Thin Crust Pizzas

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We make pizza at least every two weeks, sometimes more often. I know I have posted about homemade pizza probably way more than I should, but I really like it. I loved pizza nights when I was growing up. We lived out in the country and there were no pizza places close. Unless we really made a production of it and drove forty-five minutes to a pizza restaurant, our choices were homemade or frozen. Homemade always won.

I felt like thin crust pizza the other night. I knew that the no-knead crust I have been making lately wasn’t going to work this time. It is an easy to dough to make, but it is kind of wet and sticky and wouldn’t press out as thin as I wanted. I used the recipe we always used when I was growing up instead. I have changed it over the years, as I tend to do, adding an extra tablespoon of oil and replacing most of the white flour with white whole wheat.

The ingredients are the same as the no-knead dough I have posted before, but the method is different. You knead the dough (only for 5 minutes – don’t let this discourage you from making it). And it only rises for an hour.

The kneading and relatively short rise result in a dough that is easy to handle. This is essential if you are trying to make thin crust pizza. I was going for the same thickness (thinness?) as Domino’s thin crust, or Imo’s, if you live in the St. Louis area – but with mozzarella, not provel. Sorry St. Louis-style pizza fans, this native is not a fan of provel cheese (or Imo’s pizza), no matter how you slice it. Don’t come after me with flaming torches and pitchforks, please.

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Give yourself some time to get the crust thin enough. If the dough bounces back, give that piece a rest and move on to another one. Or step back for a few minutes so both you and the dough can relax.

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Use your choice of toppings for this, but don’t pile them on, since the crust is thin and can’t bear the weight of loaded toppings (make two medium thick crusts if you really want to pile on the toppings, and bake them a little longer). We used red sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan and pepperoni for our pizzas. Calvin had a small one with garlic, olive oil, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Unfortunately we forgot to take pictures of the finished pepperoni pizzas – we only have pictures of Calvin’s white pizza. But you can get an idea of how the crust looks before and after it bakes.

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Download or print the recipe here.

All-Purpose Pizza Dough
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 3 14-inch thin or 2 14-inch medium crusts

This is the recipe we used for pizza dough when I was growing up, with a few tweaks. I have made it so many times that I don’t need to look at the recipe anymore.

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-3½ cups flour, approximately *
all-purpose flour for kneading
Your choice of toppings

*I use about 3 cups white whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour. You can use entirely all-purpose flour if you prefer. Note that the dough will be whiter than the pictures if you use only all-purpose flour.

Measure water, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil and 2 cups flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed. Continue to add flour, about ½ cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. Sprinkle kneading surface with flour and turn dough out of bowl. Sprinkle dough with flour and knead until soft and elastic (about 5 minutes), adding flour if it sticks to your hands or the counter.

Lightly grease a large bowl. Place kneaded dough into bowl, cover bowl loosely with a wet towel or tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise. Dough should double in size in 45-60 minutes.

Grease pizza pans. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

For thin pizza crusts, divide dough into three pieces. For medium thick crusts, divide into two pieces. Place dough on pans and use your hands to press it out to the edges. If dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax. Be patient, especially if you are making thin crusts. If you end up with holes, gently press the edges back together.

Top with your favorite pizza toppings. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Lower heat to 350 and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, or until bottom and edges of crust are browned and cheese is melted and browned.

Let pizzas cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serve hot. Leftovers reheat well in a skillet, on a griddle or in the microwave. Or eat them cold.

One Zucchini and Three Tomatoes Lead to Pizza

 

Last Saturday we were trying to decide what we wanted to make for dinner. We didn’t really want to go to the store, and we wanted to make something new and different. We decided on pizza, but we wanted to change up the toppings to make something more interesting than our usual pepperoni or pesto pizza.

Part of cooking, and coming up with new recipes, is thinking about what you know how to do and how you can change it. This doesn’t always work if you are trying to change a baking recipe, since the ratios and chemistry matter – but with pizza or most dinner recipes, you don’t have to be as careful. Start by looking through pantry and fridge to see what you have on hand.

Our kitchen search uncovered one zucchini, a few small garden tomatoes, garlic paste, part of a container of fresh mozzarella pearls, a small chunk of part-skim mozzarella and a big chunk of Parmesan (Sam’s is a great place to get this for a great price).

The garlic paste was left over from our anniversary dinner at a tapas restaurant (Modesto for you St. Louis readers – definitely worth a trip). One of the dishes we ordered was fried garlic. We had expected to get a plate of chopped garlic that had been cooked with oil. We were surprised when we got several skewers filled with deep fried whole garlic cloves. They were sweet and nutty, but with a definite garlic kick when smeared on bread. We ate about three cloves each and had at least 20 to take home. I mashed them with a fork, and froze the resulting paste to use later – tripled bagged to keep the aromas from invading the freezer.

