Ah, pizza! Much-maligned and dismissed as completely unredeemable junk food, it remains arguably one of the most popular foods in America. Still, if you’re watching your waistline, your wallet, or both, takeout or delivery pizza can take you to a place you don’t really want to go. Homemade pizza, though, can satisfy your cravings for triangle-shaped food without making you fork over your last $20 or retrieving your fat pants from the back of the closet.
The Cleveland Clinic article “Redefining Pizza” outlines some of the reasons that pizza has earned its reputation as an unhealthy food and provides some inspiration for making your own, much healthier pizza at home.
Below is my favorite recipe for pizza dough, followed by my emergency pizza sauce recipe. I cut my teeth on a different dough recipe for a couple of years, which was good, but not nearly as good as this one.
James McNair’s Basic Pizza Dough
(adapted from PIZZA, which I recommend without hesitation)
Please note that this is my adaptation of McNair’s basic recipe – his recipe is much more detailed and instructive with variations on ingredients, equipment, and technique according to what you have and your desired results. If you love pizza or love a pizza lover and want to start making it at home, you should definitely hunt up a copy of his book.
1 T sugar
1 C warm water (110° – 115°)
1/4 ounce active dry yeast (one envelope/one tablespoon)
3 1/4 C all-purpose flour, divided at 3 C and 1/4 C (see notes below)
1 t salt
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
- In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water
- Add the yeast, stir briefly, and hold until it has dissolved and become creamy/bubbly (approximately 5-8 minutes depending upon the temperature of the water and your kitchen)
- While the yeast is proofing, mix 3 C flour with the salt in a separate, larger bowl
- Push the flour/salt to the sides of the second bowl to form a well in the center of the larger bowl
- After the yeast has proofed, add the olive oil and yeast/sugar/water mixture to the flour/salt, pouring the liquids into the well you formed in the previous step
- Using a whisk and then a wooden spoon, gradually incorporate the liquid into the dry ingredients by stirring in the center of the well and working your way outward
- Stir the dough until all the ingredients are incorporated and a sticky but cohesive mass forms – you can add the additional 1/4 C flour here and continue to mix with a spoon if your dough is runny
- Turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface – if you haven’t yet incorporated the additional 1/4 C flour, do so at this stage, keeping additional flour at hand to add 1/8 C at a time as necessary – try not to add more than an additional 1/2 C beyond the total 3 1/4 C called for
- Knead the dough for approximately 10-15 minutes total, taking the first 3-5 minutes to incorporate the additional flour
- Once the dough is smooth, elastic, and shiny, place it in a clean large bowl (the dough has to double so make sure the bowl is large enough) and pour enough olive oil over it to coat both the dough and the sides of the bowl (all the way to the top) by rolling the dough around in the bowl for a couple of minutes
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, drape a clean dish towel over the plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk in a warm (but not hot), draft-free spot for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours (I set a timer for 45 minutes to check the dough and generally punch down at the 1-hour mark)
- After the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and shape it into a ball, pressing out all the air bubbles
- Preheat your oven to 400-425°
- This recipe will make a 15-16 inch pizza or two 12-inch pizzas, so either cut the dough in half with a bench knife or leave the dough whole
- Place dough on a lightly floured surface and begin to gently flatten it by pressing in the center with the heel of your hand, working outward while turning the dough 1/4 turn after pressing downward
- After you have a disc of dough of even thickness, you can roll it out to the correct size with a rolling pin, again turning the dough slightly after each roll to maintain the shape and thickness of the dough
- Once you’ve rolled the dough to the size you want it, lightly coat the top with olive oil, place it on the cooking surface, and gently apply a light coat what was the bottom (which will now be the top)
- I use a pizza screen or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and the oil on the bottom makes all the difference in both cases. When using the screen, the oil enables me to get the pizza off the screen in one piece, and when using the baking sheet, the oil produces a slightly crispy undercrust that I haven’t been able to replicate without oil
- Add tomato sauce (or not) followed by cheese (or not) and any additional toppings
- If adding meat, be sure it is thoroughly cooked before adding it to the top of your pizza
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and as browned as you like
Notes on Flour
All-purpose flour may be combined with bread flour or semolina flour with very good results, but this option requires a second, refrigerated rise between the first rise and roll-out. If you choose to use a blend of flours, after the punch down and shaping, put the dough in an oiled bowl once more and refrigerate until puffy, between 30 minutes and 1 hour. The addition of semolina flour definitely makes a difference in the taste and texture of the finished crust, but I don’t always add it because of the time required for the essential second rise.
Whole wheat flour may also be combined with all-purpose flour, but the proportions are different – use 1 1/4 C warm water, and combine 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour, and 2 C whole wheat flour before adding to the remaining ingredients. You may need to increase your kneading time – knead until the dough is smooth and springy, perhaps 5 minutes longer than with all-purpose flour (for a total of 15-20 minutes of kneading).
Wendy’s Emergency Pizza Sauce
I came up with this recipe a few days ago when I realized that not only did I not have any ready-made pizza sauce, I was out of pasta sauce and fresh tomatoes. As the dough was already rising and the natives were growing restless, I improvised with the recipe below, which turned out much better than I expected, since I’ve had only so-so luck with homemade pizza sauce in the past.
Use this as a starting point and flavor according to your family’s taste – more onions, garlic, mushrooms, basil, romano cheese, or roasted peppers would all be great additions. Be sure to keep notes since you may end up with the best sauce ever and want to replicate it.
Large can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, undrained
Approximately 1 t marjoram or oregano
Approximately 1 t salt
Approximately 1 T sugar
1/2 sweet onion chopped and sautéed in olive oil
3 cloves garlic crushed and cooked with onion in oil
Approximately 2 T tomato paste
- Cook the onion and garlic until the onion just begins to brown
- Add all the ingredients in a non-reactive pot
- Puree with an immersion blender OR in a food processor before heating
- Simmer to slow boil until sauce is desired thickness, about 20-30 minutes over medium heat
In our household, the most-requested pizza configuration is half cheese, half cheese-and-anchovies. Even the now-seven-year-old eats anchovies on his pizza, as Jo can attest! We use either whole milk mozzarella cut into cubes or kosher shredded mozzarella, though a blend of cheeses is probably more common and you should experiment with whatever sounds good. If I make two pizzas, one is usually cheese, the other is cheese, anchovies, caramelized onions, and chopped olives. In the summer, I like to skip the tomato sauce and stack fresh tomatoes, basil, and slices of fresh mozzarella on a crust lightly coated with garlic-infused olive oil. I’m beginning to feel peckish just writing about this.
What’s your favorite?