Pizza!!

My brother is my hardest critic. Home alone with him after spending the week eating at every major chain restaurant, I wanted to cook something from my own kitchen. Knowing every ingredient in my dinner somehow comforts me…no unknown additives or preservatives or, well, who knows what.

The answer? Homemade pizza!

When I told my brother the plan, I promised him we could order take out if I failed to execute. Although I have used yeast a handful of times, it never fails to intimidate me. What if it doesn’t rise? What if I kill it? What if it doesn’t activate? What if it just tastes disgusting after all of that time and effort? But, as I found out with my pizza dough, the risk is worth it.

Out of the five-star-rated recipes on foodnetwork.com for pizza dough, I chose the one that took the least amount of time. Luckily, my brother got home late from soccer practice, so I finished on time.

I ended up making four small pizzas, each with different toppings. For my personal pie, I chose to replicate my favorite pizza from Paxtis Pizza with sautéed spinach, artichoke hearts, red onion, and mushrooms. While the dough was rising, I sautéed the garlic and spinach in a nonstick skillet until the spinach was completely wilted so it would be ready when I needed it. The Empire Taproom—one of our family’s favorite restaurants—makes an absolutely amazing pizza with sausage, red onion, and red pepper. Consequently, I felt those toppings were appropriate for my brother. The third pizza was a sauce-less pizza, with fresh tomatoes, cheese, fresh basil, and fresh garlic. And the final pizza: cheese.

Well…If I can make a dinner my brother will not only happily eat once, but also potentially eat again, I think I can claim success.

Pizza Dough
From: foodnetwork.com, Wolfgang Puck
Note: I used regular baking sheets instead of a pizza stones and sprinkled them with cornmeal.

1 package active dry or fresh yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing

Toppings of your choice

In a small bowl, dissolved the yeast and honey in ¼ cup warm water.

In a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and the salt. Add the oil, the yeast mixture, and the remaining ¾ cup of water and mix on low speed until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and clusters around the dough hook, about 5 minutes. (The pizza dough can also be made in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once or twice, add the remaining ingredients, and process until the dough begins to form a ball.)

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 or 3 minutes longer. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover the dough with a clean, damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. (When ready, the dough will stretch as it is lightly pulled).

Divide the dough into 4 balls, about 6 ounces each. Work each ball by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom of the ball. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F.

To prepare each pizza, dip the ball of dough into flour, shake off the excess flour, place the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, and start to stretch the dough. Press down on the center, spreading the dough in an 8-inch circle, with the outer border a little thicker than the inner circle. If you find this difficult to do, use a small rolling pin to roll out the dough. Lightly brush the inner circle of the dough with oil and arrange the topping of your choice over the inner circle.

Using a lightly floured baker’s peel or a rimless flat baking tray, slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake until the pizza crust is nicely browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remember that the oven is very hot and be careful as you place the pizza into and out of the oven. Transfer the pizza to a firm surface and cut into slices with a pizza cutter or very sharp knife. Serve immediately.

Here are the toppings that I used for each pizza. I didn’t list the exact amount of each ingredient I used, partially because I failed to keep track and partially because I believe any experienced pizza eater can handle it ☺ (I have to admit, due to the interest of time…I took advantage of Trader Joe’s)

Pizza 1:
Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce
Sauteed spinach and garlic
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded four-cheese blend
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded mozzarella cheese
Canned artichoke hearts
Sliced red onion
Sliced mushrooms

Pizza 2:
Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded four-cheese blend
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded mozzarella cheese
Italian turkey sausage (I pre-cooked it in a sauté pan ahead of time)
Sliced red onion
Sliced red bell pepper

Pizza 3:
Fresh tomatoes
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded four-cheese blend
Fresh garlic
Fresh basil

Pizza 4:
Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded four-cheese blend
Trader Joe’s pre-shredded mozzarella cheese

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