Momma's Guide to Pizza Perfection
My name is Kimberly Eddy, the Lord has been gracious in guiding me on ways to cut the family budget. With seven in our family, you might imagine that our grocery bill is rather high. Would it surprise you to know that our average weekly grocery expense is roughly $75.00 per week, and often less? This amount, includes household products for cleaning, hygiene, shampoos, dog and cat food, kitty litter, and water softener salt.
Let me throw you another curve ball. We often have more than just our own family over for dinner. Our family strives to be "Given to hospitality". Despite my limited resources, I am know around town as a fabulous cook. Gourmet cooking does not have to take up all of your time and include all sorts of exotic dishes and cost all of your money. Additionally, being frugal does not mean eating flavorless, boring, and unpleasant food. Quite the contrary.
Ladies, if you let me show you how to cook, and teach your children to cook too, you will find meals tasting better, costing less, and you will family meal times to be much more enjoyable. This e-book was written particularly for women who can't boil water. I want to help you with the bare bones basics, and show you how to make them taste fabulous for less. Pizza is incredibly simple, fun to make, and making your own homemade pizza can really save the family budget.
I hope this book answers any questions you may have and that you learn to be more creative in the kitchen. You are off to a great start towards pizza perfection!
Pizza has been the ultimate fast food even as far back as the days before the height of the Roman Empire, and the days of the poet Virgil. Today it is common for a family to order out for pizza from a local pizza shop. Local pizza shops are quite common in most neighborhoods. Pizza is very popular.
How long has that amazing culinary delight known as pizza been around? No one really knows exactly where or when pizza baking actually started. We do know that the soldiers of Darius the Mede, back in the 5th Century, B.C., reportedly baked flat bread on the backs of their shields, while on a long march, and would often top it with cheeses, fruits, and other foods they had on hand. Mention of flat bread topped with various toppings is found throughout Greek and Roman literature.
It is likely, from what we know, that the Greeks and Romans used flat bread as a sort of dish for whatever they were eating, and finished off the meal by eating the bread as well. Cato the Elder, in his history of Rome, wrote about the Romans using flat, round breads, "dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey, baked on stones." Flat breads were also found among the ruins of Pompeii and Naples.
Down through the ages, different variations of pizza were enjoyed mostly by peasants, and often were sold by street vendors in Italy. However, that all changed the day pizza was served to Queen Margherita of Italy in the 1800s. At her request, a popular pizza baker was summoned to her residence to prepare her some pizza. He prepared her several different varieties of pizza but one in particular has become what most of the world thinks of when it thinks pizza: Pizza Margherita.
Pizza Margherita was made to honor the Queen by using the colors of the Italian flag: Red (tomatoes), Green (fresh Basil) and White (mozzerella cheese). Pizza, however, has traditionally been made with whatever ingredients were most readily available to the common people in whatever region they lived.
Pizza is, in essence, flat bread covered with a sauce and topped with meats, vegetables, and cheese. As you will see from the many recipes that follow, pizza variations are only limited by your imagination and creativity.
The basic dough of pizza is a yeast dough, just like regular bread dough, though it usually has added oil in the dough. Even though the pizza is flat, the dough is still allowed to rise, punched down, and then shaped. Additional flavor can be added to pizza dough by mixing herbs and spices into the dough before adding in all of the flour. Some good seasonings to add include: dried onion flakes or dried minced garlic, basil, marjoram, oregano, and even fennel seed.
I find the easiest way to shape pizza dough is by forming balls about the size of baseballs out of the dough, and letting them rest for 15 minutes. After the dough has rested, I take the dough and roll it out on a board covered in corn meal. The cornmeal helps to prevent sticking. I usually roll it one direction, turn it a quarter turn, and roll in another direction, and repeat until the dough is about ½ inch think and fairly round.
Using a Preheated Stone and a Pizza Peel
The stone and peel are traditionally used for making pizza, but are not totally necessary. They tend to be more and more available in the United States, even at discount stores like Walmart and Meijers. But, how do you use them?
I find the easiest way to use them is to first heat the stone in the oven to 375°F. Place the dough on your pizza peel with just enough corn meal on the peel so that the dough slides around easily. You may decorate the pizza dough before or after it bakes. We tend to prefer to decorate the dough after the pizza dough has baked, and then we stick it back in the hot oven to melt the cheese. This gives a crisper crust.
