Pull out the sheet pan for a homemade twist to pizza night

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homemade twist to pizza night

If you’ve gotten used to cooking at home more this year, then consider switching things up on pizza night and making it yourself on a sheet pan.

Not only will the pizza taste good, but it’s a fun activity with kids.

First, the crust, which is vital as a canvas for your favorite toppings: You can make the dough from scratch or buy it raw from a grocery store. Pizza dough freezes well and thaws quickly. There are also good options for most dietary restrictions.

My favorite way to make pizza at home is to grill it, but sheet-pan pizza is my second favorite as you still get a crispy crust and it is virtually foolproof.

Some general advice before we get to the recipe:

I pre-cook the dough because I like a crispy-crusted pizza and dislike the “raw dough under tomato sauce” experience. I also prefer crushed San Marzano tomatoes rather than commercial pizza sauce as it gives the pizza a fresher, brighter flavor. If you like the dried oregano and other spices common to jarred pizza sauce, add it to the crushed tomatoes for a zestier sauce.

The San Marzano plum tomatoes have an intense, tomato-y flavor that is a perfect balance of sweet and acidic and pairs perfectly with traditional pizza toppings. The fact that you buy them canned means you can keep them in your pantry for whenever the craving for homemade pizza strikes!

I happen to love a spinach pizza; the recipe here is made simply with crushed tomatoes, baby spinach and fresh mozzarella cheese. You could add mushrooms and pepperoni too. It’s easy to switch up the toppings — just make sure all of them are pre-cooked, since the cooking time here is only long enough to heat the toppings and melt the cheese.

If you’re making your own dough:

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH

This basic pizza dough can be made quickly using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook or a food processor. Recipe adapted from “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire- Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More,” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (The Taunton Press, 2014)

Makes enough for 2 pizza crusts.

1 cup lukewarm water

¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling bowl

1 ½ teaspoons sugar or honey

1 package rapid rise yeasts (2 ¼ teaspoons)

3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

If your kitchen is cool, preheat the oven on the lowest setting. Pour the water into the work bowl of a large food processor or stand mixer. Sprinkle the oil, sugar and yeast over the water, and pulse several times until mixed. Add the flour and salt and process until the mixture comes together. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. (If it is very sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until smooth. If it is too stiff, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until smooth.)

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand to form a smooth round ball. Put the dough in a large, clean and oiled bowl, turn it over several times in the bowl to coat with oil, drizzle a little oil over the top, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot or turn off the oven and stick it in there. Let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about 15 minutes in the oven or 1 hour in a warm spot.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Divide into two equal-sized balls and proceed with your pizza making. (The dough may be made ahead , frozen for up to a month, and thawed at room temperature before using.)

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SHEET PAN PIZZA WITH BABY SPINACH AND CRUSHED TOMATOES

Depending on your appetite, this recipe will feed 2 to 3 people.

Ingredients:

1 4-inch ball of pizza dough, see recipe below

Olive oil

Grits or corn meal

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella

2 cups of baby spinach leaves tossed in olive oil

1 cup of San Marzano crushed tomatoes

Flaky sea salt to finish

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Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and set the oven shelves in the middle position.

Take a small ball of dough, about 4 inches in diameter, and place it on a quarter sheet pan or 9-by-13-inch sheet pan coasted lightly with olive oil. Pour oil over the top and begin to stretch the dough out into a rectangular shape. You can push the dough with your fingers or use a rolling pin on a cutting board before you fit it into the sheet pan. If you need more oil to keep it supple, add a drizzle.

Once you have a nice shape, sprinkle it all over with the grits, turn the dough over and repeat, adding olive oil and grits as necessary. The oil will keep it tender and help the dough crisp up. The grits will give it a rustic texture that is a nice counterbalance to the toppings and melty cheese.

Note: If the dough is cold, you may have a difficult time stretching it to the end of the sheet pan. Let it sit at room temperature, and as it relaxes, it will become pliable.

Bake the dough in the preheated oven for 7 to 8 minutes or until the bottom is beginning to brown and the top has some color to it. If the dough bubbles, prick a hole in the bubble to let the air out. The crust will be easier to layer with toppings if it is flat.

Remove the pre-cooked crust from the oven and if it looks dry, brush it lightly with olive oil and season it with salt and pepper. Next, tear small pieces of the fresh mozzarella and scatter about ¼ of the cheese over the crust. Reserve the rest of the cheese for the top.

Spoon the crushed tomatoes over the crust and spread it with the back of a spoon so that you have a little bit of tomato sauce across the entire crust.

Toss the fresh spinach leaves in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil to coat the leaves. Season lightly with salt. Scatter over the pizza. It will look like you have a lot of spinach but it shrinks as it cooks. Tear the remaining fresh mozzarella into small pieces and scatter over the spinach.

Place the sheet pan pizza back in the oven and set a timer for about 13 minutes. You will know when the pizza is done when the cheese is completely melted and bubbly, and some parts of the cheese have browned edges or tops.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes to settle. Sprinkle flaky sea salt over the top and cut with kitchen shears. -AP

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