There was a time in my life when I hated pizza. It was childhood ignorance and the fear of trying new things, but by the time I was in third grade this had changed, which is fortunate since many years later I find myself about to marry a serious pizza lover. While I wouldn't eat pizza for every meal, as I'm sure Ray would if he had the chance, I do really enjoy a slice or a few.
Drawing on childhood traditions we've established a Friday-night-Pizza-night at our place. With some frequency we make pizza the focus of our dinner on Friday night. Last week Ray managed to pedal up the hill with a pizza from our favorite local place. While bringing an entire pizza home on a bicycle is a sure way to impress me (especially if you bring beer and gelato as well) I also delight in making pizza from scratch in our own oven. I'm not sure what is so satisfying about making pizza dough, probably the simplicity of mixing and kneading and then watching the combination of flour, water, salt, oil and honey expand as the yeast greedily eats and grows. This alchemy is further transformed and when the smell of crisping dough and bubbling cheese reaches well outside the kitchen, there is the anticipation of opening the oven to see a meal that is almost ready.
There are so many recipes out there for pizza dough. Its possible to get quite complex in the quest for a fabulous home made pizza. For a friday night dinner at home, though, I rarely feel compelled to agonize over making the perfect dough. The one that I have been using recently is one of the is straightforward, fairly simple and really quite good. Its really hard to go wrong when you take part in this process and end up with something so crisp, chewy, melty and flavorful that comes steaming hot out of your oven, no matter what day or night of the week.
This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. It calls for some whole wheat flour which can be optional if you aren't a fan. I always add at least some whole wheat flour to my dough because I find the flavor more interesting and I often try to make things a bit more wholesome.It makes enough dough for two 12-14 inch pizzas. I usually divide it in half and make just one pizza, saving the rest for another pizza, cinnamon rolls, or foccacia. If you like a thicker dough you may only make one pizza or two smaller ones. Since I like a thinner, crisper crust, I make sure that the dough is on the wetter, tackier side.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 to 1 cup whole wheat flour (add more or less as you like)
3 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (adjust depending on how much wheat you add)
Pour the water into a mixing bowl and add the yeast, leave this until the mixture is foamy (about 10 minutes). Add the olive oil, then the whole wheat flour and salt. Stir until combined, then add enough white flour to form a shaggy dough. Knead until smooth, adding a little more flour to keep the dough from sticking. For a lighter, crisper crust keep the dough moist and slightly tacky.
Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Let it rise until doubled in size, about 40-60 minutes (If your kitchen is as chilly as mine this time of year, warm the oven slightly then turn it off. Leave the dough in here to rise in a warm, draft-free spot). Turn the dough onto the counter and divide it into the number of pizzas that you want to make. Let these rise for another 20-30 minutes, if you can wait that long to assemble your pizza. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Begin shaping your dough into circle and roll or stretch it into a circle until it is 1/4 inch thick (or the thickness you desire). Dust a peel with cornmeal, or lightly coat a pan in olive oil and lay the dough onto it. Cover with your choice of sauce, cheese and other toppings. Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden brown and the dough is crispy (about 15 minutes).
Some of my favorite topping combinations include: mozzarella, goat cheese, delicata squash and caramelized onions; fresh tomatoes, fresh spinach and ricotta; broccoli, pesto, red peppers and mozzarella. Yum.