Let’s talk pizza.
….before we can talk pizza, we must first talk dough. Thick and chewy, thin and crisp… there are tons of variations on pizza dough. You can make a Chicago-style pizza pie, you can make a flatbread pizza, you can make pizzas on tortillas or pitas, you can roll out a massive dough for a New York-style pizza slice (that, literally, becomes a vessel for delivering everything from broccoli to macaroni and cheese.) Either way, making it from scratch can be a quick and easy way to start it off right.
Quick, you say?! It takes forever to let dough rise! Not always. A thin-crust pizza is often made the same way as a thicker-crusted pizza, except without a ton of wait time on letting the dough rise. So even if you’re running short on time, don’t feel bad that you don’t have the full two-or-so-hours to let the dough rise. It’ll still be fine, just not as thick.
I used to comfortably use sugar in my dough, but I’ve since abandoned that. It’s not a ton – it’s pizza dough, not cake – but I personally needed to know that I wasn’t merely liking my pizza because it was sweeter. The sugar feeds the yeast in a way that is helpful to the dough expanding, but you can get by without it. (If you’d like to try that dough recipe instead, go for it.)
Once I bought my copy of The Mini Minimalist, Mark Bittman’s little collection of recipes that are great starters for anyone needing resources for the basics, I was overjoyed to see a pizza dough recipe inside that was sugar-free. This became my go-to recipe for dough.
Pre-heat that oven to about 400 degrees (word to Juvenile. Sorry, not sorry.) You’ll need three cups of all-purpose flour (or bread flour), two teaspoons of instant yeast, 2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt, an additional 1/3rd of a cup of flour (for kneading) and two tablespoons of olive oil (preferably not extra virgin, but that’s okay to use, as well.)
With your olive oil, take it and rub it along the inside of your mixing bowl with your hands, rubbing it around thoroughly. You’ll want to oil up the bowl pretty well. Take your yeast, and pour it into a large mixing bowl with one cup of water. With a whisk, blend your water and yeast together thoroughly, until your water begins to look murky and gray, like pictured above.
Dump in three cups of your flour. Carefully sprinkle your salt across the top of the entire pile before you start mixing and kneading.
Now…knead! Because I’m lazy and in a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen, I don’t have much in the way of counter space. That being said… it’s totally okay to turn and knead your dough in its mixing bowl, provided it’s large enough. If your dough tries to stick to the bowl, take a breather, and use some of that extra flour we set aside – just a light dusting – to dust the inside of the bowl. Move your dough over the one half of the bowl, and sprinkle flour around the empty half. Move your dough back over to the sprinkled side, so that you can now sprinkle the other half. This helps keep your dough from sticking.
You know how I asked you to rub the oil along the inside of the bowl with your fingers? The reason why is because, when you’re kneading the dough with your hands, the dough will try to stick to your hands, as well. Having a little oil on your hands helps immensely to keep the dough where it belongs – away from your fresh manicure. (…or was that just me?)
Cover your dough using a towel of some sort – paper towel, cellophane/saran wrap/whatever you wish – and toss it in the fridge. Here’s your opportunity to make that epic quick sauce we talked about, yes? Yes.
Even if you’ve already made your sauce and had it sittin’ in the fridge, just chillin’, waiting for me to post this recipe….let your dough rise for a few minutes while you pull out the rest of your ingredients.
Grab your 1/2 pound ball of fresh mozzarella, and slice it into thin slices. I’m greedy, as you can see above, so my slices aren’t so thin. Don’t be like me. Do as I say, not as I do.
Take out your basil, and tear each leaf from its stem. Feel free to save and freeze the stems for a broth, or rice, or pasta… whatever. But those leaves… belong to this pizza.
Get that tomato sauce – and a nice, big spoon – handy.
Set up your pan. You can use a pizza stone, a pizza pan, or even a flat and rectangular pan. Me, I go for the pizza stone. If you keep your eyes peeled on the home specialty stores – Sears; Bed, Bath and Beyond; Sur La Table – you’ll catch one on sale for $15… just like I did.
Grab your dough out of the fridge, and uncover it. It should’ve grown a bit.
Now. This should be a recipe for two 12′ pizza pies… so, if you’re dining by yourself, go ahead and split this in half, putting the other dough in the fridge fully wrapped.
You have two options. If you have a big pan – like I do – and a greedy family – like I do – then you can just turn this into one giant pizza pie. Or, you can make two pies with two pans, now… or just one pie and store the rest. Totally up to you.
You can roll your dough onto your pan with a rolling pin, to get it nice and flat around your pan. (I may – or may not – have once used an oiled-up stainless steel water bottle or a regular wine bottle as a makeshift rolling pin. Judge me if you must, but when I say “I ain’t got time to look for all that stuff,” I mean it!)
Take half of your basil, and lay it flat on your dough. Spread your sauce over the top of your pizza – I’m a fan of the “use the spoon to ladle it on, then use the back of the spoon to spread it around” method – and then drop the rest of your basil on top. Take those fresh mozzarella slices (The half-pound of mozzarella is more than enough for two full pizzas, and still may be too much for one large pizza. You shouldn’t need it all, but if you’re feeling generous, no one’s judging.), and spread them across your pizza at your discretion. Slide that bad boy into the oven.
Give it 15 minutes. Is the crust still doughy in the center? Is your cheese still in its sliced form? Do your basil leaves still look fresh, not even remotely burned? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might need to give your pizza a little more time. Check your pizza in five minute intervals. Before you know it…
…you’ve got magic.