This one time at book club, I was asked to host the next meeting scheduled for the following month. I would only be responsible for one dish, the entrée, but obviously, it needed to kick butt. Thus began a crazed four-week frenzy of poring over cookbooks, and late nights checking out food and recipe sites, usually ending up in some obscure corner of the internet so far from where I started that I would have no choice but to click on X and go back to the mothership, the Google home page. All in an effort to find the perfect recipe, in order to create the perfect entrée, that would knock the socks off those book clubbing, highfalutin, closet food critics, also known as my friends.
The thing about book club is that it’s not about the book at all. Book club is first and foremost an open forum group therapy free-for-all. We gossip, gab, and gripe. Secondly, book club is about the food. Which dish did you bring? How long did it take you? Is it Paleo? These are questions thrown about amidst a flurry of oohs, aahs, yums and requests for recipes that will never get used. The book is really just the beard.
So, first I thought that I would roast an entire pig, but then I realized that was overkill. I am the master of overkill and do it like it’s my job, but a 110-pound pig for eight women would have just made me seem psychotic. So, no pig. Then I thought, okay, paella. … but decided against that, too. Believe it or not, roasting a 110-pound pig is a lot less work than making authentic paella. At this point, four weeks had passed,;I was not one step closer to an entrée; and book club was in two days. Crap.
It was then 24 hours before book club and I was still entrée-less. Double crap. In one last push to come up with something, I literally stood in front of my book shelves, staring at my cookbooks, hoping that divine intervention would push a book off a shelf and throw it at my feet open to page whatever. Just as I was about to pull my locs out, I heard Nola (my very vocal, deaf dog) whining at something she saw out the window. I went to take a look, and saw my next door neighbor walking by with a pizza box. Nola has a nose like a bloodhound. Bingo! Pizza. Anti-climactic I know, but sometimes it really is that simple. Thank you, Nola.
Basic pizza dough
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons or 1 package of instant yeast
- 4 cups bread flour plus more for working the dough
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra to lightly coat a bowl)
- Non-stick spray
- Semolina flour (just enough to sprinkle a pizza pan)
- Tin foil
Add dry yeast to warm water and whisk together briefly. Allow the yeast enough time to bubble up and become active, this should take a few minutes. If the yeast is inactive, you may need to replace the yeast and try again.
In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Add the olive oil. Use a fork to pull the dry into the wet then mix. When the dough starts to come together, take it out of the bowl and continue mixing with your hands, and kneading it for a few minutes on a lightly floured board. Use the heel of your hand to push the dough down and forward. Give it a few turns. You're done when the dough feels slightly tacky and sticky.
Place the dough into a bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil (you can also use non stick spray for this), and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise in a warm spot until it has doubled in size. This may take up to 2 hours.
Once the dough has risen properly, use a knife to divide it. Form into balls for individual pizzas, and place on a plate. Cover with a damp cloth. Let the balls of dough rest until you poke them and see an indentation.
Prepare your dough for use:
If using a pizza pan:
Sprinkle a pizza pan with a little semolina for good separation and a nutty crunch. Place a ball of dough in the center of the pan and spread it out, using a rolling pin or your hands. Spin it. Pull the dough to the edges of the pan to thin out the center. Make sure the thickness is even. Top your pizza with your toppings of choice.
If using a pizza stone:
If you choose to use a pizza stone, then lightly sprinkle a counter with flour, place the ball of dough on the floured counter and roll out the dough with a rolling pin, stretching it out as you go. Lift your rolled out dough onto a large piece of foil and then top your pizza with your toppings of choice. When ready to make your pizza, slide the tin foil containing your pizza onto a pizza peel, the slide onto your pre-heated pizza stone (following the appropriate directions)
You can use regular All Purpose flour, but bread flour will give you a chewier and crispier crust and that is what I used for this recipe.
When you’re rolling your dough, if you’re having trouble stretching it out to form a larger pizza crust, let it rest a couple of times. This will allow the dough to relax and then you can stretch it out even more.
Simple tomato sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano)
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a small frying pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and fragrant. Do not allow the garlic or scorch or brown. Lower the heat if you need to.
After the garlic has cooked, add the crushed tomatoes, dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, and freshly ground pepper. Make sure to stir the mixture after adding each ingredient.
Turn the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer. You should see some small bubbles around the edge of the pan. Be sure to stir frequently so that the sauce does not begin to stick at the bottom of the pan. Simmer for about 15-20 until the sauce has thickened and lost its acidity. It should not taste tangy. Season to taste with salt. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Use right away, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.
Canned tomatoes vary in salt content, so start by seasoning the sauce with just a pinch of salt, and then gradually add more to taste.
Margherita pizza using a pizza stone
- 1 rolled out pizza dough (see directions for pizza dough)
- 1/2 cup Simple Tomato Sauce (see directions for Simple Tomato Sauce)
- 2 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 3 ounces mozzarella di bufala, sliced and then torn into bite-sized pieces
- 6 large fresh basil leaves, torn into ¾ inch pieces
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Place your pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of your oven, and preheat the oven to 450ºF / 230ºC. Allow the pizza stone to heat for 45-60 minutes.
When ready to bake your pizza, lift your rolled out dough onto a large piece of foil. Brush the dough with a light coating of olive oil. Spread the dough evenly with the Simple Tomato Sauce, leaving a ½ inch border uncovered. Arrange the sliced tomatoes over the dough, leaving a ½ inch border uncovered. Top with the torn mozzarella. Carefully slide the pizza topped tin foil onto a pizza peel, and from the pizza peel onto your pre-heated pizza stone.
Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, 9-12 minutes.
Using the pizza peel, remove the pizza from the oven and transfer it to a cutting board. Let the pizza stand for 3 minutes, then scatter the torn basil leaves evenly over the pizza, drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil. Slice and serve