Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekly Column: The Beauty of Pizza

I’m eager to keep my family gathered around our dinner table for as many years as their activities and preferences will allow, but I also understand why family dinners can fall by the wayside.  Boring menus, busy schedules, and differing tastes all seem to work against my dream.  But one meal, in particular, holds the promise of surviving the test of time and keeping us right where we need to be: in the kitchen, together. 
Homemade Pizza. 
It’s quick, easily adaptable to individual tastes, and fun to prepare.   I’ll hang my hopes on the impressively simple pizza-pie to keep us coming back to the kitchen for years and years.  Care to join me?
This soft, chewy pizza dough recipe is quick enough for a weeknight meal and easy enough for kids of all ages to work with:
1 ¼ Cups very warm water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
¼ Cup olive oil
3 Cups flour

Dissolve sugar in warm water, add yeast; let mixture sit for 5 minutes, until foamy.  Add salt, oil, and flour.  Mix until combined, and then knead for 3 minutes on a lightly floured board.  Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes.  Punch down dough, and divide in two.  You could also divide the dough into 4 or 6 balls to create smaller, personal pizzas – which would work very well for families wanting several, personalized topping choices.  On oiled or floured hands, gently stretch each ball into a 9 to 12 inch round, or smaller for individual pizzas.  Place each round onto either a cornmeal-dusted, preheated pizza stone, or into a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Top with sauce, cheese, meat, and veggies of choice.  Bake in a preheated, very hot (450 to 500 degree) oven until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden – around 10 minutes.

There are wonderful opportunities for kids to help with this recipe: from kneading (utilizing those many years of play-doh practice) and punching down the dough (SO much fun for little ones), to shaping personal discs and arranging their favorite toppings, they’ll be able to help from start to finish. 

Even better, they’re more likely to try a new vegetable if they’ve added it to the dish themselves.  Some delicious toppings for pizza also provide helpful practice for older, supervised kids wishing to hone their chopping skills: colorful bell peppers, tender mushrooms, and sliced purple onions.  Don’t be afraid to encourage a new vegetable – your children might surprise you with their culinary explorations.

Kids can spoon store-bought pasta sauce over the dough, shred mozzarella cheese, arrange strips of creamy provolone, sprinkle bits of sausage, Canadian bacon, or pepperoni, and dot bright veggies over their pizza.  Once it’s all in the hot oven for a few minutes, there’s plenty of time for a quick clean-up of the workspace, or the preparation of a light, tossed salad. 

Once you’ve got your pizza-making habit formed – and if there’s any better habit for a hungry family to have, I’m unaware of it – your family will be able to tweak it to fit your needs.  Experiment with thin, crispy-crust recipes and artisan toppings: garden-fresh tomatoes and basil; prosciutto and natural mozzarella.  Try grilling a pizza in the summertime.  Invite friends over for a full-on pizza party. 

The beauty of pizza has never been something I’ve had to question or dissect before, but now – with a growing family around me – the value of wholesome, family-made pizza seems to be more beautiful and delicious than ever.



3 comments:

  1. We love family pizza night! My husband makes the dough and than makes a half pizza for everyone according to their favorite tastes. The girls love to help put on the ingredients and we all take samples of everyone else's favorites!! So fun! It is a favorite birthday dinner request.

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  2. Pizza night is the best :) (And my husband adamantly insists that homemade is better than anything money can buy... can't beat that!)

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  3. Okay, you've mentioned that you make homemade pizza before and now I'm in. I'm printing this recipe out and I will attempt to do this!

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?