History is usually remembered differently depending on the perspective. Growing up my mom was in charge of feeding us all, so I’m not sure how she’ll remember this. Because I am my father’s daughter, I can sometimes embellish for dramatic effect, adding an extra flair here and there. It’s part of storytelling, the details may be fuzzy but you have memories and how they are conveyed might be more or less flashy, depending on the person and where you were standing when it happened.
That’s a really dramatic way to start talking about pizza, one of the most common food groups (it’s an entire food group at our house sometimes). Some of my earliest pizza memories were the tiny squares of flavorless bread topped with (what I’m sure) was low fat cheese and some kind of cubed meat products over scant tomato flavored paste when I was in preschool. (Aside: Shame on you FBC Brookhaven, I can only hope you’ve raised your toddler lunch standards in the past 20 years) Those sad, flavorless memories graduated laterally to high school and college experiences, where the infamous ‘hot and ready’ pizza from Little Caesar’s was dominant. This was a tricky experience, as anyone who has eaten one of these will understand. The timing with the hot n’ ready’s was if you don’t eat them within the first 15 minutes after they are pulled from the oven or underneath the heat lamp, they start to decay with alarming quickness. It must be some way their cheese reacts with oxygen, but it forms some sort of congealed substance after it reaches room temperature that only the hardened stomachs of cafeteria trained young adults can handle. It’s a very small window, for the young adult and the pizza. You get what you pay $5 for, and most of the time you pay for bowel trouble.
My adult pizza world is (thankfully) very different. I’ve learned things. I know things about wheat and dough and oven temps and appropriate salt and sugar and yeast ratios and time. I’ve learned how seductively delicious your house will smell if you make your own pizza dough. I’ve also held jobs, which means I can afford to search out and buy better pizza, and please friends, just don’t with the little ceasars. or the papa johns. or the dominos. or the pizza huts. or the sabarros (mall pizza? Michael Scott’s favorite!) (are there more? I’m a little frightened about how many I could name just now without the help of Google) The world is a dark, scary place, and your pizza should be good, happy and delicious. Come away from the dark side and experience the good pizza!
If you’re wondering, before we segue into my favorite pizza recipes, here is my favorite local pizza places:
Basil’s in Fondren This gets our vote for Best All-Around. Good crust, good sauce, fresh toppings, feeds both of us comfortably (we’re full but we don’t hate life afterwards) and not expensive. My favorite is the State Street, add jalapenos.
Pizza Shack This is the best Have a Beer with Me Pizza, also knows as Hi, I’m Here for All The Carbs. It’s more expensive than Basil’s, but they are super generous with the toppings. Their pizza is heavy, but still good. They have my favorite supreme pizza.
The Manship Best Happy Hour and Best Fancy Pizza. If you go straight from work at 5pm, you can get a $6 glass of wine and a $6 pizza. I only recently tried their pizza, and got the short rib and it was excellent. If you’ve ever eaten at Pizza Domenica in New Orleans (Go! Eat all the things!) this pizza has a very similar vibe, which is a good thing.
Sal and Mookies My least favorite on the list, but still good and worth mentioning. Best Place for a Party or to Bring Kids. Lots of different, creative and kind of over the top pizzas that are good, but their restaurant atmosphere is more fun than their food. Something fun though: you can purchase dough from them and bake it at home yourself, which is a pro tip if you’re new to the baking pizza at home world and want to get started.
Now that we’ve talked about the best places around here to buy pizza (did I leave anything out?) I’ll mention my favorite ways to make pizza. But before I do that, I’ll mention this: I have a lifelong love of Red Barron’s thin crust 4 cheese pizza, brought to you by your local grocery store in the frozen food section. I ate it all the time as a elementary aged child (remember, my memories here) and it probably helped contribute to my then ‘inflated’ physique. But I still love them. Or, the memory of how delicious they were, because now that I’m reminiscing I can’t recall the last time I made one, which is probably a self preservation instinct because I’m certain I’d eat the whole thing myself and no, you can’t have any.
