Pizza crust is one of those mega-polarizing topics that really doesn’t seem important until you’re sharing a pizza at a restaurant with friends and there’s no chance of a consensus on whether to get thin crust or thick crust. I stand firmly on the thin crust side of the debate. Because not only does a little crispiness make just about anything a little better, but mostly because pizza is really about the toppings. Another one of those foods where the ratio is important.
(okay, maybe I did roll this out a little too thin, but it still held up beautifully)
Why drown the toppings in crust? Or sauce or cheese for that matter. When it comes to pizza, I think a little goes a long way for every ingredient. Nothing overpowers the whole thing, nothing gets completely brushed under the covers of too much crust. Thin crust gives everything (including itself) a chance to shine. You really get the best of all worlds when you go for the thin crust pizza. Seriously.
This crust is delicious. It’s nice and thin but doesn’t get soggy at all, which is key in thin crust land. For toppings, we did tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, caramelized onion, artichoke hearts, basil, and a little goat cheese. Everything in moderation. It was perfect. But the great thing about pizza dough is that it’s essentially a food canvas. Do whatever you want!
Homemade Thin Crust Pizza Dough
From The Kitchn
Makes 2 10-inch pizzas
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
1 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast
2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose-flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Combine the water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir until the yeast dissolves. Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix with wooden spoon or your hand until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn the dough, along with any flour remaining in the bowl, out onto a clean work surface. Knead about 5 minutes, until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will feel moist and slightly tacky. If it’s sticking to the counter and your hands like gum, knead in more flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth.
At this point, you can let the dough rise until you need it or until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. After rising, the dough will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.
For the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 or as hot as it will go for at least half an hour before baking the pizza. If using a pizza stone, place it in the oven before turning the oven on.
When ready to make the pizza, get two 12-inch wide pieces of parchment paper. Cut the dough in half with a bench scraper or sharp knife. Working one piece of dough at a time, make a large disk with your hands and place it on the parchment.
Use the heels of your hand to press and stretch the dough gently until it’s 1/4 inch thick at most. If you want it extra thin like I did, use a rolling pin. If the dough starts shrinking back you can let it rest for 5 minutes and then start working it again.
Top your pizza dough with whatever you want. Using a pizza peel or the bottom of a cookie sheet, slide the pizza (with the parchment) onto the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, just cook it on a baking sheet. That’s what I did. No one will know the difference.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating and removing the parchment halfway through. When it’s done, the crust will be golden brown. Cook until your cheese is melted and a little toasty.
Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before slicing.
At one point while I was making this stew, I had the tomato, garlic, and basil all lined up on my cutting board, and a strange thought popped into my head, completely on its own. Huh. That looks like the Italian flag. The next thought that popped into my head was not that it would be kind of absurd for a country to base its flag on its food, though that’s probably what I should have thought. Nope. Instead, I thought, Wait. Tomatoes came from Mexico. Which I learned in some Spanish class where we focused on everything Europeans took back with them after coming to the Americas (tomatoes, chocolate, corn, potatoes….). So even if the Italian flag is based on food – obviously it’s not – the red can’t be tomatoes.
Then I had a hunch. Basil probably isn’t native to Italy either. Why this train of thought continued for so long I have no idea. And if you haven’t given up on this post yet, we should probably be friends. Anyway, turns out my hunch was right. Basil is native to Southeast Asia. And that’s where my weird train of thought finally ended.
And then, I got curious so I did a little research. Garlic is also native to Asia. The flag of Italy, of course, does not take its colors from basil, garlic, and tomatoes, but its green hills, snowy Alps, and bloody independence wars. Or hope, faith, and charity, from a more theological interpretation. Now we’ve all learned something new, thanks so my wandering stream of consciousness. Regardless of its ingredients’ resemblance to the Italian flag, the leftovers from this stew were wonderful to come home to on Friday, which was what will probably be the only day it snows in my town all winter.
This stew is yet another great one from Real Stew, a book which has yet to disappoint me. It starts with chopped onion practically swimming in olive oil.
Now for the red, white, and green.
