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Homemade Pizza Delivers Making them faster and better yourself is easy as pie

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hold the phone.

In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered, you could make an even better one yourself. And you don't have to settle for pepperoni.

In about 30 minutes, you can make and bake a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza layered with a creamy spinach filling, sausage, sauce and cheese.

If you have 25 minutes to spare, you can make a spicy Cajun chicken pizza so gorgeous you'll be tempted to knock on doors and show it to the neighbors.

In 23 minutes, you can make a Mexican pizza with seasoned ground beef, salsa, globs of sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, garnished with a pinwheel of ripe avocado slices.

Smoked salmon and brie pizza, for the Chablis crowd, takes just 19 minutes.

A fabulous four-cheese pizza: 17 minutes. And if you must have pepperoni, a basic pie can be yours in just 15 minutes.

When I set out to match pizza shops' promise of 30-minute delivery, I knew I could make a pizza fast. But I didn't know whether it would be good.

These pizzas are great, thanks to Eugene De Christopher and lessons learned in a two-day testing session.

Mr. De Christopher is the guy who dreamed up Boboli Italian Bread Shells, ready-made pizza crusts. He began selling them to restaurants in 1983. Five years later, Kraft bought him out, and by 1992 the shells were available in supermarkets nationwide.

A 12-inch crust costs about $3.30, but if you can afford it and like thick-crusted pizza, you can't do much better. You may be able to find a store brand that's as good, but I didn't. At about 80 cents a crust, though, the store brands are bargains.

The gourmet flatbreads I tried weren't as good as Boboli (say "BO-buh-lee"), either, although they cost about the same.

Thin-crust fans will have to buy doughs in tubes, such as Pillsbury All-Ready Pizza Crust. A tube produces one 12-inch crust and costs $1.30 to $1.60, depending on brand. The dough also can be used to make deep-dish pizza.

In experimenting with cheeses, I found that a mixture of mozzarella and Parmesan is much better than mozzarella alone, unless the mozzarella is an integral part of a specialty pizza such as our deep-dish pizza.

For a 12-inch pizza, 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella and a half-cup of Parmesan will provide a generous, molten topping.

Surprisingly, I didn't find much difference in price between packaged, shredded mozzarella and mozzarella sold in chunks. The chunk was only about 25 cents per pound lower in price. However, the chunk still is a much better value, because hand-grating produces a much greater volume of cheese.

The proof is that a 12-ounce package of pre-shredded cheese made about 1 1/2 pizzas in my tests. After making four pizzas with the 1-pound chunk, I still had about a fourth of the chunk left. You use less cheese per pizza when it's hand-grated, because the cheese spreads more evenly. In tasting, the difference isn't noticeable.

Hand-grating a cup or two of mozzarella takes just a half-minute or so with a sturdy, square-sided grater. Use the side with the largest holes.

Hand-grating Parmesan is more time-consuming, so I used store-grated Parmesan instead. Those who own mini-food processors can grate Parmesan in a wink by cutting the cheese into nuggets and whirling in the processor. Fresh-grated is best. Avoid commercial, shaker-container Parmesan, which has practically no flavor.

The adventuresome may want to add even a third cheese to the mozzarella-Parmesan mix. Live it up with fontina, a creamy, nutty-tasting cheese that melts beautifully. Or substitute a half-cup of Jarlsberg, a mellow Swiss, for half-cup of mozzarella.

You've got lots of choices in cheese, but not much choice of sauce. Two of three commercial ones I tasted were pitiful. They were obnoxiously salty, with a flavor suspiciously similar to the companies' spaghetti sauces. I finally settled on Progresso, a fresh-tasting but bland canned sauce that I jazzed up with oregano and fennel seeds.

Most of our pizzas, though, contain no pizza sauce. The Mexican pizza is napped with chunky salsa, the Cajun chicken pizza is dotted with bright bits of plum tomatoes and the four-cheese pizza has no sauce at all.

