Cookin' Pie With s.e.: Pizza

People have strong feelings about pizza. I know.

Feb 14, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

Last weekend turned out to be excellent for making pizza, so pizza I made, partially because I had a request from a reader1, and partially because, I mean, really. Pizza.

I adore pizza for its delightful flexibility. Once you have dough -- and again, you can buy from the store, no judgments -- you can turn it into pizzas of any size, or calzones, or you can freeze the dough and deal with it later. Or you can roll out and prebake discs which you can then freeze to make pizza at some point in the future.

One of my favorite things to do with pizza is a personal pizza party, where everyone gets their own dough round and gets to dress it with whatever the heck they want. This eliminates battles over toppings and allows people to get creative. Or be boring. Whatever. Plus, I like to encourage people to participate in the food production part of the party.

And you can really put anything you want on/in your pizza. I happened to be hanging out with my pal Gowan, who is a farmer with a kale surplus, and hence we made kale pizza, with a few surprises, as you shall see shortly. But seriously, the sky is the limit on pizza toppings. My only word of advice is that less is more, because you actually want to be able to taste the topping.

But you totally don’t need to listen to me. If you want to make a Leaning Tower of Pisa2, go for it.

So, let’s talk about pizza

People have strong feelings about pizza. I know. You have your thin crust devotees and your hardcore thick crust advocates. Stuffed crusters are out there as well. Pizza purists and pizza hipsters. Ultimately, the dough recipe I am about to give you is super basic, and can be used to meet all pizza needs; you can work it thin or thick, fill the crust, and use it to make breadsticks and focaccia, if you feel so inclined.

If you haven’t made bread before, it can be intimidating, because, YEAST! It’s alive! Kneading! Rising! Some other stuff! ACK! But really, it’s not as scary as it sounds, and pizza crust is actually a great way to start with breadmaking activities.

Tools and equipment

  • A big mixing bowl
  • A whisk
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • A surface for kneading: Be advised, frequent kneading can rip off veneers/finishes over time (as in, if you’re making bread at least once a week). Marble is an AWESOME breadmaking and pastryworking surface, but I realize that’s not practical for everyone.
  • A big spoon
  • A spatula (this is really useful for scraping the kneading surface during the cleaning phase, and is entirely optional)
  • Plastic wrap or a cutesy little bread towel


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Ingredients

  • 1 package (usually a little over two tablespoons) of active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (I like to check it on the inside of my wrist, it should feel close to blood temp, for all you vampires out there)
  • Around 4 cups of flour (more about this in a minute), plus more for kneading
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (this is not required, but can help the yeast develop)


Start by proofing your yeast; dump it into a bowl with the water and let it sit for around five to 10 minutes. The yeast should dissolve and form a little cloud in the water. This means it is in fact active and ready to roll. If nothing happens after 10 minutes, toss it.

Then add about a cup of flour along with the salt and sugar. Whisk vigorously. Add another cup of flour, whisk to incorporate, and then the olive oil. You don’t have to do it precisely this way, but I find that the olive oil tends to slop everywhere if you add it right at the start. Keep adding flour, and switch to the mixing spoon, until the dough pulls together in a mass. It usually takes me close to four cups, and sometimes a little more.

Spread some flour on your kneading surface, turn the dough out, and let it rest for a minute. I like to wash my dishes while it rests because I am fussy about cleanup. Then, get kneading. Work the dough with well-floured hands and add flour if it keeps sticking. I compare kneading to wedging clay; if you haven’t done either activity, basically you want to keep folding and pushing the dough in on itself. It should start to look smooth, without cracks or seams. It will feel very silky.

Sometimes I periodically viciously slam the dough against the counter to work out some aggression.

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You’re probably going to need about 10 minutes of kneading. The dough should feel super smooth, not sticky, and when you poke it, it will spring back at you. Plop your dough into a bowl with some olive oil at the bottom and roll it around in there until it is completely coated. Then cover with the plastic wrap or a dampened towel and stick in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this can take anywhere from one to one and a half hours.

Room temp can be fine, but if your house is a little cold, stick the dough inside the oven after briefly running it at a low temp, like 150°. You don’t want to cook the dough, but it really does like to be warm. Sometimes I stash mine next to the heater, when I am running it. In summer, temperature isn’t usually an issue.

After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down (this is always fun) and then split it in two (for two medium pizzas), make two balls, and cover them with towels or plastic to rest for 15 minutes. While that’s happening, you can start preheating the oven (475°) and prepping ingredients.

Some people use a pizza stone, in which case you will want to preheat that for at least 20 minutes. Pizza stones are awesome, but they are also expensive. If you don’t have one, you can use a cookie sheet. Which I do. Becauase I do not have a pizza stone.

Take your rested dough and work it into a round on a lightly floured surface. You don’t really need to toss it in the air. Unless you want to, in which case, go for it. Brush the rounds with olive oil and dimple with your fingers before allowing them to rest for another 10 minutes, and then top them and bake them for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough and ingredients.

Gowan and s.e.’s Kale Pizza (with thanks to the Noyo Food Forest for the kale)

For our kale pizza, we used a base of roasted yams3 instead of sauce, because that is how we roll. I sliced those puppies thin, drizzled on olive oil and chopped herbs from the garden, and plopped them in the oven at 450° for about 20 minutes. I turned them halfway through to make sure they were well cooked.

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I also sauted some onions. I didn’t actually caramelize them because true caramelizing is a pain in the ass and I am impatient, but I pushed them around in a cast iron pan with some olive oil until they started to turn translucent.

I set everything aside to cool while we chopped the kale; I like to bunch the leaves in one fist and chop with the other hand so you end up with kale ribbons. Next step is tossing the ribbons with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil.

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Then we layered the yam rounds on the dough, followed with the kale and onions, and then topped with crumbled goat cheese.

Baked. Verdict? Delicious!

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1. Yes, I take reader requests. Even for things I don’t know how to make, in which case the results will probably be hilarious. Return

2. See what I did there? Return

3. Fun fact about yams: What we call yams in the US are not actually yams. They are sweet potatoes. Return