Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pizza Plenty

Nothing like warming up the house with the oven cranked to top temp, slowly chopping and sautéing, and sipping on wine all the while (especially good while cutting pieces of cheese).  And cleanup is a snap... just a bit of clean-as-you-go means the only dish in the sink during dinner is the pizza cutter and the spatula.  Why save it for a weekend night?


From-scratch weeknight pizza (not an oxymoron!)

Pepperoni pizza with smoked Cheddar & fresh mozzarella
Classic Italian sausage pizza
Pesto & potato pizza with sautéed onion.

Fennel & radish salad with walnut-lemon vinaigrette.

White wine while prepping, red while eating,
Or homebrew on draft.

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We've been making homemade pizza together about once a week for years.  It takes us about an hour from beginning to end.  We usually make about 3 oval, 8-cut pizzas that end up feeding us for a couple of work lunches and a dinner of leftovers - that's 4 meals for two in just an hour.  The cost is minuscule compared to eating out, delivery, or even buying frozen, and the pizza is fresher, tastier, and better for you.  Here's my tips for making it happen.

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Keys to homemade, cheap, weeknight pizza:
- No-knead pizza dough - from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (free recipe at the link!) - or a pizza dough from any of their 3 - life changing - books.  Lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge once mixed.
- Two pizza sauces - No-cook tomato pizza sauce: it takes seconds.  28-oz can crushed tomatoes + 6-oz can tomato paste.  If you want to add herbs, fresh minced garlic or garlic powder, red pepper flakes etc, go ahead.  I portion this into 2 or 3 sandwich baggies and freeze.  Each baggie sauces 2 pizzas generously or 3 sparingly.  Defrost while the oven's heating in hot water, or in the microwave.  Simple pesto - summer (or storebought) basil leaves with enough extra virgin olive oil to get the blender spinning.  No cheese, no nuts.  Frozen flat in a sandwich baggie, I can break off chunks to defrost quickly - pesto stretches farther than tomato sauce, each baggie makes about 3 or 4 pizzas.
- Oven to 550 - turn the oven on First Thing.  At least a 30 minute preheat will make your baking time 8 minutes per pizza - this is the perfect amount of time to press out the next dough & top it.
- Pizza stone - the thickest one you can afford will last the longest.  Keep it in the oven all the time.  This is the secret to almost no cleanup.  No cookie sheets with baked-on-mess!
- Silicone mats, parchment paper, or even foil - press out your dough right on one of these surfaces, top your pizza, then slide the whole thing on the pizza stone.  The silicone mats are washed up in a snap (nothing sticks to them), or the parchment/foil are tossed in the garbage.  No cookie sheets to scrape, and no floured pizza peel or smoky, floury pizza stone.
- Blocks of cheese, no shredding - forget expensive, preshredded cheese, you'll use too much and get poor results.  An 8-oz block of mozzarella cheese will last weeks in the fridge and take seconds to cut into slices with a knife, then into 1-inch chunks for scattering over your pizza (we only use a few slices on each pizza, so a block makes at least 6 pizzas).  Don't top your whole pie with shreds of cheese or you'll have a greasy pizza with the toppings sliding off the crust.  Space in between cheese chunks allows the sauce to cook down so it's less wet and more flavorful, and looks prettier too.

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Later this week:  more weeknight pizza tips, including tips for toppings.

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