The four-cheese pizza has a bare slick of olive oil (to help the cheeses stick), mounds of cheese and a grind of black pepper. Anything more would be overkill. The pizza is voluptuously rich, with the blue cheese adding a faint tang to the melted puddles of fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Two last tips: Use a plastic sandwich bag to spread olive oil over the crusts; and allow the pizzas to rest for a few minutes before cutting, so that the cheese doesn't slide away.

After you spend 20 minutes or so making one of these pizzas, you may forget the pizza shop's phone number altogether.

Four-cheese pizza

1 12-inch pizza shell

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup each grated mozzarella, fontina and Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

salt, fresh-ground pepper

Place pizza shell on a baking sheet. With a plastic sandwich bag, spread one tablespoon olive oil over crust. Combine the four cheeses in a bowl and toss gently. Arrange on crust, leaving a 1/2 -inch space around edge. Drizzle remaining olive oil over cheese. Season lightly with salt and fresh-ground pepper.

Bake in a preheated oven according to directions that come with crust: 10 minutes at 450 degrees for Boboli crusts, 10 to 12 minutes at 425 degrees for most store brands.

Based on a recipe from "Italian Pizza and Hearth Breads" by Elizabeth Romer.

Basic quick pizza

1 12-inch pizza shell

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup commercial pizza sauce

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 8-ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese, or 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 ounce thin-sliced pepperoni, or enough to cover

Place pizza shell on a baking sheet. Spread olive oil over crust. Spread sauce over oil. Sprinkle oregano and fennel over sauce. In a bowl, mix together cheeses; arrange on pizza. Top with pepperoni. Bake according to directions that come with crust.

Deep-dish pizza Makes 6 servings.

1 tube (10 ounces) refrigerated pizza dough

1 pound Italian bulk sausage

1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 cup commercial pizza sauce

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pat dough in bottom and up sides of a 9-inch-round cake pan, fitting closely where bottom and sides meet. Trim off excess dough by running a sharp knife around edge.

Brown sausage in a large skillet over high heat, stirring often. Meanwhile, thaw spinach by removing from package, placing in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwaving on high power for two to three minutes.

When sausage is done, set aside. Place spinach in a sieve and press out all moisture with the back of a large spoon. Transfer to a bowl. Place sausage in same sieve and allow to drain.

Combine spinach with mozzarella and garlic powder and mix thoroughly with hands to break up clumps of spinach. Layer over dough in pan. Layer sausage evenly over spinach mixture. Spread sauce over sausage.

Bake in a preheated, 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Top with Parmesan cheese and bake 10 minutes longer. Let set about five minutes before cutting.

Mexican pizza

1 12-inch pizza shell

1 pound ground chuck

1 envelope (1 1/4 ounce) taco seasoning mix

3/4 cup chunky salsa

1/3 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced (optional)

Place pizza shell on a baking sheet. Brown ground chuck in a large skillet over high heat, stirring constantly. When almost done, stir in taco seasoning mix. Continue stirring until beef is no longer pink. With slotted spoon, drain meat and transfer to pizza shell, spreading evenly over surface.

Spread salsa evenly over ground beef. With a spoon, arrange dollops of sour cream over salsa; do not spread. Combine cheeses in a bowl; arrange over pizza. Bake according to directions that come with crust (10 minutes at 450 degrees for Boboli crust). Garnish with avocado slices, if desired.

Cajun chicken pizza

1 12-inch pizza shell

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 1/2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (any commercial brand)

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded fontina cheese

1 can (16 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place pizza shell on a baking sheet. Spread 1 tablespoon olive oil over crust.

Cut chicken into strips about 1/4 -inch wide and 2 inches long. Heat remaining two tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Stir-fry chicken over high heat for two minutes. Add Cajun seasoning and stir-fry two minutes longer, or just until chicken is cooked through. Do not overcook, or chicken will be tough. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix together mozzarella and fontina cheeses. Spread over pizza crust. With hands, break up tomatoes into chunks; drain well. Arrange over cheese. Top with chicken strips, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake according to directions that come with the crust (10 minutes at 450 degrees for Boboli crust).

zTC

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