Who doesn’t love pizza? Delicious crust, topped with savory sauce and your favorite toppings. Really, what could be better? I think we all wish we could make pizza at home whenever that craving strikes. Equally true, many of us are intimidated by making pizza dough and the complexity of getting the toppings right, having a hot enough oven to cook it right, etc. There are actually several tips to making pizza at home that make it entirely possible to make pizza whenever you fancy it.
Some folks have gone the extra mile to install a specialty pizza oven, whether wood-burning or gas powered. And there are many that will set you back a ton of money. But there are some less expensive, more expedient methods, too.
But the simplest and most accessible is to use a pizza stone in your oven at home or, even better, on your gas or charcoal grill. Yep, you can use the pizza stone on the grill!
If you are using a pizza stone with your oven, set the oven on bake at the highest temperature your oven can go. Put the pizza stone in the oven on a middle rack and let pre-heat for 30-45 minutes. Turn the broiler on, and let the pizza stone heat under the broiler for about 10 minutes, then revert to the bake setting…this will help heat the stone better, and you’re then ready to make and cook your pizza. If using a pizza stone on the grill, you’ll want to have the center burner (over which you put the pizza stone) on medium-high, and the outer burners on high. Again, preheat the stone for about 30-45 minutes. Your grill kettle should be 450-500 degrees, and pizza cooks in a short 4-5 minutes.
One other interesting idea is this fascinating gadget. It’s essentially pizza stone, cut into pieces and formed into a box, surrounded by grill-safe materials, all adding up to an inexpensive ($120-150) pizza box that uses your grill to heat, then encapsulates the heat for a hotter cooking temperature (about 550 F). We have one and have just started experimenting with it…could turn out to be a great tool!
Now that we’ve talked about the cooking methods and tools, let’s talk about the pizza itself!
The best discovery I’ve ever made is to look to your local pizzeria (the one that makes your favorite pizza) for the dough. I don’t mean using them for inspiration to make the dough…see if they will sell you their dough! Surprisingly, many of them will. And they make it a heck of a lot more often than you will ever do. So leverage their talent and use their dough if you don’t want to make your own. We buy ours in San Francisco from Delfina Pizzeria, and it is fabulous! Naturally, there are also tons of great books and online resources if you want to try your hand at making your own.
Keep it simple. For a tomato based sauce, we use a simple blend of San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt. That’s it. Very simple, very clean, and let’s you taste the tomatoes and toppings easily. For a while sauce, best to use simple panna (Italian cream) if you can find it. Or make a light béchamel sauce, by making a butter and flour roux, cook until the flour taste is gone (about 4 minutes), gradually stir in milk until thickened, smooth and bubbly, then grate in some fresh nutmeg. Or finally, you can be more inventive. Our fave right now is an onion sauce – made by tossing sliced onions with red wine vinegar and thyme, then caramelizing in a little olive oil, finally adding cream and reducing it heavily, then puréeing the whole thing for the base sauce. Yum!
Be inventive! That onion sauce? We follow the recipe for the Onion Pie in Jim Lahey’s book, My Pizza. That great sauce is topped with some mozzarella, olive oil, parmesan and a ton of scallions. It’s delicious.
The trick is to try flavor combinations that you like already, but in pizza form. Try figs, prosciutto, balsamic fried onions and goat cheese topped with fresh arugula. Or try your favorite sausage, fresh mushrooms, fontina cheese and red chili flakes.
One of our other recent faves is also from Jim Lahey, which is tomato sauce with mozzarella, sausage, red chili flakes and then topped with paper-thin slices of fresh fennel bulb. Wonderfully fragrant and delicious.
A couple of closing notes on pizza making at home. Try a few great books, like the one I recommended, My Pizza by Jim Lahey, or The Pizza Bible, by Tony Gemignani. Find a book that gives you inspiration. Secondly, invite friends over to try a bunch of different pizzas. And finally, remember to experiment and have fun!
Share your favorite pizza pics in a comment – I’d love to see what devices you’re using and what topping combos you discover!