- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Home-baked, fresh-tasting pizza is a treat that busy cooks may rule out on weeknights, thinking preparation is too time-consuming, but shortcuts help, and two recipes on this page are 30-minute wonders that can happily solve mealtime crunches for hungry families.

You can prepare for a pizza rush by keeping a “pizza pantry,” a collection of ingredients that can help make a tasty pizza on short notice.

Here are some tips:

Use packaged, frozen bread dough from your supermarket’s frozen-food section or refrigerated pizza dough from the case with the cans of biscuits. Thaw frozen bread dough completely before use by leaving it in the refrigerator for 10 to 24 hours, then stretch the dough to fit a lightly greased pizza pan (usually 12 inches) or cookie sheet. Carefully follow the directions on the package for baking.

The directions for both frozen bread dough and refrigerated pizza dough usually specify baking the dough first for several minutes (while you prepare the toppings), then topping it with sauce, cheese and other ingredients. Finally, return the pizza to the oven until it is brown and bubbly.

An even-faster option is to use a pre-baked pizza crust, available at your local supermarket. With this, just top, heat and serve.

Items for your pizza pantry can include:

• Varied cheeses: mozzarella, feta, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss and ricotta, also spiced and flavored styles of cheddar and Jack. You don’t need to weigh cheese if you remember that 4 ounces of cheese equals 1 cup of shredded cheese. (An ounce equals 1/4 cup shredded.)

• Sauces and spreads: pizza sauce, Alfredo sauce, pesto sauce, olive tapenade, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing. Note: Prepared spaghetti sauce makes a tasty substitute for pizza sauce.

• Vegetables and fruit: fresh or canned tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, corn, green chilies, jalapenos, bell peppers, sliced pineapple.

• Meat and seafood: Cooked chicken, roast beef, shrimp, bacon, sausage. Also, pepperoni, salami, ham and Canadian bacon. Leftovers can be great for topping pizza. Chop or slice leftover chicken, turkey, roast beef or pork. (You can freeze leftovers and then quickly thaw them in the microwave while preparing the crust.)

A bread pizza can make a tasty and quick alternative. Here’s how: Slice a round loaf of French bread in half across the middle to create a round no more than an inch high. Top with your favorite ingredients and put under the broiler (on a baking sheet) until the cheese melts.

Here are two California-style pizzas to make in 30 minutes, each with a couple of variations.

Golden Gate pizza

1 12- to 14-inch pizza crust

1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded

½ pound fresh mozzarella (water packed), in 1/4-inch slices

½ cup prepared pizza sauce

1 cup (4 ounces) Italian salami, thinly sliced into rounds or strips

1 cup (4 ounces) pepperoni, thinly sliced into rounds or strips

1 cup (4 ounces) Italian sausage

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread the pizza sauce on partially baked crust. Sprinkle cheddar evenly over the sauce. Arrange salami, sausage and pepperoni evenly over cheddar. Top pizza with mozzarella slices. Bake about 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the crust is crisp and golden.

VARIATIONS

North Beach: Use a round or oblong loaf of sourdough bread for your crust. Cut off the top of the loaf, leaving the bottom about 1 inch high. Substitute shredded Monterey Jack for cheddar. Sprinkle Jack on bottom of the bread crust, and add sauce, meats and mozzarella slices.

Spicy cable car: This pizza is for sausage lovers. In place of the salami and pepperoni, substitute 2½ cups precooked hot Italian sausage, thinly sliced. Top with cheddar and mozzarella.

For the following pizza, use either fresh or frozen spinach, but if you use frozen, be sure to thaw it and thoroughly squeeze out excess water.

Pizza pesto verde

1 12- or 14-inch pizza crust

2 cups (8 ounces) mozzarella, shredded

1 cup (4 ounces) feta, crumbled

1 cup prepared pesto sauce

1 cup spinach, chopped

1 cup canned tomatoes, diced and drained

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread pesto sauce on partially baked crust, and top it with chopped spinach. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over sauce, then top with tomatoes and feta. Bake about 15 minutes, or until the mozzarella is melted and the crust is crisp and golden.

VARIATIONS

Chicken pesto: For a heartier version, replace the spinach with 1 cup cooked chicken (shredded or cubed). Continue with cheeses and tomatoes.

Chicken-mushroom pesto: Mushrooms make it even heartier. Replace the spinach with 1 cup cooked chicken (shredded or cubed) and 1 cup canned mushrooms (sliced and drained). Continue with cheeses and tomatoes.

These recipes and others are available in a new brochure, “30 Pizzas in 30 Minutes,” which may be downloaded from the www.realcaliforniacheese.com or ordered by mail from the California Milk Advisory Board, Brochure Offer 25131, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite D, Modesto, CA 95358.

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