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'Za Best Pizza? DIY!

A DIY pizza pie can be the family-friendly, fun answer to an easy dinner.

By Kristin Belz November 3, 2012 Published in the November 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Pizza baked at home in a cast iron pan is a good alternative to going out or ordering in. You don't need a pizza stone to get a good crisp but substantial crust.

Image: Kristin Belz

For a family-friendly, delicious but easy to make dinner, there's something that's easy as pie. In fact,  it is pie: pizza pie. Making pizza at home takes a bit of planning, but if you start with a premade dough, homemade is as quick as calling the local pizzeria and waiting for the delivery guy. And making it at home is a lot more fun, especially if you involve the kids.

The secrets to homemade pizza success are pretty simple. 

Buy premade dough. Find it at grocery stores (Trader Joe's or New Seasons, etc.) or your favorite pizza joint. Not everyone will sell their dough, but usually if you ask, they'll oblige.  

Crank up the oven to eleven. Preheat the oven to as hot as it'll get (probably 500 degrees fahrenheit). It ain't no 700+ degree professional oven, but it'll be plenty hot for a quick browning bake.

Time to relax. Get the dough out of the refrigerator enough ahead of time to let it breathe and relax. 20  minutes is fine, 40 is even better. (It's probably the same as what you like to do when you get home from work, right? Only, while the dough is relaxing, you might be prepping your favorite ingredients).

Iron man, a.k.a. cast iron is king. Pizza stones are held up as the next best thing to having your own wood-burning oven, but really, are they necessary? In the humble opinion of this cook: No. Go with what you have. It'll be fine. Even a measly toaster oven baking pan will deliver a good pizza. That said, I admit I've not made the plunge to buy a pizza stone, but I love how well cast iron works,  so I have no incentive to invest in yet another single use kitchen item. There's something highly satisfying about using an ancient cast iron pan for a personal (or two person, if you're generous) size pizza. Even better is a small cast iron pan – the super cutest (though very hot to handle) pizza presentation ever. 

Prep your ingredients, or have the grocery store do it for you. Pizza toppings can be as simple or as complicated as you want, but this is where the fun begins. Easiest: pre-grated mozzarella and spaghetti sauce or sliced fresh tomatoes will do the trick. Or switch out pesto from a jar or tube for the tomato sauce, and grate on some parmesan.  

Stretch out the dough any way you want. Hands work fine, or use a rolling pin (or a wine bottle). No need to toss it in the air or even worry about whether it's round or not. Get the kids to help. Just use a little flour on the dough or rolling pin to keep it from getting to sticky. You can even stretch it right on the baking sheet or in the cast iron pan itself. That said, remember to...

...Grease the pan. Especially if you're using a cookie sheet, give it a light coat of oil before you spread the dough onto it, so that the pizza won't give you a fight when you try to lift it from the pan. Believe me; I know from experience. 

Top the dough with whatever you like, but don't overdo it. Simple cheese and tomato is terrific, but fennel and parmesan, or my favorite, cooked sliced potatoes, pesto and parmesan... Too many items, especially watery vegetables, will get soggy.

Once the pizza is in the oven, it's almost done. Don't stray too far away from the oven or you may have a black and burned pie.

Favorite Toppings and Other Tips

  • Pizza dough is cheap - a ball of dough to make one medium pizza will cost between $1.29 (Trader Joe's) and a few dollars. Pizza parlors will probably charge you about $2.
  • Top with fresh sliced vegetables, whatever's in season. Or cured meat – pepperoni gets crispy at the edges in the 500 degree oven. A little goes a long way. 
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