Actually, I am the last person who should write about pizza. It’s not that I don’t have specialized knowledge, passion or experience. I have made pizza, thin and thick, by hand and by machine. I have taught pizza making classes. I’ve owned and operated a pizza delivery business. The reason that I shouldn’t write about pizza is because I’ve never found a pizza that I didn’t love. My life is a pizza version of “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.”
I love the thin pizza of Vito and Nick’s. I love the thick pizza at UNO and DUE. I love Lou Malnati’s, Marie’s, Lucky Vito’s, and Giordano’s. I love the greasy Connie’s pizza. I love Home Run Inn, Jack’s pizza and Tombstone pizza (all frozen). I love the slices at Costco just as much as the slices at Bacci or Damenzo are on Taylor Street. I love pizza bagels, pizza on pita, pizza on tortillas, French bread pizza, tomato bread, and focaccia. I love all combinations of tomatoes, oil and cheese. I love bruschetta. I love pizza puffs.
You see, I’m hopeless. I can’t really pick a favorite kind; I’m getting slap happy thinking about all the pizza I have enjoyed. The best pizza is the one that I have in front of me. A big part of the problem is that I live in Chicago. We Chicagoans are blessed to the point of confusion. Every neighborhood has a gem of a place and they are all a little different and they are all really good.
This is the recipe that I use at home when I am not eating frozen pizza, or delivery pizza.
It makes one thin crispy pizza the size of a cookie sheet or a flat baking pan. It can also make a thick pizza in a round cake pan. And, of course, they are equally good, fresh from the oven.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 packet dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
2 ½ cups flour
Pre heat your oven to 450 degrees. Oil your pan or baking sheet.
You must understand yeast to make any kind of dough. Treat your yeast as if you were making a bottle for a baby. Warm and sweet is good for a baby. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die. Too much salt will retard the growth of the yeast. Dissolve the yeast packet in the warm water and sugar. Let the mixture sit in the warm bowl for a few minutes until it starts to bubble and grow. Then add in the oil and salt. Stir until mixed and then add in flour. Knead flour until it is a smooth ball. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm place away from any breeze. You’ve got to keep the baby warm. If it cools off it won’t rise.
When the dough doubles in size, punch it down, knead it a little and roll it out on a floured board until it is the thickness and shape that you desire. You can’t over handle yeast dough. If it doesn’t turn out right the first time, let it rise again (in a warm place) and start over. Just like the baby it loves attention.
I could write on and on for the rest of my life about the kinds of sauce and toppings that you might put on your pizza. However, I will trust your judgment and creativity. The only words of caution that I have are “Not too much sauce on a thin pizza. If you love lots of sauce, make a thick crust pizza.
I can’t tell you exactly how long to cook your pizza because I don’t know if it’s thin or thick, or what toppings you put on it. I would put the pizza on the lowest shelf so that the crust gets to cook before the cheese gets too brown. Generally, a thin, lightly sauced pizza will take 12-15 minutes in a 450 degree oven. If you are making a thick pizza, turn the oven down to 375 and let it cook about 25 minutes.