I am sure that, scattered about the world, there are people who hate pizza, have never had pizza, or are allergic to pizza. But chances are that if you ask someone in a crowd if they like pizza, their answer will be yes. The many forms of pizza could be listed off Forest-Gump-style, and everybody has their preference. Some love pizza that drips gobs of grease down their fingers and onto a pleated paper plate. Others like pizza with decadent toppings like truffle oil and caviar served with white cloth napkins and extended pinky fingers. Americans enjoy having pizzas delivered, the obsession with which Douglas Adams satirizes in his book, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
But I am not here to tell you everybody else’s story about pizza. I’m here to tell you mine.
It is summer in Maine, which in my old (ha) age has me struck with heart-aching nostalgia for my childhood summers. When I was young, as soon as school got out (and sometimes before), my mom would pack us up in the old truck and we would motor north, remaining until school started up at the end of the summer. My dad would travel back and forth, working during the week and joining us on the weekends. My mom did most of the cooking, but when my dad was around he had two signature recipes: Daddy Bread and pizza.
My task, as the budding chef, would be to tell him when the proofing yeast had frothed to about an inch in its glass measuring cup. The same recipe made both Daddy Bread and pizza dough then, before he learned about different flours and techniques, and while his breads have become much more sophisticated, I still dream of that fluffy white bread and the large pizzas we would cook in the gas oven.
Years later, my parents, having become enamored with everything Italy, had a wood-fired pizza oven built outside our camp. It was long enough ago that I don’t remember what it was like to stare out the back door without seeing the sienna-colored hut poking out of the woods. Pizza was revolutionized in our family. No longer did we eat the chewy, large pizzas that took at least twenty minutes to cook in the gas oven. Now my dad could crank out a pizza in five minutes, and it would arrive on the table, bubbling and blasting mouth-watering fragrances into our faces. Now, “Let’s have pizza,” is a special occasion or weekend to-do, requiring at least two hours of preparation, not including the rising of the dough itself. Oh, and lots of wine. Always lots of wine.
With the advent of the wood-fired pizza oven, pizza separated into a two-headed entity. There is pizza, and there is pizza.
I started making my own pizzas last summer, emboldened by my roommate’s successes and amazed at the simplicity of store-bought dough. Of course, we only have an electric oven, and I don’t have a pizza stone, never mind the high heat of a wood-fired oven, so I explained away the cardboard-like taste with these excuses.
However, I recently learned that it is possible to make a pizza that achieves something close to pizza without entering the realms of the impossible for a college student. The keys to pizza bordering on pizza are:
- Homemade dough
- Homemade sauce
- Good mozzarella
I was inspired to try making my own dough by my idol over at Smitten Kitchen. She has a one-bowl (yes!), one-serving recipe that can use half whole-wheat flour (my new kick…more on that later) and is emphatic about its ease. Having heard nothing but horror stories about bread making from those around me, I had never given it much thought, but I thought, well, if Deb thinks we can do it, by golly I may as well try! I’m really glad I did, because it came out with the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy, and I think y’all should try it, too!
The homemade sauce is something I have never thought twice about. My parents can around 200 pints of tomatoes a year, so I almost always have some on hand to make anything tomato-related. My recipe for sauce varies, but it is, in short:
Easy Pizza Sauce
1 can whole tomatoes (diced works, too, but gives a different texture)
2-3 cloves garlic
1 palmful (translates to a heaping tablespoon, I would guess) dried oregano
2 dashes salt
3 dashes pepper
Simmer until thick.
Yep, that’s it. For the Smitten Kitchen dough recipe, DO NOT use all of the sauce. That’s another thing I have learned over my year of pizza experimentation–too much sauce, and the pizza is gross. It’s astounding how little you need. Leftover sauce can be frozen or eaten by your grazing boyfriend.
As for the good mozzarella, this is probably the most important of the three steps to pizza. The first time I made my own pizza dough, I decided to go all out and splurge to get the tiny $4 chunk of fresh, moist, cellophane-wrapped buffalo mozzarella. It was worth it! As much as someone-who-shall-not-be-named insisted that it would not be enough, we had enough for at least two pizzas, though since we only intended to make one pizza, we may or may not have eaten it with just some balsamic vinaigrette on it. Yum. The next time we made pizza we used the bagged, shredded stuff and it left a lot to be desired.
I think everybody should give making their own pizza a try. What do you like for pizza toppings?