To say that Mama ate a lot of pizza when she was pregnant with me would be an understatement. She tells me that one week, she ate it four times. That was when Papa told her, “I’ll be glad to get you a pizza tonight, but I just can’t eat it again.” Even without the pregnancy excuse, Mama continues to eat pizza at least once a week.
So shame on her for keeping it from me for as long as she did! While some people choose to believe pizza’s actually sort of good for you (wheat in the crust, tomatoes in the sauce, dairy in the cheese, and all those other veggies you choose to put on top), Mama’s more on the fence about it. At least as far as it concerns me, pizza is a junk food. But as I grew up, I began to notice this interesting food she and Papa were putting into their mouths. It smells delicious, it’s shaped like a triangle (that’s a shape I know!), and it’s covered in cheese. Little by little, Mama relented. She started by giving me the tiniest pieces cut from a slice…
Little did she know what kind of floodgates she was opening. I can now eat a (small) slice all by myself. Her favorite (and I suppose mine, too) has tomatoes and pineapple on it. Sometimes olives or mushrooms, too, but I’m not always keen on them. I never get to eat Papa’s slices, though. Mama says pepperoni is definitely not good for babies.
So Mama finally showed me how to make a pizza so that I didn’t think they all come in a box (no matter how fun those boxes are to play with). She said dough seems scarier than it is because of the yeast. (It must be worse than the furnace kicking on to be that scary.) I thought it would be more fun, but after it was mixed, the dough just sat in the mixing bowl, hiding under a towel all afternoon. That thing slept longer than I do! Mama turned on the oven and put her big heavy pizza stone on the bottom to get it good and hot (this is a word I’m learning).
Mama said it’s important to have all your ingredients ready before you get your dough out because things move quickly then. When she removed the towel from the mixing bowl, I was shocked to see that the dough had grown! She called it “proofed,” but it looked like a big puffy pillow to me. She pulled it out and started smacking it around. “This is the best part,” she said and she let me touch it too. It was kind of warm and oh-so-soft. She pulled the stone from the oven, set it on the stove, and then dusted it with cornmeal. (She noted semolina would also work fine, but we just happened to have cornmeal.)
Then she started flinging the dough between her hands! Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The dough started stretching and sagging, and before I could say “Chicago style,” she flopped it onto the stone with a thwack. She patted it a few times to make a ridge around the edge, then she brushed the edge with olive oil and sprinkled it with garlic powder. She spooned lots of sauce around the middle, put our favorite toppings on it, then smothered it with mozzarella and parmesan. I couldn’t even see the pineapple there was so much cheese.
It only took about 10 minutes to bake, but we had to wait a long time before it was cool enough to eat. Something about a burning palate. All I know is I’ll take pizza any way I can get it.
2½–2¾ cups bread flour (mix in some whole wheat flour, if desired, but use 2¾ cups total)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Scant tablespoon baking (active dry) yeast
1 cup warm water (ideally 105°–110°, but Mama says it just needs to be hot enough that it feels hot but that you don’t scald your finger)
Semolina or cornmeal
Pizza sauce, cheese, & toppings
Put the flour, salt, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Separately, mix the yeast and water with a whisk until foamy. (Be sure you dissolve all the yeast.) Add to the mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook about 4 minutes, then on the next speed up for another 4 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky. Remove the hook and cover the bowl with a towel. Let it sit for 3–4 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size (if you put it on your stove, the pilot light will make this process go a little faster). Pull it out of the bowl and give it a few kneads before shaping it.
Preheat oven to 500°. If you don’t have a pizza stone, liberally grease a cookie sheet before putting down the dough (otherwise, dust the stone). Spread out the dough, brush the edges with olive oil (optional), and top with desired sauce, cheese, and toppings. Mama says you can jazz up any store-bought sauce by sautéing some chopped onions and garlic and adding in a few fresh herbs. Bake for 10 minutes and enjoy. But watch you don’t burn your palate.