After the oven (and the stone) has preheated, carefully slide the dough onto the hot stone, and bake! By preheating the pizza stone in this way, the cooking time is reduced and the bottom forms a nicer crust. Likewise, when removing the pizza from the oven, carefully slide your peel under the dough and ease the dough onto the peel, You may now transfer the dough onto a rack to cool, or decorate it with your choice of toppings, and slide it back in.
I tend to like to use whatever works best for me. I don't like too many gadgets in my kitchen, so I usually try to figure out other uses for all of my cooking utensils. Thus, I have figured out that the best pizza baking tool yet is my cast iron tortilla pan. It is about the right size for a medium pizza, and the cast iron surface gets just as hot (and stays hot) as a pizza stone. The tortilla pan makes awesome omelets too, but that's another E-book!
Basic Pizza Crust
(Makes 3 Medium pizzas)
Mix 2 C. of bread or all purpose flour, 2 T. sugar, and 1 T. yeast (or one package yeast) into a large bowl. For added flavor, you may also stir in 1 - 2 t. of any of the following seasonings:
Add 2 t. of salt, 2 C. very warm water and ¼ C. olive oil (or other oil).
Mix well with an electric mixer or by hand until well blended. Stir in 3 more cups of flour until your dough is soft and forms a nice ball. Next, turn the dough onto a floured surface, and knead it for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed, but being careful not to add too much! Let it rest for 30 minutes in a lightly greased bowl.
Preheat your oven, with your pizza stone to 375°F Divide the dough into 3 - 4 equal sized balls. One at a time, roll each ball of dough out flat, and form into a 10 - 12" circle using your hands (the more you do this, the better you get at it!). Turn up the edges to form a "Crust". Lightly dust your pizza peel with cornmeal (or the back of a cookie sheet), and place your pizza crust on there.
You may decorate your pizza now or after it is baked. Baked pizza crusts may be stored in the freezer, well wrapped, for use at a later date.
Slide pizza crust off of the peel gently, onto the hot pizza stone. Bake about 20 minutes, until the crust is just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, by gently sliding it back onto the pizza peel.
After decorating the pizza, slide under the broiler of a gas oven or back into a hot oven for a few minutes, or until all of the cheese is melted. The broiler works best but it also works fast! (Watch it carefully). Never use your pizza stone in the broiler!
Mix 1 ½ C. Flour and 1 T. Yeast in a large bowl. Stir in 1 C. of warm water, and mix until smooth. Let this sponge for about an hour, until it is bubbly. After your sponge has rested, stir in a pinch of salt, and begin to add more flour, ½ C. at a time, until a ball forms. Turn your dough onto a floured surface, and knead well for about 10 minutes. Put in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rest in a warm place until double.
Divide dough in half, and shape each piece of dough into a long, narrow loaf, about 14" long, and cut slashes into the top of the loaves with a sharp knife, about 1 inch apart. Let these loaves rise for about 1 hour. Spray or sprinkle them with water. Preheat the oven to 475°F with a pan of water in the bottom of the oven. Spray loaves again with water, and place them in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 450°, and continue baking for another 20 minutes (or until loaves are golden brown and the crust crisp).
To Make French Bread Pizza:
Carefully slice French Bread loaves, spread on sauce, and top with your choice of toppings and cheese. Place under a broiler for a few minutes, until cheese is well melted, or bake in a 375°F oven for 5 - 10 minutes. You can use either homemade or store bought French Bread. You can even use thickly sliced bread, rolls, or bagels.
There are many variations possible for pizza sauce. The first is a basic tomato sauce.
Basic Tomato Sauce
In a medium Saucepan, heat up 2 T. of olive oil (or other oil), and saute 1 finely minced onion and 2 finely minced cloves of garlic until lightly browned. Add 1 16-oz. (approx.) can of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes, and 1 small can of tomato paste. Mix well. Season with 1 - 2 t. of basil, oregano, majoram, rosemary, parsley, and red pepper flakes. Stir in 1 - 2 T. of onion soup mix for added flavor. Simmer to blend flavors, stirring often to prevent sticking.
Same as above, adding ½ pound of cooked ground beef to mixture.
Red Pepper Sauce
(This can be made ahead and kept frozen in small jars when red peppers are in season.)
