Friday, 18 May 2012

A Personal Touch: Homemade Pizza

As a student, I've had my fair share of take-out pizzas. Domino's and Pizza Hut are the go-to study aids or post-exam rewards (sometimes both for one exam... Hello, Freshman 15!). It's not fabulous (especially once it's gone a bit lukewarm and congeally) but sometimes nothing beats simply calling a number or even just going online (ah, modern times!) and, within an hour, having food-- steaming and ready to be tucked into-- delivered straight to your door. Even if the delivery guy does judge you because he delivered to the same address last week and you're still wearing your pajamas.

That being said (perhaps not proudly, but at least without shame) Pizza Hut doesn't hold a candle to home made. Yeasty and warm and covered with all you favorite toppings in just the right proportions. Could there really be a better argument for cooking for yourself?

When a lot of my friends moved out of their parents homes they had that college-age-independence realization that, suddenly, they could actually eat whatever the heck they wanted! As long as their wallets could stretch far enough and their livers/cholesterol/rationality didn't lodge a formal protest, the gastronomic world was their oyster.

Me, on the other hand, I discovered that I could cook whatever the heck I wanted. I could spice it/fry it/roast it/douse it in whatever concoction I chose. And to me, pizza is the ultimate I Did It My Way meal. Homemade pizza parties with my housemates involve everyone getting their own personal sized pizza to top with whatever crazy combination of tastiness they have a craving for (as long as it's in the cupboard/fridge!) Interactive and individually crafted just for you. It doesn't get better than that! Oh, and did I mention how cheap it is? Very cheap. Domino's, you so sneaky!

Really Simple Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
warm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin olive oil

Activate the yeast by mixing it with 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in a cup of warm water. Set it aside until it gets frothy (5-10 minutes)

Whisk together the flour, salt and other 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.

Make a well in the center of the flour mix with a wooden spoon and pour in the olive oil and a little bit of the water/yeast mix. Start stirring, adding a little bit of water at a time until you've formed a dough. All the flour should be incorporated but it shouldn't be so sticky that you can't pick it up without getting a layer of dough stuck to your hands!

On a lightly floured surface knead the dough by folding it over on itself and pressing it flat with the heels of your hands. Knead until the dough is elastic and has a slightly stick exterior (a couple of minutes).

Put the dough in a clean bowl, covered with cling film, in a warm place (or at least somewhere that's not freezing like my kitchen is!) and let it rise for about an hour. It should double it's size.

When you're ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead it a couple times to get out some of the air (so you don't get giant bubbles that look like pizza-blisters when you bake it!) Then form it into a ball and flatten it out (with a rolling pin or with your hands and much tossing in the air, a la pizzeria!) At the risk of the stating the obvious, if you roll the dough out thinner, you'll get a thinner, crispier crust, whereas if you leave it thicker, the crust will puff up and you'll get more of an American-style thick crust.

Crank your oven up to 200º C (400º F)

Now go to town. Throw whatever you're in the mood for on that bad boy! Cheese, tomato sauce, veggies, meat, seafood. The possibilities are mind-boggling and endless. I usually go for a simple veggies-and-cheese affair. Tomato puree is my go-to pizza sauce (because I am cheap and frequently lazy). I spread it on the dough with the back of a spoon and then sprinkle a healthy pinch of dried oregano and basil. I'm a huge fan of spinach so I always cram in as much of it as possible, putting it underneath all the other toppings since it tends to  get all charred and crispy in the oven otherwise.

Depending on how thick you've rolled the crust and how high you've piled the toppings it can take between 10 and 15 minutes to bake. (Also, it depends on how crispy or doughy you like your pizza!)

Oops, that's not a pizza! It's a calzone, but it was made using the same pizza dough recipe (because a calzone is really just a more portable pizza!)

Buon appetito!

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