Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yum! Pizza Night

One pan of pizza assembled and ready for baking.Ooh my, Yum! Yum! This home made pizza was absolutely perfect. The house smelled so good while it was baking in the oven. And it tasted divine! I haven't made home made pizza for awhile. Store bought and those take-and-bake pizzas just don't compare.

I found this pizza recipe years ago - had to be 15-20 years ago! It was from a cookbook at the library way back in the days when the kids were little and I used to search recipes there rather than buying cookbooks. Had to save money back then, don't ya know. The library was a great resource for free recipes. Now days all you have to do is a computer search and you're bound to find all kinds of recipes.

The book I found these in was a book all completely filled with a huge variety of pizza recipes. The recipe was originally call "Black Pepper Lard Dough Pizza". I don't remember the name or the author of the book. The recipe I use nowadays is in my head and I just mix it from scratch without looking. I've made some changes along the way to make it my own. I don't use lard, but olive oil instead. I remember the author saying the lard produces a totally different type of crust, but I don't usually keep this on hand. Years ago you could buy lard in the meat section in small tubs. I haven't seen it in the store for years, but you could probably locate it at a specialty store or even a local butcher would get some for you. The lard was rendered something like Crisco so you could use it right from the tub.

I do put lots of black pepper in the dough like the recipe calls for when it is mixed. There's good flavor in this crust. Over the years I've tried mixing the dough in a variety of ways: sometimes adding a bit of sugar to give the yeast something to eat as it rises, sometimes adding wheat flour or oatmeal for a slightly different taste, sometimes bread flour, but mostly just plain old all-purpose flour.

I cut my pizza on an extra large cutting board so my pans do not get marred up.Like I said, the recipe is in my head, but it basically goes like this.

In a large mixing bowl mix together with a wire whisk: 1 1/2 cups warm-hot water, 2 1/2 tsp. baker's yeast, 1 cup flour, 1/2 - 1 tsp salt, 1 - 1 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil. (These are actually approximations since I no longer measure anything but the water and the yeast - bread dough is pretty forgiving. I usually just guesstimate when I make dough.) Once you've whisked these things all together, allow it to rest a few minutes so the yeast can start to bubble and rise.

While it's resting this would be a good time to get out your supplies to make the pizza sauce. Sauce is really easy to make. In a medium size saucepan pour 1 - 15 oz. can tomato sauce and 1 - 6 oz. can tomato paste. Add 1/2 - 1 tsp basil, a liberal dash of garlic powder, a liberal dash of onion powder OR 1 tsp dried minced onion, 1/2 tsp salt (optional) and 1/2 tsp pepper. (Can you tell we like flavor - adding more pepper here!) Stir all together and set to simmer on low heat. Stir occasionally. --{By the way, if you want to use a larger can of tomato sauce you can, or double the sauce recipe so you have extra for another meal. See my note below.}--

About this time you should be turning on your oven to its lowest setting. My oven has a 'warm' setting . I would guess it is not more than 100 degrees judging by the other numbers on the dial. This is what I use. Now go back to your dough and add another cup of flour. Whisk it in well. Your dough should be getting thicker by now, so abandon the whisk (Fill your sink with hot soapy water and start throwing your used utensils in to soak. It makes it easier to get the dough off the whisk before it dries hard. Whisk it around a bit and voila, it's clean!) Grab a fork to stir in more flour, half a cup at a time, till the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. When it starts to form a ball, sprinkle a generous amount of flour on your counter top and dump the dough out onto the flour. Hang onto that bowl! Scrape any remaining dough out then pour approximately a tablespoon of oil into the bowl. We'll use this in a moment, set it aside.

Go back to your dough and begin to push and knead the dough. Continue adding flour a bit at a time onto your counter top and knead the flour into the dough. When the dough no longer sticks to your hands you've added enough flour. Form a ball of the dough and roll it around in the oil in the bottom of your bowl till all sides of the dough are covered and oil covers the whole interior of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Turn off the oven and place the bowl on the middle rack to allow the dough to rise. The oven should be warm enough to 'proof' the dough. That is what it is called when the dough rises. If it is the wintertime, or cold in your house, I've heard you can place a pan of water on the bottom shelf. The water gets hot when the oven is initially heated and holds a more even temperature as the oven cools off while the dough rises. Keep the oven door shut to maintain an even temperature for the dough to rise. This also makes it a moist climate to rise in, but since we've covered the bowl with plastic wrap the moisture stays in the bowl. The old fashioned way of raising dough was to place a damp cloth over the bowl and provide a moist oven with the hot water on the lower shelf. I quit doing it the old fashioned way when my towel dried out and the dough stuck to it causing me to lose a large chunk of my dough and end up with an ooey-gooey mess on my flour-sack kitchen towel. Plastic wrap works just as well since the oven is turned off and it's not hot enough to melt.

These two pizzas are pepperoni and Italian sausage. Mmmmn!While the dough rises you can be prepping your pizza topping items. You can do things like: brown the sausage, chop some green peppers and/or onions, grate your cheese (or easier still - buy it already grated), search your cupboards for a can of black olives, plus prep any other veggies or meats you want. While you're prepping, stir the sauce occasionally. Once the sauce has simmered 15-20 minutes, take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Set aside your toppings and wait till your dough is done rising. Maybe you'll want to get in some sewing action while you wait? :)

When the dough has doubled in size it is done rising. At this time you can get out your pizza pans. I use three pans. Use two pans for really thick crusts, or four pans for extra thin crusts. Even if they are Teflon coated I use Crisco to grease the the pans. I always get better results this way. After greasing the pans, wipe some extra grease/oil on your hands and push/punch down the dough. I divide the dough into three balls and place each ball on a pan. (Put your dirty bowl in your soapy water to soak.) Use your hands to gently spread the dough out across each pan. The dough won't stick to your oily hands so this will be easy. Let the dough rest a bit while you go wash your hands and that bowl. I find keeping up with the dirty dishes when I make pizza in my small kitchen gives me more counter space to work on since my dishes are in the sink or the drying rack and not taking up counter space. And there's less to clean up later.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Ladle one or two large spoonfuls of sauce onto each pizza and spread evenly around. Note: You may have extra sauce left over. If you do, put a spoonful of sausage or pepperoni and a dab of your green peppers and onion into it, cover and refrigerate. You can boil up some pasta within the next day or two and have a nice pasta side-dish for another meal. Or save it in your freezer for a quick-to-make dinner next time you're in a hurry.

Add whatever toppings you desire to your pizzas then sprinkle with cheese.

By now your oven should be hot enough. Bake the pizzas on the lowest rack (for a nicely browned, crispy crust) for 10-15 minutes. You will want to keep an eye on them and remove the pizzas when browned to your liking. Since I usually make three pizzas I will place two of them in the oven at the same time. I alternate them between the middle and lowest rack levels allowing the crusts to brown from the bottom and the cheese to brown from the top. This is not ideal, but then we have two pizzas coming out of the oven at the same time. Pizza usually tastes best if baked on the lowest rack.

If you are fortunate enough to have one of those pizza stones place your pan directly onto that in the oven. The pizza stones simulate old-style traditional pizza oven cooking where the crust is cooked from the bottom up so it gets nicely browned and crispy.

So . . . enjoy! Home made pizza is yummy . . . and good for you food when you add lots of veggies!

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