The change in the weather has put me in a “gather around the hearth” kind of mood. That always means food of a more soul-warming nature. Like pizza! Homemade of course.
The activity of making your own creations is really a whole lot of what eating pizza is all about. And the great thing about assembling and baking your own is that you can control the serving time instead of being at the mercy of a pizza delivery person.
Although homemade pizza dough is a snap to make, you can get a giant headstart by using raw dough from your local pizza parlor. Most establishments will sell it to you at a very nominal price, like $2 to $4 for a medium to large glob.
You can pick it up on your way home from the office, or better yet, at any off-hour when there aren’t a bunch of other pizza patrons milling about.
They’ll wrap it up for you and it will keep that way in your refrigerator for several hours, or even overnight.
You can also find the raw dough in the refrigerated section of well-stocked supermarkets.
Even frozen pizzas can be a marvelous jumping off point once you ditch the fake cheeses and flavorless pepperoni. Pile on a whole bunch of fresh and tasty toppings — hearty cheeses, zesty meats and sausages, and even dollops of pesto — and you’ll end up with a fabulous offering.
If you’re counting calories, consider my “diet pizza” concept: Set the oven to 475 or 500 degrees; place a pizza stone in the oven for 30 minutes if you have one. If you don’t, use a baking sheet; the bottom crust just won’t be quite as crunchy and wonderful.
Meanwhile, brush the edges of a thin unbaked pizza crust with olive oil, and cover the top with any combination of seasoned grilled vegetables, seafood, chicken and roasted garlic.
Sprinkle the pizza with a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, then transfer the pizza to the stone in the oven (or onto the large baking sheet large that has preheated in the oven for a few minutes).
Cook for about 12 to 14 minutes. You won’t have all the goo of a typical pizza, but you will have something great — and healthful — to eat.
I’m also providing you with my homemade pizza sauce recipe. It’s fast and easy to prepare, and tastes very fresh and wonderful.
Jan’s quick-and-tasty pizza sauce
24 ounces (3 8-ounce cans) tomato sauce
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste (depending on the tomato sauce you use, salt may not be necessary)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh basil (optional)
In a small saucepan, combine the tomato sauce with the garlic and olive oil. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, to develop the flavor of the garlic. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning by adding salt if necessary, the pepper, and the basil (if using). Let cool. Store in the refrigerator when not using. Keeps for several weeks. Or freeze for up to several months.
Makes about 3 cups (2 large pizzas’ worth).
Pizza with lots of caramelized onions and garlic
Pizza dough (enough for a large pizza)
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
10 yellow onions (about 31/2 pounds), thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
5 bay leaves
2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Cornmeal for the pan
About 1/2 cup of your favorite tomato-based pizza sauce (such as the previous recipe)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 1/2 cups nicoise olives, pitted and sliced
Refrigerate the dough while you proceed.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, combine 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and the butter. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves, then sprinkle with the brown sugar, salt, and white pepper, tossing gently to thoroughly coat the onions with the seasoning. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 20 minutes without stirring. Remove the lid, increase the temperature to medium-high, and continue cooking and stirring for 15 minutes. For the final phase, increase the temperature to high, and, stirring constantly, continue cooking until the onions are a rich golden brown. This will take about 10 more mnutes (your total cooking tie will be about 45 minutes). Stir in the wine and vinegar, and deglaze the pan by stirring well to loosen any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
On a lightly floured work surface, pat and roll the dough to fit a 16-inch round pizza pan or a 16- by-12-inch baking sheet. Sprinkle the pan with a thin layer of cornmeal, then press the dough into the pan, rolling the edges slightly to create a rim. Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the surface.
Spread or brush on the pizza sauce, then arrange the onions evenly over the dough. Sprinkle on the cheese and fresh herbs, then add the olives. Bake until the crust is a rich golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Can be eaten immediately, but it’s great as picnic fare; cut into pieces and let cool, then wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Makes 5 or 6 servings.
Chicken and bell pepper pizza with barbecue sauce
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup spicy or hickory-flavored barbecue sauce
1 14-inch round of unbaked pizza dough; see note below
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 cup thinly sliced drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 1/2 cups packed shredded mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine chicken and barbecue sauce in small bowl. Let mixture stand for 15 minutes. (Can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate)
Lightly coat a baking pan with vegetable cooking spray, then sprinkle with a bit of cornmeal (optional). Place pizza round on the prepared pan. Spread the chicken mixture over the top, then arrange the onion, bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts over. Sprinkle with oregano. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Finally, spread the cheese evenly over and bake until the crust is golden brown and the topping is golden and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Note: Fresh pizza dough is preferable. If you have a favorite pizza parlor which will sell the raw dough to you, that’s great (1 pound of dough will roll and stretch into a 14-inch round). You could also start with a baked cheese pizza crust (such as Boboli); available in the bread section of most supermarkets. If using the baked shells, the oven temperature will remain the same, but decrease the baking time by a few minutes.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.