Cover and simmer 3 hours, and dinner’s ready.
Home-Style Beef and Tomato Stew from Sicily
From Real Stew
Makes 4 servings
Time: about an hour for prep, then 3 hours of waiting while it cooks
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds boneless stew beef, trimmed of any large pieces of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, slices
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a casserole over medium-high heat. (I used the cast iron pot my mom got me for Christmas last year. I love that thing.) Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the beef, season with salt, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes.
Whisk together the tomato paste and wine and stir into the casserole. Cook about 5 minutes, until the wine is nearly evaporated.
Add the tomatoes, water to cover (recipe says 1/2 cup but I used a little over 1 cup), garlic, basil, and bay leaf, and season with pepper. Cover the pot, reduce heat to very low, and simmer about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender. Remove the bay leaf. Serve immediately.
This is great as leftovers, and will keep well for 4-5 days. if you want to vary your leftover routine a bit, a small-ish portion of this stew is great over pasta.
Putting a phrase like “Mom’s Tomato Sauce” in the title of a post seems so pretentious. As if my mom’s cooking is so far beyond the level of what you or your mom could make. I’m basically piloting a low-flying plane around a sold-out football stadium, trailing a ginormous banner that proclaims in all caps: MY MOM’S TOMATO SAUCE IS BETTER THAN YOUR MOM’S. OR ANYONE’S, EVER. SUCKS TO BE YOU. And a buzzed football fan starts yelling uselessly at me in my little biplane as I do a few laps to drive the point in. But then the guy in the row behind him starts yelling too, and it escalates into a brawl, and now there’s a bloody nose and I’m just innocently trying to brag about this sauce.
Don’t worry, I’m not pretentious enough to brag about my mom’s cooking on a football-stadium scale. This is as far as I’ll go. And ridiculous as that totally-impossible situation is, my mother is a darn good cook, people. Your mother is a great cook too, but I would put a hefty bet on the fact that my mom’s tomato sauce is the best. I could probably eat a bowl of it plain with no accompaniment. And I don’t even like tomatoes (true story). This isn’t your runny, odd-smelling, over-seasoned restaurant marinara. It’s chunky, hearty, and respectably seasoned. It’s easy and inexpensive to make. But best of all, it tastes like home.
This is what we start with. My mother is forever brand-loyal to these Cento che’f cut tomatoes, but any 28-oz can will work. In the wrapper is hot Italian sausage. Polenta’s not going in the sauce, it just sneaked in for this picture.
Cook the Italian sausage, breaking it up into bite-size pieces. This can totally be vegetarian, too. Or you can use ground hamburger or turkey.
Chop up half the onion and a few cloves of garlic and toss them in with the sausage.
Once the sausage is cooked, dump in the tomatoes, some dried basil and oregano, bay leaves, and chili flakes.
Stir and let simmer for 5 minutes or so. The longer you leave it, the more liquid boils away, the chunkier (and better, in my opinion) the sauce is.
Meanwhile, cut a few slices of polenta and fry them in a little butter until crispy. This was my first time ever eating polenta, so I bought it premade. But if you’re already an expert in making polenta, yours will be way better than this stuff.
Mom’s Tomato Sauce with Pan-Fried Polenta
Serves 1, with leftover sauce for 2-3 more days
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage (optional)
1/2 white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can chef’s cut tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 or 2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
butter for polenta
3 slices of pre-made polenta (store-bought or home-made)
Parmesan cheese for serving (I thought I had some when I made this, but I didn’t)
Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the Italian sausage. Break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When the sausage is browned on the outside and almost fully cooked, add in the onion and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Add in the garlic, and cook another 30 seconds, being careful to not let it burn. Reduce heat to medium. Add in the entire can of tomatoes, juice and all, basil, oregano, chili flakes, and bay leaves. Allow to simmer at least 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Meanwhile, add a small pat of butter to a pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add in the polenta, and cook until the outside is crispy, 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.
Arrange polenta slices on a plate, and cover with tomato sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese, if desired.
Sauce will keep in the fridge up to 5 days.