Homemade Pizza Delivers Making them faster and better yourself is easy as pie

March 17, 1993|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,Knight-Ridder News Service

Hold the phone.

In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered, you could make an even better one yourself. And you don't have to settle for pepperoni.

In about 30 minutes, you can make and bake a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza layered with a creamy spinach filling, sausage, sauce and cheese.

If you have 25 minutes to spare, you can make a spicy Cajun chicken pizza so gorgeous you'll be tempted to knock on doors and show it to the neighbors.

In 23 minutes, you can make a Mexican pizza with seasoned ground beef, salsa, globs of sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, garnished with a pinwheel of ripe avocado slices.

Smoked salmon and brie pizza, for the Chablis crowd, takes just 19 minutes.

A fabulous four-cheese pizza: 17 minutes. And if you must have pepperoni, a basic pie can be yours in just 15 minutes.

When I set out to match pizza shops' promise of 30-minute delivery, I knew I could make a pizza fast. But I didn't know whether it would be good.

These pizzas are great, thanks to Eugene De Christopher and lessons learned in a two-day testing session.

Mr. De Christopher is the guy who dreamed up Boboli Italian Bread Shells, ready-made pizza crusts. He began selling them to restaurants in 1983. Five years later, Kraft bought him out, and by 1992 the shells were available in supermarkets nationwide.

A 12-inch crust costs about $3.30, but if you can afford it and like thick-crusted pizza, you can't do much better. You may be able to find a store brand that's as good, but I didn't. At about 80 cents a crust, though, the store brands are bargains.

The gourmet flatbreads I tried weren't as good as Boboli (say "BO-buh-lee"), either, although they cost about the same.

Thin-crust fans will have to buy doughs in tubes, such as Pillsbury All-Ready Pizza Crust. A tube produces one 12-inch crust and costs $1.30 to $1.60, depending on brand. The dough also can be used to make deep-dish pizza.

In experimenting with cheeses, I found that a mixture of mozzarella and Parmesan is much better than mozzarella alone, unless the mozzarella is an integral part of a specialty pizza such as our deep-dish pizza.

For a 12-inch pizza, 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella and a half-cup of Parmesan will provide a generous, molten topping.

Surprisingly, I didn't find much difference in price between packaged, shredded mozzarella and mozzarella sold in chunks. The chunk was only about 25 cents per pound lower in price. However, the chunk still is a much better value, because hand-grating produces a much greater volume of cheese.

The proof is that a 12-ounce package of pre-shredded cheese made about 1 1/2 pizzas in my tests. After making four pizzas with the 1-pound chunk, I still had about a fourth of the chunk left. You use less cheese per pizza when it's hand-grated, because the cheese spreads more evenly. In tasting, the difference isn't noticeable.

Hand-grating a cup or two of mozzarella takes just a half-minute or so with a sturdy, square-sided grater. Use the side with the largest holes.

Hand-grating Parmesan is more time-consuming, so I used store-grated Parmesan instead. Those who own mini-food processors can grate Parmesan in a wink by cutting the cheese into nuggets and whirling in the processor. Fresh-grated is best. Avoid commercial, shaker-container Parmesan, which has practically no flavor.

The adventuresome may want to add even a third cheese to the mozzarella-Parmesan mix. Live it up with fontina, a creamy, nutty-tasting cheese that melts beautifully. Or substitute a half-cup of Jarlsberg, a mellow Swiss, for half-cup of mozzarella.

You've got lots of choices in cheese, but not much choice of sauce. Two of three commercial ones I tasted were pitiful. They were obnoxiously salty, with a flavor suspiciously similar to the companies' spaghetti sauces. I finally settled on Progresso, a fresh-tasting but bland canned sauce that I jazzed up with oregano and fennel seeds.

Most of our pizzas, though, contain no pizza sauce. The Mexican pizza is napped with chunky salsa, the Cajun chicken pizza is dotted with bright bits of plum tomatoes and the four-cheese pizza has no sauce at all.

The four-cheese pizza has a bare slick of olive oil (to help the cheeses stick), mounds of cheese and a grind of black pepper. Anything more would be overkill. The pizza is voluptuously rich, with the blue cheese adding a faint tang to the melted puddles of fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Two last tips: Use a plastic sandwich bag to spread olive oil over the crusts; and allow the pizzas to rest for a few minutes before cutting, so that the cheese doesn't slide away.

After you spend 20 minutes or so making one of these pizzas, you may forget the pizza shop's phone number altogether.

Four-cheese pizza

1 12-inch pizza shell

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup each grated mozzarella, fontina and Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

salt, fresh-ground pepper

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