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Counter Intelligence: Pizza Night

By By April Hamilton

A bulky but rather lightweight package arrived at my kitchen door recently. It was addressed to me, strangely enough.

The sender label read ‘Primal Kitchen,’ and I ripped open the box to reveal its contents — a gorgeous walnut pizza peel and a note from my daughter in college:

“Happy very late Mother’s Day and kind of late Father’s Day! I hope you have plenty of patio pizza parties and I can’t wait to get in on them when I get home.”

Of course I cried as I read the note aloud and we all reminisced about our tasty family tradition, pizza night at home.

At our house, it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair.

I make the dough and everyone jumps in making sauce, grating cheeses, and prepping the toppings.

For years, this happened like clockwork every Friday night. Neighbors joined in on the fun, and we have experimented with every possible topping combination, working lots of fresh veggies into the mix.

As our kids have gotten older, the frequency of this fun tradition has fallen off, though we pull it instantly back into the rotation whenever the mood strikes.

It’s heartwarming to know that my faraway college student is eager to come home and rekindle the family pizza custom.

The wild fun of pizza night is truly contagious.

I had an exciting opportunity to convert some friends, Food Guy Steven Keith and his nine-year-old son, Isaac.

At the ripe age of nine, Isaac was clearly comfortable in the kitchen. We made our dough and while it was rising, we jumped ahead to a very ambitious dessert project (stay tuned for that one...to be continued) then got back to pizza business.

We decided to go veggie heavy on our three pizzas — two white pizzas, one served with a summery tomato salad and the other topped with lots of fresh zucchini.

Our classic red sauce pizza was strewn with fresh sauteed spinach, no pepperoni in sight!

Isaac invited his mom and two brothers to the pizza feast, and they arrived just as the spinach pizza emerged from the oven.

The whole family dove in and I heard seven-year-old brother Ryan announce, “She makes things I don’t like taste good!”

Wow! Music to any mom’s ears!

After the family feast, I overheard 11-year-old brother Adam ask, “Can I come to the next cooking class, Dad?” Another wow!

Further proof that the pizza experience is contagious and a deliciously fun tradition for all.

Don’t delay — start a pizza tradition at your home today!

A few tips for successful pizza night:

n Heat pizza stone at 500 on the bottom rack of the oven.

n Lightly coat a pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet with cornmeal

n Stretch your dough on top of the cornmeal, then top the pizza.

n Carefully slide the pizza off the peel or baking sheet and onto the hot stone (always check to see that the pizza hasn’t glued itself to the pizza peel before attempting to launch it onto the stone. Give a gentle shake of the peel — if the pizza seems to be stuck in any place, carefully lift up the dough and sprinkle a little more cornmeal on the peel)

n Dough can be baked on a pizza pan or cookie sheet if you don’t have a stone; first spray the pan with cooking spray before laying down the dough

Recipes

Pizza Dough

This dough can be made in a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook, but after using the food processor, I find I like this method best. If making a double batch of dough for a pizza party (!) you will need to use the Kitchenaid.

1 teaspoon Instant Yeast (also called “rapid rise”)

3 cups bread flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1 to 1 1/4 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

additional olive oil for bowl for rising, and for handling dough

Combine yeast, flour, and salt in the container of a food processor.

Pulse a few times to blend.

Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and 2 Tablespoons olive oil through the feed tube.

Process for about 1 minute, adding more water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch.

If it is dry, add another tablespoon of water and process for 10 more seconds. If the dough is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time.

(You want the dough to just barely stick to your finger tip.)

Knead the dough with lightly oiled hands for a few seconds to form a smooth round ball. Divide the dough into two (for large) or three (for small) balls.

Grease a baking dish with a drizzle of olive oil and place the dough balls in it.

Gently roll the dough around so that each ball is lightly coated with oil and will not dry out.

Place the balls apart so they have room to rise.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, usually about 1 hour (aha! the time it takes to make sauce, toppings, and get the oven preheated).

The dough can rise slowly in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours, if that is more convenient.

Let the chilled dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes before shaping.

Quick Pizza Sauce

I like to keep this sauce on hand to make English muffin pizzas for quick after-school snacks. It can also be tossed with hot pasta as an easy marinara

2 cups canned diced tomato (I like to use Muir Glen crushed tomato)

1 Tablespoon Olive oil

2 cloves garlic crushed

½ tsp. Dried oregano, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. (Quick!)

Refrigerate any leftovers for up to a week

Spinach and Garlic Pizza

This is a family favorite! When we moved from Houston, we craved the pizzas that we fell in love with at STAR Pizza. I called them for their recipe for “Joe’s Pizza” and they wouldn’t share, so here’s our version

Pizza Dough

Quick Pizza Sauce

6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (or fontina); can be supplemented with asiago, parmesan or feta.

For sautéed spinach and garlic:

2 Tbsp. Olive oil

6 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

5 oz. bag fresh “baby” spinach (clean & dry)

Salt and pepper

Heat oil and garlic in large skillet over low heat until oil begins to shimmer and garlic and stir a few minutes until garlic gently sizzles. When garlic is almost tender, add spinach to skillet a handful at a time, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring to evenly wilt spinach. Remove from heat and season with pepper.

Spread pizza dough. Spread about 1/2 cup of pizza sauce over dough.

Sprinkle cheese over sauce.

Distribute sautéed spinach and garlic over the top.

Bake in a very hot oven (preheated to 500) for 10-15 minutes.

White Pizza with Tomato Salad

1/2 recipe pizza dough, stretched to fit pan or stone

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (or crushed)

3/4 cup shredded fontina (about 3 ounces)

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (about 3 ounces)

1/3 cup (about 1 ounce) shredded parmesan

For tomato salad:

1 (10 ounce) “pint” grape tomatoes, cut in half, or quartered if large

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced (or crushed)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon Balsamic or Sherry vinegar

4 leaves fresh basil, julienned

salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together in a medium bowl, and marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature while you prepare the pizza crust and cheese.

To assemble pizza:

Drizzle prepared raw crust with 1 Tbsp. olive oil.

Scatter crushed garlic atop crust.

Using a pastry brush, evenly spread oil and garlic together all over crust.

Toss the three cheeses together and sprinkle over dough.

Bake at 500 for about 12 to 15 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbly, and crust is crisp.

Remove from oven and let rest on a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Cut and serve, scattering the tomato salad atop the slices pizza.

April Hamilton has always said, “Cooking is fun!” She shares her easy, practical recipes for delicious food through her cooking classes for kids and families. April’s husband and three daughters help with testing and tasting in their Charleston kitchen. Hungry for more? Visit www.aprilskitchencounter.com.


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