Pizza is one of those foods that many people will say is good even when it’s bad. Is there anything better than bread or cheese topped with rich, salty meats and crunchy vegetables?
It’s so popular that you can get one delivered just about anywhere you are, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Corporate pizza chains rely on frozen, bread like dough, canned sauce and processed cheeses to turn a profit, leaving the end result something less than desirable.
Luckily, it’s easy to make your own, piping hot, delicious pizza that’s better than anything you’ll get delivered. Read on for tips on what will make your pizza standout, as well as a few shortcuts that will still net you decent results if you’re not quite ready to go all out.
It’s All About the Dough
The dough of your pizza can make or break your pie. A good dough can be made out of four simple ingredients: Flour, salt, yeast, and water. Olive oil or honey can be added, it’s not added ingredients that give good pizza dough the chewy texture and yeasty flavor you love. It’s the right flour and refrigeration.
When you make your own pizza dough, use bread flour instead of all-purpose. It’s high protein count gives your crust the chewiness you’re looking for. Mix it, let it rise, and then put in the fridge overnight. You’ll be amazed at the difference in flavor a cold rise does to your dough. You’ll need to prepare in advance, but it’s worth it!
Make Your Sauce
Canned and jarred sauces are made using low quality ingredients, and have added sugar and preservatives that affect the flavor. Making your own sauce is as easy as opening a can of whole tomatoes (use the San Marzano variety if you can find them) and simmering it on the stove with some butter and a piece of onion. Simmer until the tomatoes break down, remove the onion and puree if you want a smooth sauce. It’s easy, and makes a huge difference.
Toppings Matter Too
No matter what you like on your pizza, whatever you put on it should be the best quality. Fresh mozzarella and other high quality cheese, the best cured meats, and fresh vegetables are definitely best. You can even use leftovers for toppings.
Don’t overload your pizza with toppings, even cheese. Doing so will make your crust soggy instead of crisp, and take away from the amazing flavor you waited 24 hours for.
Get a Pizza Stone
A pizza stone is an inexpensive tool that mimics what a brick oven does in the best pizza kitchens. It gets your crust super hot, which gives it that crisp texture and charred flavor. You bake the pizza directly on the stone instead of a baking sheet for an authentic taste without spending a fortune. If you like to bake bread, a pizza stone is a great way to get a delicious, crisp crust as well.
Put the pizza stone in the oven when you preheat it so that it gets nice and hot.
Get Your Oven as Hot as You Can
Most home ovens will only go as high as 500-550 degrees. Set yours to the highest temperature it will go to and make sure it’s reached the temperature before you put your pizza in it. Depending on the thickness of your crust, you should only need to cook it for a few minutes so don’t walk away thinking you’ve got time to spare, pay attention.
Maybe you don’t want to make your own dough or sauce, but you still want a good pizza, and that’s okay. There are some shortcuts you can take, and while the results may not be exactly the same, you’ll still get something better than a frozen pizza.
Visit Your Local Pizza Joint
If you have a small, local pizza shop that makes their own dough, head in to see if they’ll sell you some. Most will be happy to sell you a pound or two for a couple dollars and then you can use this to make your own. They probably make enough for several days and keep it in the cooler, so it’s probably ready to go.
Just make sure they make their dough out of the ingredients listed above. If they add preservatives or get the dough from somewhere else, you’re wasting your time. And, whatever you do, don’t go into a pizza chain and ask for dough; that’s what you’re trying to avoid, remember?
Use Canned Tomatoes… or No Sauce at All
You don’t have to make your own sauce; in fact you don’t have to add any sauce at all. Get some canned diced tomatoes and mash them in a bowl with some olive oil and oregano. Let them sit for 10 minutes or so, and then you can use them for a delicious sauce.
You can also skip the sauce and brush your pizza dough with olive oil before baking. Or use pesto, or pureed roasted red peppers.
Check Out the Salad or Olive Bar at Your Local Grocery Store
If you like a lot of toppings on your pizza, you may think you need to buy jars of olives and banana peppers, or one of every vegetable in the product department and chop it. This isn’t the case.
If your grocery store has a salad bar, stop there and get a little bit of whatever it is you want. Sliced onions, peppers, or mushrooms are chopped and ready to go, and if you want a little blue cheese, you can get it without buying a whole hunk that you then have to figure out what to do with.
An olive bar is an even more creative way to get good quality toppings. In addition to olives, you can usually find flavorful ingredients like marinated mushrooms, artichokes, roasted garlic, and various peppers. You can buy as many or as few as you like, allowing you to truly customize your pizza to your liking.
Baking Sheets Can Make a Decent Substitute for a Pizza Stone
If you don’t have a pizza stone, a heavy baking pan can mimic the effect. Simply turn it upside down and put it in the oven when you turn it on. Then put your pizza on it the same way you would a pizza stone and bake. It may not be exactly the same, but it will be pretty close. Don’t try this with a flimsy cookie sheet, however.
Use Your Grill
If your oven doesn’t get hot enough, or you simply don’t want to turn it up that high in the summer months, your gas grill can make an excellent pizza oven. You can put your stone on it, turn it up as high as it will go (many get hotter than inside ovens) and let it preheat. Bake your pizza, making sure to check on it in a few minutes so it doesn’t burn.
Making a pizza from scratch may seem intimidating, but in reality, it’s pretty simple and doesn’t require any expensive ingredients. While you may still rely on delivery to feed a crowd, once you try making your own, you may just discover a new Friday night ritual. It’s a little more effort than picking up the phone, but the taste, as well as the satisfaction of making something yourself makes it worth the trouble.