Making pizza at home allows creativity to top crust

April 16, 2000|By Rob Kasper

An advantage of making your own pizza is the crust. It is thinner, crisper, and immensely more flavorful than the store-bought variety.

A drawback of making your pizza is the fight among family members as to what goes on top of the crust.

Last Sunday night, for instance, the predinner dialogue between me and my 15-year-old son and went something like this:

Dad: You want olives on the pizza? Kid: No.

Dad: How about peppers? Kid: No.

Dad: How do you feel about roasted onions? Kid: No thanks.

After several minutes of dancing the pizza-topping tango, I gave up. Instead of searching for a mutually-agreeable topping, I went for the multiple pizza route. Sausage and mozzarella were on the kid's pizza; onions, olives, chopped peppers and Parmesan were on mine. The kid's pizza ended up tasting better than mine, at least during the initial round of pizzas.

When you make your own pizza, you often don't limit yourself to just one. That is another plus. Since homemade pizzas are smaller than the oval store-bought types -- one of my thin pizzas usually is about as tall and wide as a sheet of paper from a legal pad -- it is common that at our house, two, three or even four homemade pizzas are consumed during dinner.

So the other night while the kid's sausage and mozzarella topping was baking in the oven -- 450 degrees on a pizza stone, for 12-15 minutes -- I rolled out dough for my pizza.

Making the dough is the time-consuming part of making your own pizza. The recipe I used came from an old Alice Waters cookbook -- those former California flower children can sure cook -- and called for three hours of dough vigilance. First, I had to make a sponge with the yeast, then add more flour and let the dough rise for two hours. Next, I punched the dough down, and waited 40 more minutes before rolling the dough out into thin, sheets, ready for toppings.

Usually I don't stay in one place for this length of time. But since it was Sunday afternoon, and since there were three straight National Basketball Association games on television, I was content to make pizza dough and watch pro hoops. This put me decidedly out of the mainstream of American life. According to those pesky demographers who track trends, virtually nobody is watching televised NBA games and almost nobody wants to spend three hours in the kitchen. Yet as I stood in my kitchen making dough and watching my favorite NBA players -- Utah's Greg Ostertag, a wide-body type that we pizza eaters appreciate -- it felt good to be a demographic nobody.

The payoff came late in the day, during the third TV game between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, and the second round of pizzas.

The mozzarella and sausage topping on the kid's second pizza still displayed fine form. But I made a slight adjustment on the topping of my second pizza -- I pureed the peppers. That move, in my mind, is what ended up giving me the title of best pizza topping of the day.

I pulled the pureed pepper trick from Mark Bittman's new book, "The Minimalist Cooks at Home" (Broadway Books). I roasted two red peppers in a 500 degree oven for 40 minutes, then skinned them, seeded them and pureed them in a food processor with a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. The resulting red stuff made a terrific pizza sauce. It comes to me just in time for NBA playoffs, which start next Sunday.

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