Wash and dry several red peppers, and place them under the broiler or on the grill until their skins begin to blacken and pucker (about 5 minutes). Remove the core and seeds, and carefully peel off the skin. Place the red pepper "meat" in a blender or food processor, and puree. Use on pizza as a main sauce or mix in with other sauces.
Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce
Prepare tomato sauce as above, and add 1 C. red pepper sauce, and use only an 8 - 10 oz. can of tomato puree.
In a food processor or blender; puree 1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves, 5 - 6 cloves of garlic, ¼ C. Lemon juice, ¼ C. olive oil, pinch of salt, ½ C. walnuts, almonds or pine nuts (pignoli), and ½ C. of parmesan or romano cheese. Toss with noodles or use on pizza.
Basic White Sauce
In a medium saucepan, melt a stick of butter or margerine, but don't let it brown. Stir in 4 T. of flour until all of the melted butter is absorbed. Add 2 C. of milk. Using a wire whisk, stir until well blended, then continue stirring over medium low heat until thickened.
Roasted Garlic Sauce
Take one whole head of garlic, and slice off the top of it (not the root end) and place in a garlic roaster or wrap in aluminum foil. Place in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes or until soft. Carefully squeeze the garlic out of the "skins" and into a bowl. Mix garlic and Basic White Sauce in a food processor or blender until well blended.
Cool Yogurt Sauce
Take one quart of plain yogurt, and mix with fresh minced mint and parsley. Use this sauce on pizzas you do not put back in the oven. Add your choice of fresh vegetables.
Heat to a simmer while stirring over medium heat. Add 1 bunch of fresh basil and ½ bunch of fresh spinach, cut into thin strips or finely minced.
Hummus can be bought commercially in the deli section of most grocery stores or made homemade. To make Hummus:
Traditional Toppings Include:
Pizza with Flare
Continental Style Pizza
Pizza in continental Europe is made with whole or sliced fresh vegetables on the baked pizza crust, and topped with cheese. It is put under the broiler only long enough to melt the cheese.
Deep Dish Pizza
Deep dish pizza is made with more dough, packed into a 2" deep 10" round cast iron skillet. Pack the dough in, top with your choice of pizza sauce and the toppings of your choice. Like Continental Style Pizza, this one often includes fresh vegetables; such as sliced tomatoes. Top with a generous amount of cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 375° or higher.
Uncooked Continental Pizza
This one is made with a pre-baked crust and all fresh vegetables, and is eaten cold or at room temperature. Use your favorite vegetables and sauce. We like hummus or yogurt sauce!
Other Toppings Include:
Anything else in your kitchen that is edible, and you enjoy! The pizza possibilities are endless! To start you off, there are many fun combos below that work well.
Mediterranean Salad Pizza
Use the Cool Yogurt Sauce, and top with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, basil leaves, peppers, feta cheese, and fresh parsley leaves. Do not bake.
Hearty Mediterranean Pizza
Spread hummus on a baked pizza crust. Top with quartered onions, sliced garlic, tomato slices, wedges or cherry tomatoes, Fresh parsley leaves, feta cheese, and 1 - 2 cooked and shredded chicken breasts. You may also add olives, capers, and feta cheese if you want. This can be baked or eaten as is.
Spread on a layer of refried beans and Salsa. Top with cooked black and red beans, cooked ground beef, green peppers, corn, hominy, fresh cilantro leaves, and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle on some cheddar or monterey jack cheese generously, and bake until cheese is melted. [See also Mexican Pizza Made Easy]
Prague Style Pizza
Use regular tomato sauce or red pepper sauce, and top with fresh, shredded basil leaves, spinach, and chopped or halved walnuts. Top with a generous helping of cheese. (Your choice of Mozzarella, Parmesan, or Ricotta cheese).
Creamy Chicken Pizza
Use the roasted garlic sauce as a base, and put some cooked, shredded chicken or turkey on it, onion slices, and parmesan cheese.
Finnochio Del La Pomodora Pizza
This is a Continental Style Pizza with no sauce. Top with diced tomatoes (can be diced canned tomatoes), thinly sliced bulb fennel (also called anise or finnochio), cooked chick peas, and parmesan cheese. Garnish with grated orange peel before baking. This works especially well as a deep dish pizza.
Generously spread sliced black olives (fresh or canned) over a thin layer of tomato sauce. Top with thinly sliced onions and julienne garlic cloves. Finish off the pizza with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Use the Florentine Pizza Sauce, and top with diced fennel and ricotta cheese.
