All right, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. I have been known to spend my hard-earned money for a pizza on a Friday night when I’m exhausted and just don’t feel like turning on my oven or heating up my stove. But I honestly believe that the best pizza around is the stuff you make with your own two hands.
There is nothing quite like mixing up a dough, feeling the gluten strands forming as you work it, and seeing it crisp up in the oven. I love dough. Everything about it is simply magical to me. I mean, if you’re working with yeast, then it is literally a living organism! Those little yeasties are eating and burping away, creating little air pockets in your dough and making it taste earthy and round. Did you know that air is actually a vital component to taste? Apparently, when we use something like yeast to add in air bubbles to our food via fermentation, we create a different kind of taste than we would have without the air bubbles. Something about how when these bubbles get broken down through chewing, they create a chemical reaction in the back of our throat that we taste as, well, something yummy. There’s a reason why fermentation is such a popular way of cooking and storing food. It creates so many layers of flavor. Michael Pollan covered this particular subject much more eloquently and accurately in his book “Cooked”, which is also now a popular documentary on Netflix. Check it out. It’ll change your life.
Now, on to this particular post’s subject: pizza. It is one of my favorite foods on this planet and it is almost always a crowd pleaser. If there is a person at your party who says they don’t like pizza, they are not your friend. I’m not talking about the person who declines due to allergies or health, but the person who just flat-out dislikes pizza. They’re weird. Step away.
And step into the kitchen. When you make your own pizza, I think there is a certain sense of satisfaction that you have creative control over your meal and a satisfaction in that you saved yourself some money in the process. My pizza is also 80% whole grain, which I think is a plus – it’s budget and heart healthy. I love getting down and dirty with my junk foods, but I also do occasionally like eating pizza without feeling like I’ve let a whole week’s worth of healthy eating fly out the window. Sure, this pizza isn’t calorie free, and it certainly is not low-fat. But, it is made with whole grains and so is a little bit better than the variety you can get from a certain kind of hut.
This endeavor does take some time, so it will not be something that will come together in 30 minutes before your friends arrive. But when they do, they’ll be greeted with the delicious aroma of hot cheese, sausage, and tomato sauce bubbling away in the oven, just waiting for you to dive in.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Cookie sheet pan (full size)
Measuring cups and spoons
1 medium sized skillet
1 small saucepan
1 medium sized bowl to rest your pizza dough
1 mixer outfitted with the hook attachment
32 oz. (or more, if you like it cheesy) shredded mozzarella cheese. You could also use a blend, but I prefer the pure mozzarella.
1 3 oz. can tomato paste (Contadina or bust, baby)
1 tbsp. mixed Italian herbs
1/2 lb. ground sausage, Italian if you please
4 C. Whole wheat flour
1 C. White all-purpose (AP) flour
1/2 C. plus 3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. sea salt (kosher is fine, and table salt will do in a pinch), plus 1/4 teaspoon
1tbsp. plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 and 1/4 tsp. dry active yeast (this is how much is in a packet)
1 and 3/4 C. warm water
Begin by dissolving the 1 tablespoon of sugar in the 1 and 3/4 C. warm water. Then add your yeast and mix. Wait about 15 minutes, or until the yeast gets all bubbly and happy.
In the bowl of your mixer, put in both types of flour as well as the 1/2 cup of olive oil and one tablespoon salt. Once the yeast is nice and fluffy, add the yeast/water mixture to the flour mixture and mix (with a dough hook) for about 5-6 minutes.
Take the dough out, and knead for a few minutes on your counter with a sprinkling of flour so it doesn’t stick. Once you feel satisfied, place the dough into a medium sized bowl that you’ve coated with olive oil and let rest for one hour. Let it rest in a warm place in your kitchen and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. (If you don’t cover this with plastic wrap, it will form an ugly, unappetizing skin on your dough.)
Meanwhile, make your sauce and cook your sausage. Heat up a medium sized skillet and brown your sausage, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once cooked through, set aside, reserving the fat in a small bowl. In your small saucepan, empty out the can of Contadina tomato paste (3 oz.) and let it caramelize for a few minutes, stirring so that it doesn’t burn. Then, fill up the emptied can three times with water, each time adding it to the saucepan with the paste. Bring the mixture up to a boil, constantly stirring so that the paste dissolves into the water. Add the 1/2 tsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt as well as the Italian herbs. Add more herbs to taste, but do not fiddle with the sugar or salt. Unless you really like things salty. Just trust me on this.
This is the porky goodness:
And this is Italian magic:
Once the sauce is brought up to a boil and you can see it is a homogenous mixture, add your pork fat. Allow it to simmer while you wait for your dough to rise.
Once your first hour of rising is done, coat your cookie sheet with the remaining 3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil. Spread your dough out onto the cookie sheet, coaxing the dough up into the corners. Make indentations in the dough with your fingers, occasionally poking through to the cookie sheet. Allow to rise for one more hour, covered with a towel. Continue to allow the sauce to simmer during this second hour, covered.
The dough, once spread out, should look something like this:
After the second rise, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, assemble your beautiful creation! Pour half the sauce over the dough, spreading it evenly over the surface. Then, spread your cheese on top of the sauce. Make it a nice, thick layer. Add the rest of the tomato sauce, distributing it by spooning it in random areas all over the cheese. Next, sprinkle the sausage over the cheese and sauce, making sure you evenly distribute the porky goodness.
Pop this into the oven for about 25 minutes, then take out and let cool before devouring.
I hope this post has inspired you to make your own pizza and top it with whatever you want! Pizza is just a cook’s canvas, so please, get creative and enjoy yourselves.