Our standard three pizzas are:
- Clam and Garlic
- Sausage, mushroom and onion
- Basic cheese
You need a pizza stone. Put it on the bottom rack of your oven. Set the oven to 375. Your pizza stone directions say that you need to heat the stone for 20 minutes. They are lying. Heat it for half an hour before you put a pizza on there.
Making pizza is really about making the ingredients. From there, pizza is not so much made as it is assembled. It's like building the legs and arms of a Lego robot first and then later attaching them to the torso to complete the final beastie. Check here for the wife's pizza crust recipe. Now, you just need something to go on top.
Pre-mixed bags of pizza cheese are fine, but the flavor profile pales in comparison to grating your own cheese mixture.
Grate together fresh mozzarella, regianno-parmigianno, romano, and asiago cheeses. Proportions are pretty much about your own tastes. Fresh mozzarella usually comes in about a baseball-sized chunk and we use all of that. It's a moist cheese so it will be a bit messy as you grate it. The reggianno-parmigianno is probably the next largest component and together they provide the core of your cheese mixture. The romano and asiago add richness and some flavor highlights to your cheese. Mix all that up gently but thoroughly. You should have at last three to four cups of cheese in total. Don't worry about having too much. Taste it and you'll know that you're not going to waste it even if you have some left over.
Sauce seems to be one of the more daunting things about pizza-making from scratch. So people tend to buy it. But, making your own sauce is actually less work than going to the grocery store and deciding among the 14 million tomato sauce options on the shelves. I've seen Dads use up all their cell phone minutes trying to make a decision in that aisle.
~ half a medium onion, diced
~ 4 good-sized garlic cloves, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (we use Muir Glen roasted)
small handful of fresh herbs (oregano is the key, plus some basil or parsley)
good extra virgin olive oil (we use Lucini)
Splash of balsamic vinegar and/or bit of sugar, optional
In a sauce pan, start with a generous pour of the olive oil, it is actually an important ingredient in pizza sauce. Saute the onion until soft. Stir in the tomato paste until it coats the onion completely. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic reaches out, grabs you by the nose and yanks your face down to the pan (around 30 seconds). (If you are using dried herbs instead of fresh, add them now, just before the tomatoes go in and give them a quick stir to incorporate into the base.)
Add the tomatoes with their juice. Stir it all together and adjust heat to simmer. You want to simmer out most of the liquid so that you end up with something that is getting chunky, though it should not be completely dry. Turn off the heat and wait until it stops bubbling. Then puree it with your stick blender or transfer to a regular blender and then back into the pan. It doesn't need to be completely smooth and, in fact, you can skip the blending step all together if you want.
Taste it. Add the vinegar and/or sugar only if you think it needs a little more acid kick and sweetness, all of which depends on the quality of the tomatoes that went into the can. Get it back to the lowest of simmers and add your fresh herbs. Call it "sauce" and turn it off while you tend to other stuff.
You now have everything needed for the basic cheese pizza. Saute some sausage, mushrooms and onions together and you can now assemble two pizzas. The clam and garlic pizza, though, is a special creation. You won't need the sauce, but you will need a few fresh tomatoes.
Clam and garlic pizza
2 small cans chopped clams, thoroughly drained
~ 2 bulbs of garlic chopped
2 to 3 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
fresh basil, chopped
I put the little "~" sign in front of the "2 bulbs of garlic" note because for reasons I cannot comprehend people do not routinely use enough garlic to shut down production of every vampire show on cable TV. If it shocks you that there might be that much garlic involved in a clam and garlic pizza, well, the truth is that I am likely to use more than that. If you want to use less than two bulbs you are certainly welcome to. But, remember that it's called "clam and garlic" for a reason and that reason is that there will be only two main toppings on this pizza and one of them ain't clams.
For such a pungent ingredient, garlic is delicate stuff. It burns easily and you will not want to put it in your mouth if it is burned (if you think 2 bulbs of garlic sounds overpowering, try burning just one clove). Bring the garlic up to temperature from a cold start. Put a decent pour of olive oil in a pan and then put the garlic in. Then turn the pan on to around medium heat depending on your stove. Don't walk away.
As soon as the garlic shows the slightest sizzle, adjust your heat downward and be prepared to keep using your knobs for a couple minutes. The garlic should enjoy a warm embrace from the olive oil, like your mother saying she loves you rather than Great Aunt Maude carrying on about how you've grown. Stir it from time to time but watch it like a hawk. At the first sign of color, it is done and you should throw in the clams.
Stir the mixture together and keep stirring for a minute. Then put in the tomatoes and herbs and stir all that together. You can raise the heat a bit now if you want. Along about here you want to salt it somewhat generously and, yes, you'll just have to trust me on that. Cook it only until the tomatoes start to break down.
That mixture and cheese are the only things that go on your clam and garlic pizza. No sauce.
I say again, no sauce.
Cook all your pizzas until the cheese reaches the desired degree of doneness (lawyers have been called to arbitrate doneness opinions around here).
And thus ends Pizza Week.