Calzones are sort of like homemade "hot pockets". They can be made ahead and frozen.
Take the dough for one small pizza crust (uncooked), and top ½ of the crust with your choice of toppings and cheese. Very carefully lift the empty half of the dough, and cover the filled half. Pinch down the crust, and set it aside while you prepare any other calzones you are making. Once all the calzones are prepared, put them on a peel, one at a time, that has been dusted with corn meal. Very carefully slide them onto a preheated pizza stone in a preheated oven, and bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Money Saving Pizza Tips:
When my children were growing up, money was tight — real tight. I learned many money saving tricks back in those days. I found that pizza can be nutritious and it goes a long way. Every Friday was pizza night at our house and the extended family knew it. It wasn't uncommon in those days to have a dozen people "just happen" to stop by on a Friday night. I even had friends who would call for "take-out," just to be invited over.
The key is, as you would expect; buy in bulk. Stores like Smart & Final, Gordon Food Service and Cost U Less are wonderful places to purchase 40# bags of flour, (normally costing around $5.00). Yeast can be purchased in 1# bags (around $2.50) at a huge savings over those little packets found in the grocery store.
Cheese is one of the most expensive items used on pizza. Watch for sales or buy in bulk as well. Most cheese can be frozen, just beware, it tends to crumble or dry out when frozen and may not be suitable to use fresh as in a salad, but will still work well for pizza making. Years ago we saved money by buying cheese in logs and shredding it ourselves, today be sure to comparison shop, it's often just as inexpensive to purchase cheese in pre-shredding packages.
If you are a pepperoni lover, another of the more expensive pizza toppings, don't skimp on it any longer. Check your local market's deli case. Normally around $5.00 per pound you can buy sandwich sliced pepperoni, they are much larger in diameter than the pepperoni found in those tiny 3 - 6 oz. packages that sell for $3-6 each. The sandwich sliced pepperoni tastes terrific, it will be fresh sliced to order and will save you money to boot.
Tomatoes can be pricey in the off-season and there is nothing like a fresh garden picked tomato. If you have your own garden (or a close friend who's willing to let you raid theirs) you can have fresh tomatoes most of the year. I used to plant around 150 tomato plants each year. I like to plant many varieties of tomatoes so we had garden fresh tomatoes for most of the summer months.
One year we had a bad draught and the tomatoes came in very late in the season. I had hundreds of huge deep green tomatoes that were perfect in every way, except they just weren't ripening. I waited as late in the season as I could. It was down to crunch time, it was either pick them or lose them to the frost.
I went out and gathered all the tomatoes. We had fried green tomatoes coming out of our ears; we weren't making a dent in those bushels of tomatoes. So, I added a teaspoon of bleach to a sink full of cool water. I carefully washed and gently dried each tomato. Once I was certain they were completely dry, I placed them carefully in a bushel basket, in a cool, dry place in the kitchen.
Because I had washed them in bleach and totally dried them, no bacteria grew on them. Only the tomatoes on the top would ripen because they were directly exposed to the air. We had fresh tomatoes all the way through until early March.
Making Pizza Dough
I've tried my hand over the years at making bread dough and pizza dough and frankly, it is not something I do well. Patience could have a lot to do with it, because I certainly don't have any. I'm the kind of person who can't wait long enough for the oven to pre-heat.
To compensate for this character defect, I have found several short cuts that work for me. Unless I'm really in a baking mood, I'll buy frozen bread dough to make my pizza crust. I like to press crushed garlic into the bread once it's thawed and allow it to rise to add some flavor to the crust.
I've had real good luck with bread makers. For many years I thought they were a waste of time and I hate the way bread baked in them tastes. It's always too crusty and hard. They are excellent for making all types of dough. I use ours to make not only pizza dough but also pretzel dough and cinnamon rolls. It's hardly worth the cost of the bread maker though to use it just to make dough. Unless, like me, you buy one second-hand; I've purchased several for under $5 each.
People normally get rid of them, not because they don't work but because they either don't use it or they have lost the manual to it and they simply don't know how to use it. Fortunately, most manuals are available online for free. Be sure to do your homework, there is a huge difference in bread makers out there. Check the reviews, become familiar with the different models, their capacity, options featured and reliability. You won't necessarily find the exact model you are looking for but it could happen, if you are prepared.
I hope you find these money saving pizza tips helpful.