you can without punching holes in them. Roll them flat with a rolling pin or push them flat with your hands first, then gently stretch them on the countertop (not in your hands), using your palm to hold it still and your fingers on the other hand to stretch-out the thicker parts.
  • If you have a pizza stone, use it. Put it into a cold oven and crank your oven to 450-475 degrees. That's how you get a browned crust. If using a baking sheet or pizza pan, choose a heavy one that won't warp under such high heat.
  • If you find that the bottom isn't browning or getting crisp before the cheese begins to brown, try baking your empty pizza shell for a few minutes just until it sets. Remove it from the oven, flip it over, top it, and then continue baking it.
  • Keep the toppings light. Pizza that is heavy-laden with ingredients will never cook right in a home oven.
  • Don't have a pizza stone? No problem. Make several pies 6 to 8 inches each and grill your pizza. Crank your gas grill to medium-high and clean the grates well. Once it's heated, place your stretched dough onto the grate. As soon one side begins to brown, take it off. Dress the cooked side and return it to the grill to cook the other side and melt the cheese. Cheese melts best with the lid closed.
Most of all, have fun. If it doesn't come out right the first time, try again! Making pizza is a great activity for the family or to do with friends.

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