Homemade pizza: the way it was meant to be
When I studied abroad in Bologna, nights out on the città would inevitably end with grabbing an early-morning slice of pizza, while my friends and I meandered home under the porticos. Though we bought it at whatever corner pizzeria we happened to pass by, this was no ordinary pizza by the American standard: it was ethereal. It was light yet filling, elementally simple but complex in its entirety: crispy crust, fruity sauce, savory basil and gooey mozzarella.
I returned last February, sad to bid arrivederci to Italia but excited to reunite and share stories with old friends. Come 2 a.m., however, there was no corner pizzeria. There was WHOP and Papa John’s: soggy, greasy, doughy. Che orribile, this would not do. My snooty European-assimilated nose turned up in disgust.
This is not to say that Waterville does not have good pizza. Grand Central Café serves up delicious pies from their wood-fired brick oven, comparable to the ones I like to reminisce about in Italy. Read Tate Kaneshige’s (my apart-mate’s) restaurant review that appeared in an early December issue of the Echo if you don’t believe me; Grand Central is the real deal. But a large pizza costs upwards of 17 dollars, not including tax or tip, and they close at nine on weekends. Great for a casual dinner date, not-so-great for quality late night ’za. What’s a hungry girl on a budget to do?
Well when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Or, in this case, baking. The beauty of living in the Apartments—despite washing your own dishes and paying for exit signs that underclassmen break—is that you’re able to take dinner into your own hands and actively protest bad pizza. Last week, upon finding my parents’ old pizza stone, I decided it was high time I roll up my sleeves and get my hands floury.
Good pizza is remarkably simple to make at home and incredibly cheap. This recipe costs about $14.98 for two large pizzas—cheaper than the same amount of food would be at WHOP ($17.99), or one pizza at Grand Central. And, at least in relation to WHOP, infinitely more delicious. (Tate said she liked mine just as much as, if not more than, Grand Central; I’m not going to argue, but she may have been a bit generous.)
The sauce is brilliantly simple, borrowed from the cooking blog “Big Girls Small Kitchen.” The important thing is to let it simmer and reduce enough so that it is not watery; this would result in soggy pizza, like you often find at WHOP, i.e. not good. When simmered long enough and used sparingly, the sauce will be thick, tomato-y and zippy, thanks to the red peppers, while the crust remains crispy.
In terms of toppings, the traditional margherita is a classic foundation, perfect on its own but also perfect for building on. With my second pizza I like to take some artistic license and throw on whatever speaks to me. Goat cheese, artichoke hearts and spinach weren’t bad, and I have visions of a fig, prosciutto and Gorgonzola next time. Go wild. The dough is your canvas.
If you don’t have a pizza stone, don’t worry. You can use any old baking sheet, and the crispiness of your crust will suffer only ever-so-slightly.
Homemade Pizza Sauce from Big Girls Small Kitchen Makes enough for 2 pizzas, plus extra for dipping
2 cloves garlic, minced 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (with or without basil) 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes ½ tsp salt 2-3 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
Heat some olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add garlic, cooking until fragrant and golden, about one minute. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes and salt and simmer over low heat about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. Add basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Cook about five more minutes, then turn off heat and let cool to room temperature before assembling pizza.
Pizza Margherita Makes 2 large pies
1 ball whole wheat pizza dough (I recommend Portland Pie Co.’s, available at the local Hannaford) 1 jar of homemade pizza sauce (above) 1 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced 8 leaves fresh basil Cornmeal and flour, for sprinkling Olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with the pizza stone in the oven if you’re using one. Cut ball of dough in half, set one half of the dough aside (unless you have a pizza-making buddy, in which case divide and conquer both pizzas at once). Sprinkle a bit of flour on the counter and whatever you’re using as a rolling pin (I’m partial to an empty wine bottle) to prevent sticking, and begin to roll the dough into a circle, working from center toward edges. This will take some time, but as you work the dough it will lose elasticity and start holding its shape. Keep rolling until it is large and quite thin (¼ inch or less). Spoon on sauce and spread evenly over dough, leaving about an inch of sauce-free crust around the edges. Place basil leaves on pie, then mozzarella slices on top of the basil. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle the pizza stone or your cookie sheet with cornmeal and slide the pizza into the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Slice and serve with crushed red pepper and flakes extra sauce for dipping, and, as they say in Italia, buon appetito.