Tuesday, November 2, 2004

So you have a few children hanging out at your house on a weekend and someone suggests you call for pizza, but after doing this about 6,000 times, it gets kind of old and becomes just another passive activity.

The pizza will arrive, the children will hoover it down in minutes, and then they’ll resume video games. Let’s break that pattern and make a do-it-yourself pizza party. It might be the beginning of something wonderful.

One of the most satisfying things in the world is to discover that you can make good food with your own two hands. Not only is the result delicious and very personal, but it’s also a great way to hang out and visit with other people.

With homemade pizza, you can customize the toppings to your heart’s content without paying 85 cents or more a pop. To have a pizza party, simply buy and prepare a huge assortment of toppings and let each person create something that’s never been seen in the history of humankind.

You can buy pizza dough in the refrigerator section of a grocery store, no problem, but it is much more fun and satisfying to bake with homemade dough. It’s not difficult, and if you follow this extremely user-friendly food processor method, dough-making can even become part of the evening’s entertainment.

This is a no-knead recipe that takes only 1 hour to rise. From start to finish, the process takes barely an hour. And you can freeze the dough and many of the fixings in advance, cutting the final preparation time to less than 20 minutes, including baking.

Other tips:

• Freeze tomato puree in 1-cup units and defrost as needed, one unit per pizza.

• Grate a large batch of pizza cheeses and spread on a tray. Freeze until solid (about 30 minutes), then transfer to a plastic bag, seal, label and return to the freezer. Use as needed. There’s no need to defrost.

• Slice or mince fresh garlic. Figure out how much you like on each pizza and wrap that amount in a little package of plastic wrap. Attach the package with a rubber band to the container of frozen dough so you’ll be able to find it.

For toppings, select from these ideas: thinly sliced fresh tomatoes; minced or sliced garlic; grated hard cheeses; crumbled soft cheeses; crushed red pepper; aromatic herbs; thin rings of fresh bell pepper; sliced mushrooms; pesto; artichoke hearts, cut into small pieces; leftover broiled, grilled or steamed vegetables; sliced olives; anything else you desire.

Here’s my favorite dough recipe.

Food-processor pizza dough

11/4 teaspoon ( package) active dry yeast

23/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing the container and brushing on the dough


Sprinkle yeast into 1 cup lukewarm water in a liquid measuring cup with a spout. Let stand 5 minutes. Combine flour and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse a few times.

Add olive oil to the yeast mixture, then turn on the food processor. Let it run while you quickly pour in the contents of the liquid measuring cup in one swift move. In about 15 seconds the dough will come together.

Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with a little flour, and spread it around. Turn out the dough and push it together briefly until it adheres in a uniform ball.

Lightly oil a medium-size bowl, and add the dough to the bowl. Roll it around in the oil, then turn it over, oil-side-up.

Place a clean towel over the dough, and put the bowl in a warm place for one hour, so the dough can rise. When it has doubled in bulk, punch it down. (At this point, the dough is ready to be made into pizza or refrigerated or frozen in a sealed plastic bag for later use.)

To bake pizza, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle 2 baking sheets with cornmeal.

Pull or cut the risen dough in half and stretch each piece into a thin circle, about 10 inches in diameter, with thick edges. Brush lightly with olive oil and then bake in the center of the oven for 5 minutes.

Take pizza from the oven and load it with toppings. Return to the oven for a second bake until the dough is brown around the edges and the cheese melted and the toppings heated through. Serve immediately. Makes 2 to 4 servings.


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