Perfect Pizza

Pizza - the perfect meal for any time of day

Few foods possess the universal appeal of pizza. Although commonly regarded as an Italian invention, the dish actually dates back to ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until 1889 when a Neapolitan man named Raffaele Esposito topped some dough with tomatoes, chopped basil and shredded mozzarella cheese that the contemporary pizza was born. Soon after, a wave of immigrants swept into America, bringing with them this Italian specialty which has grown in popularity ever since.

Pizza can be a highly nutritious lunch or dinner option which is easy dish to make at home. Pizza also comes in a diverse variety of styles including thin crust (the most popular), deep-dish, stuffed, pizza bread, pizza wrap, and even pizza-on-a-stick. Although it is fine to serve pizza with soup or salad, it is actually one of the few dishes that is a complete meal by itself.

Highland Park resident Leonard Kline enjoys local notoriety for his culinary acumen, and pizza ranks among his favorite dishes to prepare at home. Leonard prepares his pizza dough from scratch, saying the process is not only simple but also produces a superb tasting pie. “I mix together some flour, yeast and water, and allow it to rise for an hour or so before pounding it down and transferring it to a cutting board. Then I use a pizza rolling pin to roll out the dough in a circle and the crust is complete,” Leonard comments. “A pizza rolling pin is tapered so it produces a thicker crust at the edge of the pizza than a regular rolling pin,” he adds.

While making a crust from scratch has its own rewards, there are also a number of excellent ready-made, refrigerated, and frozen pizza crusts, as well as frozen pizza dough products, on the market. Sunset’s Libertyville Store Manager Steve Garner comments, “Customers like pre-made crusts because they make preparing pizza an almost effortless task.”

Choice of toppings for pizza is limited only by the cook’s imagination. “My personal favorite toppings are marinara sauce, spinach, garlic, tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese,” Leonard remarks. Additional choices are listed at the end of this article.

The three tools which many home chefs consider indispensable for preparing a perfect pizza are the pizza stone, pizza cutter and pizza peel. The most important of the three is the pizza stone which mimics the effect of cooking in a commercial pizza oven. A pizza stone retains heat better than a metal pan and is therefore able to produce a much crispier crust. A pizza cutter is an inexpensive investment which is far superior to a knife for slicing pizza. Lastly, a pizza peel is a thin metal or wooden sheet with a long handle used for sliding the pie onto the stone. The peel is a necessity whenever handling a pizza crust made from scratch. With these three items and the following recipe, home chefs will find it fun and easy to produce the perfect homemade pizza.

Pizza Toppings
Marinara – (tomatoes, olive oil, dried oregano and garlic)
Margherita – (tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves)
Vegetarian – (tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, basil leaves, grilled red peppers, sauteed spinach, roasted garlic).
Bistro – (basil pesto, goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper, julienned roasted whole garlic cloves, small thinly sliced onion)

Classic Pizza
1 batch pizzeria dough (see below)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Italian herbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 1/4 cups prepared pizza sauce
3 cups gently packed shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6-8 ounces pepperoni slices

Preheat oven to 425° F. (If using a pizza stone, place it on bottom of oven and preheat for 30-60 minutes.) Lightly dust pizza peel or a 15-16 inch pizza pan with corn meal. Form dough and lay on prepared peel or pizza pan. Brush dough with olive oil and cover with crushed garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and pizza sauce. Sprinkle on mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, then sausage slices. Put in oven. Pizza stone: Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly (about 15-19 minutes). Pizza pan: Bake on lowest rack of oven for 10-12 minutes. Place on higher rack and allow top crust to brown (another 5-7 minutes). Remove from oven, let stand a few minutes, then slice into wedges and serve.

Traditional Pizzeria Dough
1 1/4 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon corn meal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups unbleached bread flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast

Bread machine: Add ingredients to machine bread pan in order given or as per manufacturer’s instructions. Set to ‘dough’ mode. Dough hook, food processor, or by hand: Place water, sugar, salt, and olive oil in bowl and stir (or pulse in processor) to dissolve sugar and salt. Add in yeast, corn meal, bread flour and all purpose flour and knead with dough hook or with hands (or process in food processor) to form a soft, but not sticky dough (about 8 minutes). Remove from bowl and allow to rest about 45 minutes, covered with a tea towel. Deflate dough very gently by pressing it down before using and allow it to rest an additional 15 minutes before rolling it out. You may refrigerate dough in an oiled plastic bag for up to two days. *NOTE: If mixing by hand, substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour.

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