Pizza Night

Homemade pizza recipe
Pizza margherita, fresh out of the oven...

Tonight, my hubby and I had "pizza night," our regular date in the kitchen with a bottle of wine and an assortment of toppings, whatever struck my fancy while out shopping. We do this at least twice a month, and it's why I'm such a snob when it comes to eating pizza out.

I've already posted my recipe for pizza dough,  so here comes the rest...

The Sauce

My husband's favorite is pizza margherita, so every pizza night, 2 of our 4 pizzas have to be margherita (without tomato slices, because my husband is against the tomato slices, you may do as you please). Pizza margherita requires sauce, so here's my favorite pizza sauce, so simple, I can't believe I didn't think of it myself. It's actually a riff on a recipe I got from a good friend in Philly, who got it from Osteria, a Vetri restaurant famous for their pizzas. Their version is San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil and basil.

Mine is barely more...

Boozy Epicure's Pizza Sauce
Makes way more than you'll need, I use the rest for pasta later in the week.

1 can San Marzano tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 bunch of fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil (to taste, at least a couple of tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend. Easy enough? I thought so.

Making the Pizzas

Pizza making is more of a process than a recipe. The first thing you'll want to do is preheat your oven. 500 F is good, convention great too (although sadly I don't have a convention oven). If your oven doesn't go to 500F, take it as high as it'll go (or move your setup to an outdoor grill), just don't count on a crisp crust if the oven isn't at least 425 F. I consider a big pizza or bread stone a must in my kitchen since I bake a lot of bread, as well as a pizza peel (mine is wood, but the metal ones are pretty trendy right now, and there are several smart peels that are non-stick, or covered in cloth, or half ceramic, you name it they make it.) While these are nice, they aren't a necessity. I've made pizza in friends homes, baking the pizzas on sheet pans, or using the underside of a sheet pan as a peel to get the pizza in the oven. Now, for the ingredients you'll need. There are a lot of choices, but here is an overview.


Semolina flour and all purpose flour:  For the peel and to help you manipulate the dough, I use both, but you can get by with just AP flour. I do not advocate the use of cornmeal, I think it ruins the texture of the crust.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is the time to break out the good stuff, especially if you use it as a finisher
Cheese of your choice: I like scamorza, although all the pizzas tonight were made with fresh mozzarella and parmigiano. I also like provolone, fontina, and gruyere. I always try to use a good melter and a drier grating cheese.

Toppings:  Meat is always popular choice, I did mortadella and prosciutto tonight, although I change that often. I like just about any thinly sliced deli meat, but remember, some meats you'll want to get all hot and yummy in the oven. some you'll want to add after the baking. I did both tonight so you'll see what I mean. I also like to choose a fresh herb or green to add at the end, and things like olives, mushrooms, peppers (I'm recently in love with peppadews) or artichoke hearts are a welcome addition, but be mindful of how much you are putting on that beautiful crust. Americans have the tendency to think "more is better," but spectacular pizza is about balance. Choose an ingredient to highlight and find something to add contrast. Experiment and who knows what combination you'll find to be your new favorite

Wine: Okay, you really don't need wine as an ingredient for pizza, but I find it a necessity for pizza night. I like to stick with Italian reds, their acidity plays very well with all food, but especially pizza. If you like wines that are lighter in style, go for a Barbera or a cheap Chianti/Sangiovese or Dolcetto. This is especially important if you are using tomato sauce or any sweet ingredients. Highly tannic wine and sweet ingredients are like toothpaste and orange juice, yuck. If you are in the mood for something bigger, you can step it up and get a real Chianti, a Nebbiolo, a Brunello, or a blend that packs a bigger punch. Just make sure you are using meaty, earthier flavors in your pizza to complement. Or you could be like my husband and not care. He doesn't like to go back and forth between wine and food, and doesn't care if the pairing makes sense or even works. 

My wine choice for the night, a Super Tuscan Blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah. It took a while to open up, but was very nice. A little old world in style, big enough to enjoy in between pizzas, but not so big that it clashed with the food. For $15, made me very happy. I like the Ruffino Chianti Classico too, while my hubby is a fan of their Ducale Oro.

The Process

You've got your dough, you've got your toppings, your oven is preheated, and your wine is in your glass. You are ready to make pizza! 

Start by pulling your dough out of the fridge and decide how many pizzas you are going to make. Tonight I made 4 (it was just the two of us) so I ripped off hunks of dough and tossed them on my scale. I was looking for between 90 and 100 grams. Then roll it into a little ball and place on a floured surface ready for assembly.

Dough balls ready to go...
For each pizza, you are going to start the same way. Place a little semolina and AP flour on your peel. Not too much, or it'll burn in the oven, leaving black char on your pizzas and even smoking up your house (believe me, I've done both). Shape it into roughly a 10-inch round. Now I know that you aren't supposed to use a rolling pin, but rather your hands to shape and mold the dough, but I've tried both and not seen much difference in the end result, so I use my handy rolling pin (its a lot faster too). Once I've got it close, I then pick it up and do the final shape/stretch by hand.

Place it on the prepared peel and brush the surface with olive oil.

Now it's time to add your toppings....

Mortadella, fresh mozzarella and grated parm....

Margherita 1, sauce and fresh mozzarella

Margherita 2, sauce, fresh mozz and parm

I also did a pizza with fresh mozzarella and marinated mushrooms, but forgot to take a photo before baking. Must've been the wine...

Anyway, move these from the peel to your stone and bake. I set my timer for 8 minutes, sometimes they finish faster. You'll know it's done when the cheese is melted and it's lovely and browned. When you take it off the stone, the crust should support the toppings, not bend or sag. If it doesn't, you've added too much sauce or too many toppings - I warned you about that, right? And trust me, its a mess to clean up if that oozes all over your super hot oven.

All that's left is the final garnishes.

I finished the mortadella pizza with pistachios and extra virgin olive oil.

Both margheritas got fresh basil.

The mushroom pizza got 2 additions, first, prosciutto...
Then fresh arugula and olive oil.
And there you have it. Try a pizza night yourself. Invite friends over and have a pizza party. Just give everyone a dough ball and let them top their personal pizzas however they'd like. Trust me, once you start, you'll be hooked.

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