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Up Your Pizza Game

Tips, tricks, and recipes that will take your pizza night to the next level.

Pizza – hot and bubbling from the oven, it is a mouthwatering and satisfying meal that the whole family can get behind. Nail down some basics (your favorite crust & sauce)  and it also becomes quick, easy, and infinitely adaptable with whatever toppings strike your fancy. We have rounded up some of our favorite recipes and resources so that you can find what works for you. Will the crust be home made (saves money) or store bought (saves time)? A jarred or no-cook sauce? Rich and meaty or light and fresh? There is no wrong way to make homemade pizza, so fire up the oven and start experimenting!

1. The Dough 

  • Pre-made: Nothing is easier than grabbing some store-bought dough at a grocery store, which is available in most supermarkets from Trader Joe’s to Safeway. Opt for the refrigerated dough that the store makes, if they have it (usually near the deli) – but be aware that many of these doughs include questionable preservatives to cut costs and to keep them soft and fresh for longer.  You can check your favorite store bought dough on Fooducate’s website (here is their rating of Safeway’s signature brand, for example). For many, the time savings may be worth the trade off (and these doughs are admittedly delicious).
  • Homemade: If you want to save some money and are thinking ahead, my favorite home made dough is easily Jim Lahey’s No Knead Dough – just mix, leave out overnight, and be amazed at the pizzeria quality dough you made with about 5 minutes of hands-on time!This blog post breaks it down with great images and more detail. I like to make double batches and freeze half for later. If you make your own, using half white whole wheat flour is a great way to incorporate whole grains without compromising texture or taste.

2. The Sauce 

  • Pre-made: Store bought pizza sauce is a no-brainer, with blessedly short ingredient lists (typically water, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and some seasonings). They taste just fine too. However, you are paying for a product that is mostly water and tomato paste, not whole tomatoes that have been blended up, so if you have a few minutes to whip up a home made version you’ll save money and gain some nutrition.
  • Homemade:  This recipe is made with canned whole or diced tomatoes as a base, and is cheaper than the store bought version (blender or food processor required). Oh and by the way, your sauce doesn’t even have to be red – four out of these five three ingredient sauces are free of tomatoes but packed full of flavor.

3. The Cheese 

  • Shred your own: Now that you’ve figured out your ideal crust and sauce, it’s time to get creative! Let’s start with cheese – sure, you can make pizza without it, but if you do use cheese, don’t buy the pre-shredded stuff! It’s way more expensive ounce for ounce, and it includes anti-caking agents (try shredding your own cheese and stuffing it into a plastic baggie – it will clump together, which wouldn’t sell well on a supermarket shelf).
  • Mix it up: Here’s another secret – you don’t have to use mozzarella! You sure can, but you can also shred up whatever cheese you have kicking around in your fridge – a great way to use up scraps of cheddar, swiss, gouda, etc. And I think the secret is out, but soft cheeses are also delightful on pizzas (goat, ricotta, and the like).

4. The Toppings 

You could stop with crust, sauce and cheese and have yourself a delightful pizza – but why stop there? When it comes to toppings, try thinking creatively. Here are some of our favorites:

5. The Method 

In my experience with pizzas (and I assure you, I am well versed), if you put one into a hot oven and cook it, it will taste good. That being said, there are a lot of variables you can control that will ensure you get a crust that is cooked through, perfectly crispy around the edges, with bubbling cheese that is just starting to brown.

  • The Gold Standard – Best case scenario is that you have a pizza stone or steel and an oven that gets really hot – in that case, put the cold stone in the oven, preheat to as hot as your oven goes (ideally 550F)  for at least an hour, and cook your pizza for 5-10 minutes. However, not all of us have clean ovens that can handle that kind of abuse, or maybe you don’t have a pizza stone – no problem! Here are some additional methods that reliably turn out great pizza pies.
  • Sheet Pan Pizza – The most adaptable method, this works in any kitchen. Heat your oven to 450F (going down to 375F also works, your pizza will just take longer – and who has patience when hot pizza is on the brain?), then spread your dough out onto a sheet pan. No fancy tools or ultra-hot oven required. I love this recipe for a kid-friendly version (and great pictures). If you have trouble with your dough cooking all the way through using this method (it has happened to me, when I was dealing with a particularly ornery and old oven and used ancient thrift store sheet pans made of who-knows-what-metal), par-bake the crust first: coat it with oil and a little salt and bake for 5-7 minutes (until the top feels cooked but is not quite browned), then take it out, add your sauce and toppings, and bake again.
  • Campfire Pizza – A cast iron pan with a lid is all you need to make pizza in the great outdoors. This method also works for cooking pizza on a stove top if you find yourself craving gooey cheese when your oven is on the fritz.
  • Pizza on the Grill– Similar to campfire pizza, minus the cast iron pan, you cook your crust on the grill for a few minutes, flip and add toppings, then cook some more. Great for summer time when you don’t want to be stuck in a hot kitchen. Also great for small parties since you can hang out around the grill while people take turns making their pizzas.

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