So when I make pizza at home, I’m constantly trying to re-create a homemade version of Red Barron’s thin crust 4 cheese pizza. There was something about the crunchy-ness of the crust, with the generous amount of sauce, and the combination of cheese that I can’t quite get to at home. Which is probably fine, because I may be the only person I know which such an affinity, and I’m certain that the Red Barron isn’t looking out for my health. But really, does anybody eat pizza because they want to be healthy? Probably not. But some options are better than others: like using whole tomatoes and raw garlic and spices and no sugar to make your sauce, using meat and cheese that came from animals you know were treated with respect, and making a crust that has only 4-5 ingredients. Sure, it takes some effort and planning, but in the end you have more than just a delicious pizza that you made yourself: you get to have fun while you do it and realize that part of a delicious meal is more than just eating, its the entire creative process that feeds way more than just your stomach. Shouldn’t that be what eating good food is all about?
Pizza, a collection of resources:
So Aaron’s favorite homemade pizza, and my go-to for brunches is this breakfast pizza, from everyone’s favorite Deb. This was one of my first forays into the pizza crust making world, and it’s a great, simple recipe and everyone seems to love it. I usually leave out the scallions, add diced tomatoes, up the bacon and pepper. This is what your lazy Saturday is calling for.
Delancey. This is a book, not a recipe, and it’s become one of my favorites. Molly writes about how she and her husband opened a restaurant and talks about her husband’s quest to find the perfect pizza crust. Its a great story with pizza overtones and I can’t mention pizza making without talking about this book.
Deb strikes again, with this lazy pizza dough recipe, which was inspired by above book. (It’s my favorite when my food blogger idols inspire each other) I’ve made this a lot, and it’s always good. If you can let the dough rest for the full 24 hours, it tastes better and has more of that chewy, air-pocket goodness.
The Pizza Lab, from Serious Eats. But more specifically, this post that breaks down different types of dough and even includes the math/percentage ratios/blah blah I stopped reading when you said math. It’s a great resource to help the home pizza maker.
And finally, a recipe, for the pizza we ate this weekend:
I used this crust recipe, which I’ve attempted only once before and burned it so thoroughly it looked like it had just marched through the fires of Mordor. So this time I baked it for 5 minutes, then checked it at 3 minute intervals until the bottom was nicely browned and the top crust golden and cheese bubbly. This crust makes a classic Lets Eat All The Carbs pizza, and it’s good, but I think I prefer thinner versions. It has a nice crispy bottom and a chewy center, which can be hard to obtain.
I weighed my measurements here for exactness. And then discovered that I accidentally added 25 more grams of water than the recipe called for, so I ended up adding about an extra 1/4 cup of flour. It all turned out fine, and I’m sure yours will too because you are probably a less distracted baker than I am.
500 grams all-purpose flour (I used 250 grams of all purpose and 250 grams of bread flour)
10 grams kosher salt
5 grams yeast
5 grams sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
347 grams water, at room temp
Tomatoes, whole and roasted, or a can of whole tomatoes that have been peeled.
a pinch of salt
2-3 cloves of garlic
red pepper flakes
a splash of balsamic vinegar
To make your sauce: I’m not super fussy here. You can always add more spices or whatever flavors you like. This is very basic. Put all ingredients into a bowl and blend with an immersion blender, or put everything in a blender/food processor and blend from there. Voila!
For the crust: Whisk together flour, salt, yeast and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer (you’ll need to do all this by hand without one) Add water and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix just until it comes together, then turn mixer to medium and let it do its thing for about 5-6 minutes. You should have a smooth, slightly sticky dough.
Pour the rest of the olive oil onto a 13 by 18 inch baking sheet, and spread the dough as far out as you can over the surface of the baking sheet. Let it rise in a warm, draft free place for about 2 hours. (I put mine in the oven, with the light on) It should rise to about the top rim of your baking pan.
About 30 minutes before baking , preheat your oven to 550 degree F. Don’t forget to remove your crust if its resting in there! (been there.) Use oiled hands and push your crust to the edges of the pan, being gentle and trying not to destroy the air bubbles. Add your desired toppings: I added diced red onion, pepperonis, red pepper flakes mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes, but see note above, until crust is nicely browned.
Let it cool and enjoy!