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Everyone seems to like pizza, whether we eat it out at a restaurant or make it at home with family and friends.
Italian in origin, the taste of that bread-like crust covered with a seasoned tomato sauce, cheese and other toppings is irresistible to most of us.
Early forms of pizza were most likely what we call “focaccia” today, since tomatoes didn’t become part of the Italian landscape until the 16th century. No tomato sauce, no pizza pie. The addition of mozzarella cheese didn’t come about until the late 19th century.
Pizza, also known as “flat pie,” is made from yeast dough topped with various cheeses, vegetables, meats, seasonings and other ingredients. The favorite topping of choice is pepperoni, followed by Italian sausage and mushrooms. Many of us just like cheese pies, without the tomato sauce or any other toppings. I don’t know when anchovies became popular on a pizza. You either love them or hate them.
Making pizza crust
Some people prefer to make their dough in advance and then store it in the refrigerator until needed. The thickness of the crust depends on how thin you want to stretch it out. Be careful not to over-knead the dough, as this will make it tough. Allow the dough time to relax while stretching it out, which may take more time, but will ultimately eliminate tearing problems.
If you don’t like making your own dough or just don’t have the time, there are many varieties of pre-baked crusts on the market. I prefer using either the commercial refrigerated pizza dough or the frozen dough available at most local markets.
Choosing toppers for your pizza
Add as much or as little tomato sauce as you like. White pizza doesn’t use any sauce. Just drizzle a little olive oil all over and then add your favorite veggies, meats or cheese. Some people, and you know who you are, just prefer adding olive oil with a little salt and pepper shaken all over. As for sauce, you can make your own or use any of the commercially available spaghetti sauces. Meats such as Italian sausage should be pre-cooked, drained and cooled before adding. Preserved sausages and meats, such as pepperoni and ham, need no pre-cooking.
Use a pizza stone
A pizza stone is a worthwhile investment if you’re partial to pizza with a crisp crust that doesn’t droop over your cooking rack. I use a large pizza stone (about 14-inches across) that allows the crust to become crisp and not burned. If you don’t have one, you can achieve good results by just using a baking sheet turned over.
Pizza with Fresh Basil, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
The fragrant aroma and taste of fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese is an Italian classic.
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 plum tomatoes
16 oz. pizza dough (thawed, if frozen)
All-purpose flour for dusting
3 Tbsps. basil pesto
Fresh basil leaves
Place your pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
Cut tomatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. On a floured surface, pat out and stretch the dough evenly with your hands into a 12-inch round. If dough is sticky, just dust it lightly with a little flour. Spread the basil pesto over the dough, leaving a one-inch border and then sprinkle cheese over the top. Arrange tomato slices over the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Spread as many basil leaves as you like over the top.
Transfer pizza to the stone. Bake until dough is crisp and brown, about 10-12 minutes. Once pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board. Cut into slices and serve immediately.
Pizza with Roasted Garlic, Bell Peppers and Two Cheeses
This recipe uses a prepared pizza crust, but you can still make your own.
1 large head garlic, unpeeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 small jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, oil reserved
1 prepared pizza crust (such as Boboli thin crust)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small jar (8 oz.) roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 Tbsps. chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice top off the garlic head and place in small baking dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Brush baking sheet with olive oil. Place onion slices on sheet and brush onion with olive oil. Bake garlic and onion until garlic cloves are light brown and soft and onion is tender, about 45 minutes; remove and let cool.
Squeeze out roasted garlic cloves into small blender or food processor; add sun-dried tomatoes. Pulse until almost smooth, adding enough reserved oil from sun-dried tomatoes to form a paste (can be prepared one day ahead). Cover and refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place crust on baking sheet or pizza stone. Spread garlic paste evenly over crust. Top with mozzarella cheese, baked onion, pepper strips and feta cheese. Sprinkle with half the basil and parsley. Bake until crust is golden brown and cheese bubbles, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; allow to cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining basil and parsley. Cut into wedges and serve.
Upside-Down Pizza Casserole
For those who want to try something different, you’ve came to the right place.
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 (15 oz.) can Italian-style tomato sauce
1 (4-oz.) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup sliced pitted ripe olives
1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 (10-oz.) pkg. refrigerated biscuits (10 biscuits)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, cook beef until browned; drain off fat. Stir in tomato sauce, mushrooms and olives; heat through. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top.
Flatten each biscuit with your hands and then arrange them evenly over the top of the cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Makes 4-6 servings.