Once you get past the idea that pizza has to be red sauce, mozzarella cheese and a topping or two and realize that the dough is a totally blank canvas awaiting your creativity, a world of possibilities opens up.
Instead of the usual marinara or margherita sauce, how about barbecue sauce on a pulled pork pizza or sweet chili sauce on a Thai chicken pizza or even a little apple butter to counteract the bitterness of Brussels sprouts on a bacon and Brussels sprouts pizza?
For times when you do want a traditional red sauce, freeze a little marinara sauce in one or two cup containers whenever you cook it for pasta. Thaw to use on pizza and get homemade sauce without any additional investment of time.
Perhaps fontina or blue cheese or goat cheese instead of mozzarella? Or even no cheese at all. The sky is the limit once you let go of your preconceived notions of what a pizza should be.
Pizza dough can be bought already made at the grocery store in the freezer section or pre-made crusts in the refrigerator section. If you like to make your own dough, try doubling the recipe and freezing half. Take it out of the freezer on your way to work in the morning and by the time you get home, it will be ready to use. With the dough already made, you can make a homemade pizza in the time it takes to heat up a frozen one. If you make a lot of pizza, try the ten day recipe below. With this recipe, it’s possible to always have fresh homemade dough ready to go with a minimum investment of time.
Fans of deep dish pizza should try the cast iron skillet method. Simply stretch dough out to fill a cast iron skillet that you have swiped with olive oil. Put it over medium heat while assembling the sauce and toppings. After cooking for a couple of minutes, transfer to a 500°F. oven for ten minutes. The couple of minutes of stove top cooking will yield a crispy crust on a deep dish pizza, something that’s hard to come by in a home baked pizza.
Ever tried cooking your pizza on the grill? Though it sounds like a silly idea at first, a grill, either charcoal or gas, more closely simulates a wood-fired oven than a cooking stove. Detailed instructions follow.
Last but certainly not least, creative pizza making is an excellent way to use up leftovers. Give it a try. Anything in the refrigerator is fair game.
10 day pizza dough
This recipe makes enough dough for at least four cast iron deep dish pizzas but it will keep in the fridge for ten days or more. You’ll need a large container to keep it in. One of those rectangular plastic boxes the size of a shoe box is perfect and doesn’t take up a lot of room in the fridge. The container should have a lid but not be airtight. The dough doesn’t need to be kneaded, can be mixed in less than five minutes and makes a lot of pizzas keeping the time investment small.
7 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 cup wheat gluten
3 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup olive oil
Mix the dry ingredients in the plastic container. Add the warm water and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until all of the dry ingredients are wet and you have a loose dough. Let rise for about two hours or until doubled in size. The dough is ready to use or can be refrigerated for later use. (The wheat gluten can be omitted. The dough will just be less elastic.)
Deep dish pizza with Brussels sprouts and bacon
4 slices bacon
1 (16 ounce) refrigerated pizza dough, at room temperature
2 tbsp. apple butter
½ cup shredded fontina
½ cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup quartered Brussels sprouts (about 10)
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
crushed red pepper flakes
Heat oven to 500ºF. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble it. Set aside. Remove pan from heat and pour out all but 1 teaspoon of bacon grease. Press dough into the skillet, spreading it to the edge. Spray with cooking oil, then spread with a thin layer of apple butter, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with cheeses. Toss Brussels sprouts with vinegar; scatter over the cheeses. Top with bacon and season with red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until the bottom of the crust is crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake until the edges of the Brussels sprouts begin to char and the dough is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into 6 pieces.
Barbecue pulled pork pizza
1 (14 ounce) package pre-baked pizza crust
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, or more as desired
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup prepared pulled pork
1/8 cup sliced onion
1/8 cup sliced red bell pepper
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the pizza crust onto a baking sheet. In a bowl, mix the barbecue sauce with chipotle chili powder; season with salt and black pepper. Spread the sauce over the pizza crust. Arrange pulled pork, sliced onion, and red bell pepper slices evenly over the pizza. Bake in the preheated oven until the toppings are hot and the pizza crust is crisp on the bottom, 12 to 15 minutes.
How to Grill Pizza
Toppings of your choice
Some flour or corn meal for dusting the cookie sheet or pizza peel
Make the pizza dough or use prepared pizza dough. Prepare the grill for high direct heat. Pour some olive oil for greasing the grill grates and for brushing the pizza into a small bowl. Prepare the toppings so they are ready to go on the pizza. Shape the pizza dough by flattening it with your hands on a slightly floured surface. Either use your fingers to stretch the dough out, or hold up the edges of the dough with your fingers, letting the dough hang and stretch, while working around the edges of the dough. Once you’ve stretched the dough, let it sit for 5 minutes and then push out the edges with your fingers again, until you have a nice round shape, about 12-inches in diameter. Do not make a raised rim, it will interfere with the grilling process. Once the grill is hot (you can hold your hands an inch over the grates for no more than 2 seconds), dip a tightly folded up paper towel in olive oil and use tongs to wipe the grill grates. Then place a pizza dough round on a lightly floured (or you can use cornmeal) rimless cookie sheet (or pizza peel if you have one). Let the dough slide off the cookie sheet onto the hot grill grates. Close the lid of the grill and let cook for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, open the grill and check underneath the dough to see if it is getting browned. If it is on one side, but not another, use a spatula or tongs to rotate the dough 90 degrees and cook for another minute. If it is not beginning to brown, cover the grill and continue to cook a minute at a time until the bottom has begun to brown. It should only take a couple minutes if you have a hot grill. The top of the pizza dough will start bubbling up with air pockets. Once the pizza dough has browned lightly on one side, use your cookie sheet or pizza peel to remove it from the grill. Use a spatula to flip the dough over so that the grilled side is now up. Keep the grill covered so it retains its heat for the next step. Paint the grilled surface of the pizza with a little olive oil, then cover with one ladle of sauce – no more, or you’ll end up with a soggy pizza. Sprinkle on your toppings. Remember to go light on the toppings, or your pizza will be heavy and soggy. Slide the topped pizza back onto the grill. If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat. If working with a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until the bottom begins to char and the cheese is bubbly. Pull off the grate with a spatula onto a cutting board or other flat surface and let rest for a couple minutes before cutting into slices.
Thai Chicken Pizza
1 pizza crust or dough for one crust
4-6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
1 cup chicken
Thai Sweet Chili sauce
2 tbsp. crushed peanuts
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the mushrooms, carrots, peppers, onion and chicken evenly over the pizza crust. Bake for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the peanuts over the top and bake another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the sweet chili sauce. Sprinkle with the cilantro.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard or by email.