Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's Not Delivery

Pizza is pretty much synonymous with convenience food.  You can pick it up on any street corner or strip mall.  You can have it delivered right to your door, even in Hubbard.  You can have it in disgusting formats from a gas station with names like "betwizzler with pepperoni".  You can even make it feel scratch deficient with take and bake. 

(fun fact... Papa Murphy's world headquarters is right over the sludge creek in Vancouver.  Totally did not know that until today).

What pizza conjures up in my mind, aside from gooey cravings, is memories of the first food I royally screwed up.  Certainly not the only food (and if you're Matt, not the only food I still can't cook... he hates anything I try from an Asian continent), but probably not the one I was expecting.  Sure, I didn't expect to get my first Thanksgiving turkey perfect.  I couldn't begrudge myself too much over the fallen waste of a cheesecake.  But pizza?  4th graders make pizza.

But I'm not talking about English Muffin pizza, or microwave pizza, or frozen pizza.  Although I have had my disasters with those - THANKS pre-sliced Freschetta that fell through the burners!  You never did quite leave the apartment.  What I'm talking about is homemade pizza, with dough from scratch.

I remember starting out simple enough.  Dough recipes from my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbooks, and when those failed to rise or stretch or whatever, I turned to any other source I could find.  Trader Joe's Roll 'n Top.  Expensive balls from our favorite pizza places.  Even WinCo's dough ball offerings, in those dark hours in my tiny little kitchen. 

No, seriously.  It was tiny.  It was maybe the size of my bedroom closet now, on a good day.  The vinyl countertops were peeling out and up and away, and the stove was older than I was.  But aww, I was so much skinnier than.  Tiny kitchen, tiny cook.  Grr.

I had many issues to work through.  For one thing, I was getting bad baking temperatures and times.  Either printed on jacked-up labels or vomiting out of my head, pizza does not cook at 350.  The oven needs to be hot, or you end up like many of these early pies ... cold, stringy, raw dough center.  Don't use spaghetti sauce if you can't find pizza sauce.  I didn't realize it, but yes, there is a difference.  And don't add every herb you find in the cabinet just because OREGANO IS ITALIAN!!   And so is Italian Seasoning!  And I LOVE basil!!!

It took me many scrapes into the garbage and the "oops!  Forgot my leftovers!" day afters with Matt before the lessons finally started to sink in.  We spent some time with almost-foolproof Bobolis, but at about $7 for a 2-pack, this wasn't exactly a budget-friendly endeavor.  And it had no soul. 

Things didn't quite come together until my mom passed along her secret dough recipe.  I take not a scrap of credit for it.  She discovered it in a recipe for calzones and took it on the miracle leap to pizza.  Before my friend Brynne super-surprised me with a well-loved Kitchen Aid last year, I kneaded this by hand.  Dough hooks are soooo much easier.  Even though the thought of making bread on a worknight may seem archaic and cruel, it is so easy. 

The hardest part for me is trying to get it in a circle.  I usually end up with one funny corner, like this.  But, once it's smothered in cheese and toppings, I don't get too many complaints.  One of our favorites is to do California-style BBQ Chicken Pizza, with barbecue sauce, shredded chicken, a little bit of cheddar, red onion and cilantro.  If it was me, there would be fresh tomato slices on there too.  Matt hates fresh tomato.  I know, he's a sick human being.  This technique also works fantastic as a Thai-style pizza with peanut sauce in place of the barbecue, and essentially the same toppings.  Fresh bean sprouts and lime add an air of ooh-la-mystique after coming out of the oven.  That miracle crust, with the whisper of sweetness from the brown sugar, bakes up perfectly with a texture that falls squarely in the happy medium between soft and crunchy.  I could pretty much just eat handlebar scraps dipped in marinara and be deliriously happy. 
Oh, and never use avacado and/or arugula pre-baking.  THOSE ARE ADDED AFTER.  Could I make a book of these hard-learned rules? 

For myself, since I'm trying to eat better (and am tired, starving and cranky in the process), so I made "healthy" pizza.  See?  Vegetables everywhere?  Just ignore the cheese.  And the bready crust.  And the fact that I ate half of it. 

Homemade pizza night is something we look forward to like we're going to Wildwood or Payley's Place.  "Don't work late, it's pizza night!"  "Aren't you excited for pizza?"  "What should we put on it?"  "Oh yeah, top it baby, just like that."  Hot oven love and Futurama repeats.  We keep the flame alive, people.

I don't think I can share the crust recipe, not in good conscience.  I'll challenge you to find one, and hope that my mistakes help guide you there.  Ask your mom.  Besides, it's mother's day.  You should be calling her anway. 

Oh, and if you're using fresh mozzarella, for the love of god dry it off first!!! 


  1. This is Zack's favorite dinner too. I like to put a little Marscapone cheese on mine right after it gets out of the oven, so creamy and yummy!

  2. I actually like making the dough by hand - stress relief. I imagine it is all the people who have wronged me, and thusly get a huge kick out of punching it down and rolling it out.

  3. I LOVE the peanut sauce in place of BBQ sauce idea! Wonderful thinking! And I totally agree with you in terms of the dough hook being an easier path! Plus..your pictures made me hungry! I'm inspired!!
    Keep on writing, girl! You are fabulous! Love it!

  4. Triumph over adversity! And that looks seriously delicious.