NOW THAT THE Baltimore Ravens have answered some of life's big questions, namely, what is the best defense in the history of professional football and how many words can be paired with Maximus, small questions persist. Questions like what can you fix for supper.
My answer is homemade pizza. Lately that's what I have been tossing on the table to quiet the hungry horde.
There are three things you have to have to make this version of homemade pizza. First, you need a food processor with a steel blade to mix the dough. Second, you need a pizza stone to cook the pizza on. Third, you need a chunk of time, anywhere from 12 to 36 hours, to let the dough do its thing. First it sits at room temperature for a couple of hours, then it chills in the refrigerator to slow down its yeast activity and develop its flavor.
Getting the food processor is the easiest part of the equation. Many of us have one, sitting in a kitchen corner, waiting for action. The pizza stone is a more exotic implement, a slab sold in kitchen supply stores for about $30. It is heavy; you have to lug it in and out of your oven each time you use it. But it does nice work. It holds heat, distributes it evenly and makes an excellent crust. Sometimes topping falls off and hits the hot stone, turning a piece of sausage, for example, into a cinder. I have learned that to get a good pizza, you have to make a few cinders.
As for chill-out time, that can be hard to find. The trick is to make the pizza dough the night before you are going to eat it. I agree that it is difficult to get yourself motivated to whip up something you won't get to eat for another 24 hours. But making this dough does not require much work, just hitting the pulse button.
So one night after pushing away from the dinner table, I gathered some flour, salt, yeast and water, poured them in the food processor and made the dough. I let it sit at room temperature for two hours, then wrapped it in plastic and let it chill in the fridge. The next night, I took the dough out, worked it with my hands, forming it into a rough circle, and eventually dotted it with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and slices of Italian sausage.
Next I slipped the pizza from the back of a baking sheet onto the stone, which had been sitting in a preheated 500-degree oven. I cooked it for 10-12 minutes, until the edges were turning dark brown. Using a very large spatula, I lifted the crisp dough from the stone, then enjoyed Pizza Maximus.
Basic Pizza Dough
Yields four 12-inch pizzas
1 pound unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water
Place flour, salt and yeast in food processor fitted with metal blade. With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of water through feed tube, process for 30 seconds. If dough is too dry, add remaining water and process for another 15 seconds until ball is formed. Place dough ball in an ungreased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow dough to ferment 2 to 3 hours. Place the dough in refrigerator and chill for 4 to 36 hours.
After dough has chilled, work a piece of it with palms of hands, on lightly floured surface, until dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Place baking stone in oven; preheat oven to 500 degrees. Stretch warm dough into a round disk. Place it on back of a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Pour tomato sauce, cheese, and other toppings on dough. Slide pizza from baking sheet onto stone. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until pizza edges are beginning to turn dark brown.
-- Adapted from "The Best Bread Ever" by Charles van Over (Broadway Books, 1997)