If you have kids, chances are you often have pizza. Mine seemed to have been born loving it. Fortunately, they don’t discriminate between takeout and homemade pizza, and so I can control what goes into it. Once you get the hang of making your own dough it’s easy to mix up a batch when you get home from work and let it rise while you change and play with the kids and get ready for dinner – then you can roll or pat it out (kids love this part too), top it and cook it in a hot oven or on a preheated grill in minutes. (It also freezes well, so you can make a large batch and freeze balls of it to thaw as needed.) Pizza from scratch is cheaper, easier and better than takeout, and a great way to use up small quantities of leftover meats, cheese and veggies. And it’s a great thing to teach kids that pizza comes from flour, yeast and water, cheese and tomatoes and fresh basil from the garden, rather than from the guy at the door with the insulated pizza bag.
If your family has varying tastes, you can let everyone make their own and all will be happy. If you’re having a crowd over for a party – kids’ or otherwise – it’s a great way to feed a crowd. Just set out balls of dough and bowls of toppings and let everyone go to town. (Have them make them on a piece of parchment, and mark one corner to keep track of which belongs to whom.)
To make flavored pizza dough, add a generous pinch of chopped fresh or dried basil, rosemary or oregano, a clove of minced garlic, a few finely chopped olives or sun dried tomatoes (if they come packed in oil, use it in place of the olive oil) or 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper along with the flour. Flavored pizza dough makes great breadsticks – roll the risen dough into sticks as thin or fat as you like, sprinkle with coarse salt or grated Parmesan cheese and bake until golden.
To bake your pizza, roll it out thin on a parchment lined or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet (it will rise again in the oven), top it with your choice of toppings and bake in a preheated 450F oven until golden and bubbly.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 pkg. (or 2 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar or honey
2 1/2 – 3 cups flour – all purpose, whole wheat, or any combination of the two (I usually use about 2 3/4 cups)
1 tsp. salt
a drizzle (1 tsp. – 1 Tbsp.) olive or canola oil
In a large bowl, stir the yeast and sugar into a cup of warm water; set aside for 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. (If it doesn’t get foamy, either your water was too hot and killed the yeast or it was inactive to begin with – toss it and buy fresh yeast or try again!)
Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, salt and oil and stir until the dough comes together. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 8 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat all over. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for half an hour to an hour, until doubled in bulk. If you want you can let it rise more slowly in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours. Makes enough for 2-3 large pizzas.
Want more pizza? Try these 13 light summer bites.