Friday, October 10, 2008
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that takeout pizza has become very expensive?
All last winter I made homemade pizza almost every Friday night, but the summer time crazies found me back to takeout.
I was shocked to discover that what used to be a $20 a week item in our budget, which had crept up closer to $30 when we stopped regularly ordering it, has now climbed to over $40 – even at Papa Gino’s.
Part of this is our fault. We’ve gotten spoiled by the fact that with homemade pizza, each family member can have their own favorite toppings in a personal sized pizza. This is a pricy proposition when you don’t make it at home.
The credit for our switch to homemade pizza goes to our son Tommy. Every year for New Year’s Eve, we have a tradition of making gourmet homemade pizza and playing games in front of a fire. A couple of years ago, Tommy, said, “This pizza is better than takeout. We should make it every week.”
I had to agree the crust was better and homemade pizza isn’t nearly as greasy as takeout. Plus it’s a great way to use up leftovers like meatballs and Italian sausage and things like a half opened can of roasted red peppers or artichokes that are inevitably in the fridge.
So I bought a pizza stone that included a really great little recipe book titled, International Cooking of Italy. I’ve experimented with all kinds of crust recipes from various sources, but my favorite is the “Chicago-Style Cornmeal Crust” from that little booklet. It is rich and crispy thanks to 1/2 cup of cornmeal.
We’ve also experimented with sauces. On the weeks I plan ahead, I use leftover homemade tomato sauce. Other weeks I use Ragu Robusto Parmesan and Romano (the ONLY jar sauce I will ever eat because I’m a sauce snob and this one tastes the most like my own).
A few weeks ago when I was overrun with the tomatoes from my garden, I tried using fresh sliced tomatoes. The pizza was good, but the fresh tomatoes made it a little too juicy, even though I put a layer of cheese on the crust first.
The next week I tried roasting the tomatoes in the oven first and this was the best pizza I ever made. Those sweetly carmelized roasted tomatoes added such incredible flavor, I am practically drooling just thinking about it. Too bad tomato season couldn’t last forever…we just ate our last two tomatoes tonight :(
For the record, fresh grated mozzarella is far superior to the bags of store bought pre-grated cheese, but it is more expensive. It makes a really nice splurge, though, and Trader Joe's has great prices on cheese, taking some of the guilt away.
It didn’t take long for me to abandon the pizza stone. I really loved the way the pizza tasted but the weekly acrobatics as I tried to maneuver the prepared pizza from my wooden pizza peel to that (REALLY) hot stone stressed me out. So eventually I returned to my handy dandy cookie sheets, but I might get brave again this winter. It really is better on the pizza stone.
The best thing about making homemade pizza is it has become a family event. When our granddaughter, Skylar, spent the night recently, she got right into it too. That sweet child loves to cook as much as her Nani and Papi! Look at what a great kneader she is!
Even though homemade pizza is a great budget conscious choice, it can also be a fantastic gourmet treat. My favorite toppings were one of our New Year's choices: a white pizza with lobster, shiitake mushrooms and Gruyere cheese. What's the best pizza you ever had?
Chicago-Style CornMeal Crust
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 – 115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
Mix the yeast and the warm water and let dissolve. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding the flour a little at a time. Mix well until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, about 10 – 15 minutes.
Put dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat well with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one hour or until double in size. Tip for rising dough: Put a cup of water in microwave and heat for one minute. Take it out and the microwave is now warm and humid – the perfect place to let dough rise out of a draft.
Punch down dough (kids love this job).
To make pizzas, divide dough in two (if using 2 small cookie sheets or 2 - 12 inch round pizza pans) or three (if using pizza stone.) Grease cookie sheets and sprinkle lightly with corn meal. Spread dough to fit cookie sheet. Top with sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes. Check crust and cook longer if necessary to obtain a crisp light brown crust. Let rest for five minutes before cutting into slices.
Click Here for Printable Recipe