Often we fall under the spell of believing that some foods are only available from cheap take-out vendors. Chinese food, pizza, fried chicken and pulled pork come to mind. Ordering out is fine when you’re exhausted or in a rush, but when you have the time, all these things are exponentially better, and better for you, when you make them yourself.
I was a fledgling cook years ago when California pizza was quite the fad, so I bought a $7.95 California pizza cookbook by one Norman Kolpas. Norman’s authoritative opening line was “California has set the style for the modern pizza.” As dated as that sounds now, I still find that this little collection has some great ideas in it. Its recipe for “Standard Pizza Crust” is still my go-to formula for homemade pizza. It’s simple, but it changes everything in the finished pie. As for toppings, I usually stay with basics, like a Caprese pizza with tangy buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil from the garden and the best tomatoes I can find. If you don’t have a pizza stone and peel (the flat thing used to slide the pizza in and out of the oven), get them. A pizza stone distributes heat evenly and makes the crust crisp and perfectly browned, just as the cheese melts into the tomatoes and basil, and the peel is essential for handling the soft dough. Try this simple Neapolitan delight and you’ll be hooked! Thanks, Norman Kolpas, wherever you are!
Homemade Caprese Pizza
Make the pizza dough by mixing 1 packet of active dry yeast, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, I teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Once the dry ingredients are combined, make a well in the center and slowly add 2 tablespoons olive oil and just enough warm tap water to form a pliable dough (just a bit less than 1 cup). Knead the dough vigorously on a floured work surface until it is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover with a warm damp towel for about an hour until it doubles in size. Ideally, let it rise overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before using.
Halve the dough ball, saving the other half for another night. Roll out the dough into a thin circle, patching any holes with your fingers. Sprinkle the pizza peel with fine corn meal to prevent the dough from clinging. Place the dough on top.
Place the pizza stone in the oven and heat to 550 degrees. Slather the dough with a little olive oil and add 4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, cut into rounds, turning to coat with the oil. Sprinkle the pie generously with salt and pepper and add ¾ cups shredded fresh basil. Slice one good-sized ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella (at room temperature) for the top, slide the pizza onto the stone and cook for about 8-10 minutes until cheese begins to brown and the crust crisps.