Nothing is quite like traditional pizza made from scratch, and while you might think it's easier to pick up a pie from your local pizzeria, it is surprisingly easy to make homemade pizza. Because the dough needs to rise, and the sauce needs to simmer, you can actually make it in the morning or the night before, and have a ready-to-assemble meal as soon as you get home.
Traditional Pizza Dough
For many, the crust can make or break the entire pizza-eating experience. When cooked, its texture should boast a lightly-crisp layer on the outside, but should be chewy on the inside, like well-made bread. This unique texture is generally made using Italian Superfine "00" Flour.
However, Italian "00" flour is not necessarily readily available in stores. Consequently, this recipe uses two different types of flour to help enhance the texture and pliability of the dough and give it a more authentic look and taste. The recipe makes two large pizzas (approximately 14-inches), or three to four medium pizzas (approximately 10-inches). The crust should come out to be more thin than thick. . . but is not a true 'thin crust' pizza.
- 3-1/2 cups bread flour* (If you do not have bread flour, you can use all-purpose flour plus 3 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten. You cannot use all-purpose flour alone and get good results.)
- 1 cup fine semolina flour - available in the bakery aisle of most large grocery stores
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 packets of yeast or 4-1/2 teaspoons of yeast
- 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar
- 2-1/2 cups warm water
- Sift the flours and salt together in a large bowl.
- Fill a medium bowl with warm water. Add the sugar, yeast and oil to the water. Let set for a few minutes while the yeast blooms.
- Make a well in the flour mixture.
- Pour the liquid into the well in the flour mixture.
- With a fork, stir gently, mixing the flour into the liquid gradually.
- When the flour is mixed, use well floured hands and knead your dough. Keep kneading until you have a smooth, springy dough. The dough should be pliable, but not sticky.
- Turn out on a flour dusted surface, and then place in a flour-coated bowl. Cover with a warm, moist cloth and place in a draft-free place. Let rise until it is doubled in size, approximately one hour.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and let it rest five minutes. After this you are ready to form your pizzas.
Traditional Pizza Sauce
Pizza purists will swear by using fresh ingredients only for good results. While it is definitely preferable to get the freshest ingredients possible, canned tomatoes and other convenience foods will suffice in a pinch. This recipe notes fresh ingredients and acceptable substitutes and yields about three to four cups of sauce (enough for two large pizzas.)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons garlic powder or 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons onion powder or 1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
- 2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes or two cans (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh basil
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
- In a heavy saucepan, sauté garlic and onion if you're using fresh garlic and onions. If you're using onion and garlic powder, simply add them to the olive oil and move onto the next step.
- In a separate medium-sized bowl, crush the tomatoes with a potato masher. You can also crush the tomatoes with good results using a stand mixer. Once they are mashed, add them to the olive oil. It is okay to have fine chunks of tomatoes, but take care not to leave any large chunks as they will be too heavy for the dough.
- Mix in the additional seasonings.
- If your sauce seems thin (or you like the extra flavor) add a cup of Parmesan cheese.
You can simmer the sauce or you can simply mix it together and use it as is. If you choose to simmer, simmer over low heat for several hours.
Putting It All Together
Ideally, you should toss your pie high in the air to get that perfectly formed and thinned crust, and bake it in a brick oven. However, if that process seems daunting to you, the following is a little more manageable for most people.
Forming the Pizza
Take your bulk dough and divide it equally into the amount of pizzas you want. After you divide it, let it rest for a few minutes before you start forming the dough.
- Start by flattening the dough with the back of your palm on a work surface that is sprinkled with semolina flour or corn meal. Continue flattening the dough by using a floured rolling pin, making sure to roll the pizza in multiple directions to get it the shape you want. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour.
- Continue the process of spreading the dough out until it is just a bit smaller than the baking stone or pan you are using for cooking it. Sprinkle cornmeal on your baking stone or pan to help keep the dough from greasing, and transfer your dough.
- Continue spreading the dough by using your fingertips to push from the center towards the edges of the dough. Be patient and work carefully and in about 10 minutes, you'll find that you have a perfectly thickened crust.
Assembling and Cooking the Pizza
Once your pizza crust is done, use a small gravy ladle and gently ladle the sauce sauce onto the pizza. Add a layer of freshly grated mozzarella and Asiago cheeses and then top with your favorite pizza toppings. Common toppings you might find in Italy include (but aren't limited to):
- Italian sausage, thinly sliced and cooked
- Eggplant, thinly sliced
As you're topping your pizza, set the oven to 550 degrees (or as hot as it will go.) Move the rack to the center. Bake your pizza for approximately eight to 15 minutes. How long to cook depends on the thickness of the crust, the mount of toppings you have and your oven, as some ovens run much hotter than others. You can tell that it's done when the edges are nicely browned and the cheese is melted.
Traditional Variations to Try
One of the great things about pizza is that it is infinitely versatile with limitless options to suit your personal taste. From buffalo chicken to salad pizza, there is not a lot that hasn't been put on top of a pizza. However, the following are classic variations you would find in most Italian pizzerias.
- Margherita - Top sauce with thinly sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil as toppings.
- Napoli - Add anchovies and fresh oregano to the top of this pizza. (Traditionally, this might include Asiago or Parmesan cheese.)
- Prosciutto - Add the prosciutto after the pizza is cooked, not before.
- Mushroom - Add many different types of mushrooms to the pizza. Common types include morelli, porcini, crimini, and portobello.
- Sausage - Add thinly sliced sweet or spicy Italian sausage.
- Cheese - Instead of topping your pizza with just mozzarella, try mixing together fontina, mozzarella, Parmiggiano, and gorgonzola for the truly Italian take on a cheese pizza.
Great Ingredients Make Great Pizza
The trick to having a truly phenomenal pizza is making sure that you are cooking with the freshest and best ingredients that you have available. This is the start of a delicious slice of pizza and is the key to guaranteeing that you get as close to an Italian-style slice without going to Italy.