It’s 1980, it’s pay day, my dad just got home to my mom, and they’ve paid all their bills. Rent was $180, and they'd have six bucks left over. My mom and dad would walk a mile down the road to Shakey’s Pizza and order a bar-made special with that six bucks: shrimp and black olives. My mother would tell us kids this story throughout my growing up, particularly when she made us homemade pizza. Homemade dough stretched the entire surface of a baking sheet, and she always topped it with mozzarella, cheddar, plenty of browned hamburger, and loads of red sauce. Nothing tastes quite like my mom’s pizza; it still feels like I’m a kid when she makes it to this day. In all of my 33 years, nothing is as comforting as when Mom makes me dinner. Her stories about young love, having nothing, my dad’s early cop days, and pizza with shrimp and black olives helped to make me who I am. A slice of life, cut into squares and shared with everyone.
There is such nostalgia for me making pizza at home. I quite prefer it to making anything else. Now that I'm a mama myself, I want to share these memories and make new ones with my son and hubby. I bet you've had a picnic on your living room floor with a pizza box and a bottle of wine with someone you really love. All you need is dough, sauce, and toppings, and you’re on your way.
For this particular pizza-making session, we opted to grab some tasty pre-made pizza dough from our local Trader Joe’s. I think almost every grocer these days has refrigerated or frozen pizza dough you can grab on your way home from work and be eating pizzeria-style pizza as fast as you can pre-heat the oven! The sky is the limit when thinking up toppings. I have really been into Spanish flavors as of late, so our pizza night was tapas on crust.
This is a recipe without a recipe (the best kind, if you ask me). You only need to master the method. Stretch your dough onto your oiled and lightly cornmeal-coated baking sheet, top with sauce, veggies, cheese and meats, then bake in a 425 degree oven until it’s puffed and golden. Voila! Get creative and multi-source your crust. Walking through the store I thought, “Oh, yeah! Fresh baguettes -- these will make awesome pizza!”
We chose to prepare five variations of pizza.
The Caramelized Mushroom Pizza: red sauce, caramelized mushrooms, fresh thyme, manchego cheese, and mozzarella cheese
Spanish Tapas Pizza: spicy sausage, potato, caper berry, mozzarella, and caramelized lemon
The Bar-Made Special: marinara, shrimp, parmesan, mozzarella, oil, cured black olives, and herbs de Provence
Spanish Baguettes: marinara, uncured Spanish Chorizo, Castelevtrano olives, and Iberico cheese
Classic Cheese: good ol’ cheese and red sauce for little Mr. Noah
Think outside the dough ball. Use things like English muffins, tortillas, baguettes, and even frozen waffles! Let your heart run wild.
Invest in a pizza stone, thus ensuring that toothsome chew we all love at the local pizza joint!
Try picking up a pizza peel or slab at your local kitchen store. These round wooden paddles make it super easy to transfer your pizza creation to a pizza stone inside your oven.
Sprinkle a little flour or cornmeal on your working surface, and this will allow movement while you are making your pizza. Pizza dough likes to get sticky.
Work quickly! Pizza dough absorbs liquid, so if you are quick to get your pie in the oven you will get a better result.
Try a few kinds of cheese. A mixture of 2-3 cheeses really adds flavor and character to your pizza -- get creative.
Use pre-cooked meats. Your pizza will normally cook faster than the time needed to cook raw meats through.
Throw fresh herbs all over your pizza, things that have strong flavors like rosemary and thyme work best and mellow out in the oven. Keep them on their woodsy stem and simply remove the stem and discard before eating.
Buy your favorite red sauce from the grocery store. The best Alfredo sauces are in the cold section of the store near fresh pasta!
Napolitano Style Pizza Dough
If you are feeling sassy, here is my favorite classic Italian pizza dough recipe. I didn’t invent this, but have used it for years.
4 cups Italian Double Zero flour, if you can find it. AP flour will be fine if not.
3 tsp salt
2 ½ tsp instant yeast
2 cups tap water
Place all ingredients in your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Mix until there is no flour left in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof on the counter for 12 hours. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and portion into 3 balls. Put these guys in plastic bags or containers and allow to proof in the fridge for 24 hours. This is simple and takes time but the flavor is incredible!