I love custom-made pizzas and I love my friend Elizabeth. I especially love it when the two are in the same room.
I owe a lot to Elizabeth, including a recipe for made-from-scratch pizza that I’ve been playing with.
But first, I just have to say a word or two about her. Elizabeth gave me work when I needed it badly. She is the Mac maven and solves my computer mysteries. She shares delicious recipes, including her family’s top-secret French dressing (I am honor-bound never to put this delicious, tomato-based sauce/marinade in a cookbook or share it with anyone else!). She lets me come hang out in her cozy apartment when I need respite from my crazy-busy life. She introduces me to great movies (the other night, she could not WAIT to turn me on to a newish British TV series based on the Sherlock Holmes novels; delicious!, you must Netflix it). We have riotous fun playing Song Burst and Trivial Pursuit (even if she is scarily smart and pretty much always beats me).
Bottom line: She loves her friends just the way they are, and when you find someone like that, hang on to them!
Elizabeth enjoys pizza, but we both find commercial pizzas too large and too expensive. And, like me, she prefers to create her own toppings. I absolutely loath stewed-to-death red sauce and tasteless cheese! The answer is to make your own; Elizabeth’s recipe is a lot simpler and less fussy than those you find in hardcore “artisanal” baking books. (If you just aren’t willing to do this, be aware that Safeway now carries plastic bags full of puffy, bubbly fresh pizza dough, ready made, for just a few bucks.)
Through trial and error, we’ve learned that the best approach is to prebake these personal-size pizzas just until golden, puffy and set. Then you can top the pizza and bake it to finish. (If you top the raw dough, you’ll have to overcook the topping to be sure the dough is fully baked.)
The other morning, I made a pizza for my morning “elevenses” and—wouldn’t you know it?—left it at home when I took off in a rush for work.
Pizza alla Bricks (Bricks is Elizabeth’s nickname; it’s a long story)
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast (NOT instant)
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Scant 1 cup hot-from-the-tap water
2-3 teaspoons olive oil, and a bit more for shaping
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade, mix together flour and salt. In a cup, mix together yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup hot water and allow to “bloom” (2 minutes). Drizzle yeast mixture and olive oil into food processor; process, gradually adding remaining water, until a ball forms, then 2-3 minutes longer. Oil a large mixing bowl, place dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk (or place in oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in refrigerator overnight).
Punch down. Divide into three even pieces and, with oiled hands, form into balls. Package the balls individually in plastic wrap or a zippered plastic bag and refrigerate or freeze them for later use (defrost in refrigerator, still wrapped). Or shape the dough (below), prebake it; cool and refrigerate the prebaked rounds.
To shape: On a lightly floured board, with oiled hands, spread and push a ball of dough into a flat circle. (Elizabeth uses a rolling pin; I like to hand-shape them in rustic style.) Preheat a pizza stone or baking sheet at 450-500 degrees for 15 minutes or so. Drizzle with cornmeal. To transfer, place round of dough on pizza peel or sheet of cardboard sprinkled with cornmeal. Drizzle or brush lightly with olive oil, if desired. Push round onto hot stone or baking sheet. Bake at 450-400 degrees 7-10 minutes.
Remove dough; cool and refrigerate or cover with topping and complete baking for a few minutes—enough to melt cheese and heat the ingredients through.
Elizabeth and I often have dinner with another friend, Annett, who introduced us to tuna-and-onion pizza (drained, canned tuna; thin-sliced onion crescents; sliced mozzarella or other cheese). I love white pizza so I made a version with bechamel and mozzarella.
White veggie/tuna pizza: Make a thin white sauce (1 tablespoon each butter and flour, 1 cup of room-temperature milk or stock). Add 1 can drained tuna and half a bunch baby spinach. Stir in sliced mushrooms, if desired. Spread on prebaked pizza. Scatter grated mozzarella or jack cheese over. Bake at 450-500 degrees about 5 minutes.
But my favorite is simple olive oil, chopped fresh basil, sliced tomatoes and mounds of soft goat cheese. Or arrange marinated artichokes on top, pour some marinade over, then dot with tomatoes and goat cheese.