Last summer we started some outdoor home improvements such as installing a patio and an outdoor pizza oven. The oven was built by my brother-in-law and was quite the labor of love. Every weekend from August to December, he and my husband laid bricks and stone to create a wood-fired pizza oven worthy of any Italian patio. Complete with an inlaid cross in the chimney and our Blessed Mother outdoor statue on the side counter, it has been the perfect addition to our little piece of heaven out back.
Now that it is finished, we’ve started a new family tradition on Saturday nights of making homemade pizza. My husband spends the afternoon getting the oven to just the right temperature and I prepare all the fixings. I’ve been spending this summer searching for the perfect pizza recipes. After much trial and error, I’m excited to share my successes with you.
I’ve discovered the most important part of any pizza is the crust. A long time user of pre-made crusts, I was intimidated by starting from scratch, however, I found that homemade dough is very simple and tastes much better! At a recent cookbook swap, my friend Kira, tipped me off to this awesome crust recipe, Quick-Beer Crust Recipe from King Arthur Flour. One trick I have learned is to substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour. The higher gluten content makes a better crust. Like a sweet crust? Sprinkle a layer of brown sugar on top of the rolled crust to give it a sweet edge.
Then comes the sauce. Though store-bought sauces are good, homemade ones are even better. My favorite recipe is “8-Minute Pizza Sauce.” It can be found in Thursday Night Pizza, Fr. Dominic’s Favorite Pizza Recipes by Fr. Dominic Garramone or here. This is a great little book with easy but delicious pizza recipes as well as appetizer and dessert pizzas. I highly recommend it!
Next are the toppings. In addition to the traditional pepperoni, sausage, olives, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese, try an Italian style mix of mozzarella, provolone, asiago and parmesan – extra delish!. Recently, we got a little adventurous and made gourmet pizzas. Here are two tasty recipes:
Margherita Pizza – sprinkle olive oil on the crust, top with fresh garlic, sea salt, fresh sliced tomatoes, fresh sliced buffalo mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.
Mediterranean Pizza – sprinkle olive oil on the crust, top with fresh garlic, sea salt, grilled seasoned steak slices, fresh spinach leaves, red peppers, mushrooms & feta cheese.
In a wood fire pizza oven, the pizza cooks in about 4-5 minutes. If using a pizza stone, preheat the oven at least 45 minutes before baking pizza to 500°F, put stone on oven rack in lower third of electric oven (or on floor of gas oven). Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
Of course having the right tools is also key. A pizza peel, a wooden or metal board with a long handle, is a necessity for sliding the pizza onto the 800 degree oven floor – and even if you are using pizza stone in your oven. You won’t believe the difference in the crust when its not cooked in a pan! We lost a few pizzas to the fire at first, but the secret of using just enough corn meal makes it slide off easily. You also need a smaller peel (about 8 inches in width) to turn and remove the pizza from the oven. The Forno Bravo Website has some great tips on using a pizza peel.
If you’re wondering what pizza has to do with Catholicism, I’d like to share some words from Fr. Leo Patalinghug, keynote speaker for the upcoming February 23, 2013 Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference (from http://gracebeforemeals.com used with permission)
“Is there a spiritual connection to pizza, besides loving the way it tastes? As a matter of fact, yes! Pizza begins with the crust. The ‘leaven,’ the ‘yeast,’ and the proper ‘formation’ of the crust ‘in the hands of an artist’ is spiritual talk found in the scriptures. We are called to be leaven and yeast in society. And in the powerful hands of God, we are formed into that perfect person, as a perfect crust. And as the crust is the base for the pizza, a well-formed person is the true ‘base’ for society. Each ingredient topping represents all of humanity. Each person is different. We can bring about a unique aspect of life, simply by our presence. But the key to all of the toppings and the crusty base is balance. Too much or too little of an ingredient can throw off the balance, weigh down the crust, make it soggy, and essentially make a mess of things. Isn’t that true for our life – when things are balanced on a proper base?”
What’s your favorite pizza recipe? I’d love to hear your suggestions!