When I was growing up, Sunday night was always "pizza night." My grandparents' hosted, and there would be so many aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance that some of us would have to sit on a red-checkered picnic blanket on the living room floor. I always felt special when my grandfather would single me out to go with him to the Pizza Hut to pick up our weekly order of six large pizzas. I still remember the smell of those pizzas and how their intense heat would burn my lap as we road home in his burgundy Lincoln Towncar.
Now that I have a family of my own, it seemed only natural that we would have a "pizza night," too, although ours is on Friday night and I usually make our pizza from scratch. I've made Alice Waters' recipe for homemade pizza dough so many times now that I can do it in my sleep. But even if you've never made pizza dough before, you'll find this recipe incredibly simple to master. I usually make my dough right after breakfast on Friday morning, and then leave it sitting out on the counter covered with a dishtowel until I'm ready to make dinner. But you can also make it the night before and store it in the fridge overnight. Just make sure to take it out in the morning so that it has all day to rise at room temperature.
As for toppings, your imagination is the limit. In summer, I try to make use of the abundance of fresh tomatoes, basil, peppers, mozzarella, and I'll add a little prosciutto if I'm craving meat. In winter, I tend to use pitted Kalamata olives, oven-roasted tomatoes, pesto, feta, and Andouille sausage. If you use fresh basil, try tucking it under the mozzarella so that it doesn't burn. Or else just put it on for the last five minutes of baking.
It's a far cry from Pizza Hut, but our family pizza nights are just as fun—and much more delicious.
Alice Waters' Homemade Pizza Dough
from The Art of Simple Food
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
Add and mix well:
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup rye flour
Allow this mixture to sit until quite bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Mix together in another bowl:
3 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
Stir this into the yeast and flour mixture with:
3/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix thoroughly by hand or in an electric stand mixer. If working by hand, turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead until the dough is soft and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too wet, add more flour, but only enough to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Or use the mixer, fitted with the dough hook, and knead for about 5 minutes. The dough is the right texture when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl of the mixer, but still adheres to the bottom. A very soft, slightly moist dough will make the best focaccia.
Put the dough into a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. For an even better-tasting and more supple dough, let the dough rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator. (Remove from the refrigerator two hours before shaping.)
Generously oil a 10-inch by 15 1/2-inch rimmed baking or sheet pan. Gently remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it on the baking pan, shaping it to fit the pan by gently pressing down from the center out towards the edges. If the dough starts to resist and spring back, let it rest for 10 minutes, then continue shaping. Try not to deflate or smash all of the air out of the dough as you are shaping it. Dimple the surface of the dough by lightly poking it with your fingertips.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cover and let rise until doubled in height, about 2 hours.
While the dough is rising, reheat the oven to 450-degrees F. If you have one, place a baking stone on the lower rack and let it heat for 30 minutes before baking the bread. Sprinkle the dough with 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, and put the baking pan directly on the stone. Bake the focaccia until golden and crisp on the top and bottom, about 20 to 25 minutes.