The paste was too thick to spread on our soft dough, so I mixed it with a little olive oil, but it was still too stiff. I didn’t want to add more oil, so I added a bit of white wine. Then I added some grated Parmesan for flavor, which made it too thick again. More wine and it was ready to spread.

We topped the garlic paste with thin slices of the zucchini and tomatoes. I wanted to avoid any possibility of crunchy zucchini, so after I sliced it, I spread it in a single layer on a plate and microwaved it for a couple of minutes, until the slices were starting to soften. We topped the veggies with a scattering of mozzarella pearls and a thin layer of grated part-skim mozzarella. A dusting of Parmesan and it was ready for the oven.

 

The pizza surpassed our expectations by a mile. The edges of each zucchini slice crisped, and the cheese on top of them browned – resulting in zucchini chips right on top of our pizza. The garlic sauce was the star of the show, though. Even after baking at high heat we could taste the wine, which added a nice flavor dimension. The garlic was a definite presence, but not overpowering. I am definitely going to experiment with roasting a head of garlic or sautéing minced garlic in olive oil to try to recreate the garlic paste without having to deep fry it.

The next time you are looking for ways to bring some interest to your meals, let the inner adventurer free. Think about dishes you have had in restaurants, or recipes you have read. Use the contents of your fridge, pantry and freezer for inspiration. You never know what new favorites you might create.

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza

 

The basil in the garden is still flourishing, happy as can be, even though it is now pretty much smothered by the out-of-control tomato vines. It is a little bit of a treasure hunt to harvest, but one that I am willing to undertake. The basil bounty leads to pesto, of course. I made a batch last week and used it to make a different twist on pizza.

Even if you have never made your own pizza dough, you should try it. It is so much better than any pizza crust you can buy, and it isn’t hard. I came up with a no-knead pizza dough recipe over a year ago. If you have a big bowl and a wooden spoon, you can make it. One trip the store will get you any ingredients you need. The recipe looks long – but I tried to include lots of directions for first-timers.

Pesto, olive oil, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese come together in a pizza that celebrates basil and cheese. Feel free to add chopped, cooked chicken, a few thin slices of fresh tomato or whatever else you think goes with the green herbiness of the basil.

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 2 14-inch round pizzas

The dough recipe makes enough pizza for two pizzas. If you would rather not make two pesto pizzas, use only half of the topping ingredients for your pizza and use the other half of the dough to make another kind of pizza. Or store the other half of the dough in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week and make pizza another night.

Dough:
3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
½ cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1 package yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1 ½ cups water, approximately

Put all ingredients except water in your largest bowl. Add 1 cup water and stir to combine.

 

If there is still dry flour, add water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until a very wet dough forms. You aren’t looking for batter here, but a dough. It will be too soft to knead and look quite wet.

Once everything is well combined, beat and mix the dough with your spoon or spatula for a minute or so. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2-24 hours. If you are making the dough much more than 4 hours in advance, store it in the fridge while it rises. If it is rising on the counter, you might need to stir the dough down every couple of hours if it is filling the bowl. Stir it a few times and re-cover. If it is in the fridge, just leave it to do its thing.

If your dough is in the refrigerator, remove it from the fridge and let it sit on the counter 30-60 minutes before you want to use it to make it easier to handle.

Pizza:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pesto, homemade or purchased (more or less, to taste)
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ pound part skim mozzarella, grated
½ cup Parmesan cheese, approximately

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease pizza pans. Sprinkle the surface of your dough heavily with flour, work a rubber spatula around the edges of the dough and try to work some flour down the sides of the bowl.

Divide the dough in half with a spatula and scrape half on to each pan. Sprinkle each dough portion with flour and begin to press it out with your fingertips to cover the pan. Add more flour if it sticks to your hands. If one piece bounces back, move to the other pan and come back the first after the dough has a minute to relax. Try to get the dough to the outside edges of the pan, but you don’t have to be perfect.

Drizzle each pizza with a little olive oil and spread to cover the dough.

Add small dollops of pesto to each crust, spreading them out slightly with the back of a spoon. Don’t try to cover the entire crust with pesto, unless you really like basil. You might not use all the pesto.

Dollop ricotta cheese between the spots of pesto. Use the back of a spoon to spread the ricotta cheese out a bit. Again, you aren’t trying to cover the entire surface with ricotta, but just spread it a little thinner so you don’t have huge globs of cheese on the dough.

Sprinkle each pizza with mozzarella cheese, then Parmesan cheese.

Bake pizzas for 12-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 5-10 minutes more, or until the cheese is golden brown and the bottom crust is lightly browned. Cut each pizza into slices and serve immediately. Pizza reheats well, either in microwave or in a skillet on low heat.

Download the recipe here.