I first got into making homemade pizza through the Dad of one my daughter’s BFFs. I am ever indebted to him (dude, you know who you are). I took his tips and ingredients and added some of my own and here we are—KKG’s Gourmet Veggie Pizza with spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, and pesto. (And a pepperoni and cheese section for my daughter.)
(Full confession: I cheat on some of the elements, but, nonetheless, produce a tasty final product that’s got healthy ingredients and is pretty darn hip.) Now the tips. . .
1) Buy a metal pizza pan with holes in the bottom.
What? I’m snubbing the purists, I know. Everybody knows you must use a stone! Not so. Stones are a hassle—they take time to heat up (and then cool down) and also require that you buy a paddle and learn how to use it. I tried one at first, but it wasn’t worth the trouble when I could get just about as crisp a crust with a pan.
But the pan MUST have holes in the bottom. That way you at least have a fighting chance at some crispness. And make sure it’s big enough—14 inches minimum. Otherwise it’s too much work for too small a pizza!
2) Do NOT make your own dough or sauce.
Sorry to spurn the purists again, but unless you live in the boonies without a single pizzeria or gourmet food store within a 20-minute radius, it’s probably not worth the time. Save your chefing for concocting what goes on top!
That’s not to say that all pizza doughs were created equally good tasting—far from it. Shop around. Ask friends. Try the dough at local pizzerias until you find one you’re most happy with. If your source is not so close to home, buy a couple and freeze them. As long as you don’t leave them in there for an ice age (I date mine), they’ll make great pizza. And please make sure the dough feels solid, not too squishy, and doesn’t have any bubbles. Otherwise it can be a pain to work with.
Sauce-wise I use premium store-bought and recently lost access to my favorite brand. I’m still in mourning. Generally, you want a sauce—especially if there are any kids involved—on the sweeter side. The new sauce I auditioned wasn’t sweet enough, so I added some honey. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody.)
3) Heat the oven to only 450 degrees—that’s hot enough.
The standard instructions call for a 500-degree oven. But 500 degrees makes the preheat time interminable (at least 20 minutes), wastes a heck of lot energy for just 10 minutes of cook time, and isn’t really really necessary. The difference in the crust between 450 and 500 degrees I’ve found negligible. But I cook with a convection oven. In a regular oven, 450 may not be hot enough. Test it out and see for yourself, but don’t assume you need to be at 500. (At right: OXO Good Grips 4-Inch Pizza Wheel. OXO makes the best kitchen accessories. I love the feel of them and the quality’s good. We’ve had an OXO pizza wheel and peeler for over a decade.)
4) Not too much sauce, not too much cheese.
Discretion with your sauce and cheese is the mark (and taste) of a gourmet pie. Let the other elements shine without being smothered. Plus, too much sauce makes for soggy curst. Who wants that?
5) Don’t over cook.
In my convection oven, 9 or 10 minutes will do the trick. Even if the crust doesn’t come out super-crisp, it’s best not to melt into oblivion everything on top. And make sure to place the pizza on a rack as close to the bottom of your oven as you can get.
6) Pesto—it’s the secret ingredient. And Fontina cheese. (See my recipe below.)
I stumbled into Fontina because the Dad who first got me into making pizza in the first place was lactose intolerant. A blessing in disguise. Fontina is one delicious cheese for pizza. Cold and not melted, it’s a touch edgy. But once you heat it up and get it gooey, it tones down a bit, yet remains super flavorful. Even my picky-as-all-getout daughter woofs it. Speaking of which. . .Drum roll please. . .
P.S. If you’ve gotten a taste of easy pizza and it’s not enough and you want to get to the bottom of things, there’s now an iPad app. Can you believe it? Put out by Mark Bello who runs Pizza a Casa—a pizza-making school in (where else?) NYC. Everything you ever might want to know about making your own home pizza at your fingertips for $5.