Sometimes eating is just refueling, but a special meal can be an event unto itself. Homemade pizza is a special treat that is fun to make and exciting to eat. Pizza Nights at my house get the whole family involved, from rolling and tossing the dough to making the sauce, to imagining new topping combinations, and of course, burning the roof of our mouths with the first bite of molten cheese. Making pizza from scratch—with homemade dough and sauce—is incredibly rewarding, but using fresh, store-bought ingredients is no less enjoyable, and makes it a lot easier.
For these thin crust pies, I make a sourdough crust out of the same dough I use for bread, the recipe for which I learned from two excellent books; Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, and Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. While I enthusiastically recommend making your own dough, it’s not critical. Fresh dough is often available from your local pizza restaurant, and Trader Joe’s offers a good, pre-made dough. If you are making tomato sauce, however, it’s really worth the time to make it yourself; the procedure is easy, and fresh sauce can’t be beat.
Summer time is tomato time, so go and get some fresh tomatoes and blanche them in boiling water for a minute or two making their skin easy to peel. After carefully removing them from the water, slice off the tops, peel the skin, and coarsely chop the tomatoes and transfer the whole mess to a large baking sheet. Mash it down with a fork and spread it out over the baking sheet. Liberally drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add some fresh thyme sprigs. Put the sheet into an oven preheated to 360 degrees, and bake for twenty minutes. Remove from the oven and mash down the tomatoes again and return to the oven for another twenty minutes. Remove and mash again. You’ll probably have to do a few more five to ten minute bake and mash cycles until the sauce cooks down enough. Most of the juice should cook out but you don’t want a paste. Let the sauce cool and store in the freezer if not making pies immediately. The frozen sauce will keep nicely for weeks, so I usually make enough sauce for three pies, and keep it in the freezer, pulling it out to thaw along with a frozen dough round the morning of a pizza night.
This week I made two pies, a cheese-and-tomato sauce, and an onion-feta, made with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, feta, and yellow onions. Here’s how the onion-feta is made. First, preheat your oven with a pizza stone on the top rack to as high as it will go, which for me is 550 F. 800 F is what professional pizza ovens are heated too, but home ovens usually don’t get that hot. I like to leave the oven on for about an hour after it reaches 550—you want that sucker hot! Unwrap your thawed or fresh dough—I wrap each dough ball in parchment paper which also makes sliding the pie onto the pizza stone much easier—and shape it into a thick, round disk. With your fingertips, press around the perimeter leaving about a half-inch of what will be the crust on the outside of the pie. Now flatten out the inside of the circle you have made with your hands, lightly sprinkling flour when needed to avoid sticking. Once the dough is getting flat, you can start throwing it, or gently turning it on the backs of your hands, or grasping the edge of the dough and working your way around to evenly spread out the crust. If the dough tears, don’t worry, simply press it back together again. Once the dough is nice and thin with a thicker crust all around, spread olive oil on the dough, distribute the slices of mozzarella and feta, and spread very thinly sliced yellow onion all over.
When the pie is assembled, before putting it in the oven, turn on the broiler for five minutes to superheat the pizza stone. After five minutes of broiler, turn the oven back to 550 F and when it’s there, put the pie in the oven. Cook for five minutes, and then turn on the broiler to brown the crust and cheese. This usually takes one to two minutes, so keep an eye on the pie as the broiler is on. When the cheese and crust is browned, with a couple of burnt dots, pull the pie out and let it cool for a minute before slicing. The combination of the salty feta and sweet onion creates an amazing flavor profile.
My other pie is a basic cheese—I was out of fresh basil to make it a margherita—but it could handle one more topping and still meet my father-in-law’s Three Topping Rule for Thin Crust Pizzas. After preparing the dough as for the onion pizza, spread the tomato sauce out so it covers the dough but is not too thick, otherwise the dough will get wet. Distribute mozzarella slices, and place it in the oven after superheating the stone. The basic procedure is the same as for the onion pie, but because of
the tomato sauce, this pizza needs an extra minute or minute-and-a-half in the oven before the finishing broil. Under the intense heat of the broiler, it’s easy to burn the cheese, so keep watch on it—if the oil separates from the cheese, pull it from the oven. Wait a couple minutes before slicing, and enjoy!
And yes, feel free to add some pepperoni, sausage, or ham.
For more amazing pizza ideas, check out A Good Piece pizza blog.