By Paula Angerstein
Photography by Andy Sams
Growing up in Central Texas, my family, like many others, had the tradition of a hearty midday Sunday dinner (which translates to “Sunday lunch” for most others). This usually included a roast beef in the oven while we went to church, and vegetables and salads made up upon our return. After a lazy afternoon and a filling dinner-lunch, our “supper” later that evening would be something easy like bacon and eggs gobbled up in front of The Wonderful World of Disney, or maybe a handmade hamburger down at the domino club as a special treat.
These days, a vestige of that routine remains for me and my husband, Paul, after we’ve visited relatives in my hometown, had a feast of a lunch then returned to Austin later in the day. We’ve discovered that a homemade pizza fits the Sunday-evening bill perfectly for a quick and easy supper.
Paul’s Italian heritage has given him a discriminating eye for pizza. As a child on Long Island, he remembers New York pizza that came by the slice and was eaten folded so that the juice would drip down to your elbow. He recalls that the only toppings available were anchovies and extra oregano, but maybe that’s all his dad told him about. To this day, his idea of a “real” pizza is a plain cheese version, cooked to brown, sizzling perfection. On the other hand, my introduction to pizza was in my teens via Mr. Gatti’s, a locally based chain (I’ve been enamored with their vegetable-laden specialty ever since).
As different as our pizza initiations were, Paul and I longed to create a pizza at home that we both could adore. After many attempts, we eventually reached personal pizza nirvana and promptly handed off the recipes and techniques to family and friends—many of whom have adopted and individualized the Sunday pizza ritual.
Making pizza is easier than you’d expect, but having a few tools helps. Paul uses a food processor for both the dough and the sauce. For cooking, a pizza stone is best, though a heavy-duty cookie sheet or the flip side of a cast-iron pan can work. Wooden and metal pizza peels help move the pizza in and out of the oven, and you can serve right off the wooden peel. A pizza wheel makes slicing a snap.
These recipes make enough for four pizzas, each of which we cut into six slices. Paul bakes all of the shells with sauce; those that are not eaten are frozen (if baked without sauce, the shell will separate and form a pillow). Shells can be quickly defrosted, topped and baked for a quick meal.
I’m always prepared for unexpected visitors with a couple of these gems in the freezer.
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 package yeast
1 t. salt
1 c. lukewarm water
¼ c. olive oil
If you don’t have a food processor, mix all the ingredients by hand and knead for about 5 minutes. Otherwise, fit a food processor with a dough blade and briefly combine the flour, yeast and salt. While the processor is running, add the water and olive oil through the chute.
The dough should come together in a ball within a few seconds. Let the processor run for about 1 minute to knead the dough, then remove the dough, work it into a disk and place it in a large oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
¼ c. chopped onion
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
Dash of red pepper flakes to taste
In food processor, combine all the ingredients and puree.
Makes enough for 8 pizzas. Remaining sauce can be frozen.
Creating the pizza shells
Place a pizza stone in the oven, on the bottom rack, and heat the oven to 500°.
Punch down the dough in the bowl and form it into a ball. Cut the ball into 4 pieces, then form each piece into a disk. Place one disk on a floured surface, flatten by hand, then roll out with a floured rolling pin into about a 10-inch diameter shell. If the dough is very springy, let it rest periodically as you roll it out.
Place the shell on a wooden peel, making sure the shell is free to slide off onto the hot stone. Spoon 2 large spoonfuls of sauce (about ? cup) onto the shell and spread thinly out to the edges. Don’t overdo the sauce; some dough may still show through.
When the oven is at 500°, carefully slide the pizza off of the peel and onto the stone. Bake for 2½ minutes. Slide the pizza onto a metal peel and remove it from the oven. If using the shell immediately, set it aside for toppings. If storing, place it on a cookie sheet and immediately place it in the freezer. After the shell is cool, place it in a plastic bag and return it to the freezer.
We use whole-milk mozzarella cheese, but you can create mixtures of any soft, melting cheeses like Monterey Jack or Cheddar. Parmesan does not melt, but can be grated very finely and sprinkled judiciously on the base for flavor.
In homage to Mr. Gatti’s Vegetarian Sampler, I put on sliced green olives, sliced onion, sliced red bell pepper and diced jalapeño. The real thing also has sliced black olives, sliced mushrooms and diced tomato.
We take sausage out of the casing and fry it up, and it is nice paired with sautéed, sliced mushrooms.
Another favorite is thinly sliced ham or prosciutto, sliced canned artichoke hearts and capers.
A summer favorite is the classic Margherita: thinly sliced tomatoes (de-juice as much as possible) and fresh basil, with optional thinly sliced fresh mozzarella.
Use what’s available! We have been known to put leftover pesto, tapenade, taco meat and meatballs on our pizzas.
Creating the pizza
If using a frozen shell, set it out until it warms to room temperature, or defrost it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Place it on a pizza peel.
Place the pizza stone on the top rack to heat. Heat the oven to 500°.
Place the toppings on the shell. Don’t overload it, or the pizza can become soggy. Half-and-half works great for two people, though you may need to experiment with cooking time to get both sides cooked properly. Top with grated cheese—just enough to cover the toppings. Carefully slide the pizza onto the heated stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, watching to see that the cheese is browned, but the dough edges do not burn. Remove the pizza to the wooden peel, rest it for 1 minute and slice into 6 pieces.