Cooking with Mom (Part 2): Pizza tutorial

Mom’s pizza. For as long as I can remember, my mom has been making pizza at home, always with no sauce, and with a series of ever-more-sophisticated toppings as the years went on. She uses big perforated pans to bake it, and there was always plenty left over, filling rectangular tupperwares in the fridge with the promise of delicious lunches for a few days afterwards. Long before my parents arrived for graduation we had agreed that we’d make pizza one night, so I could learn mom’s technique.

B had to go to Boston for work on Monday and Tuesday of the visit, so we decided to make pizza Monday night, and then make a nicer dinner when he got home Tuesday. We went to the store and gathered cheese and toppings, drove back to the house, and saw the street that leads to ours full of fire trucks and policemen and power company rigs. Uh-oh. Then I saw the giant moving truck in the exit from the apartment complex near our house. Then I realized that there was about a 99% chance that it was our friends Brian and Liz’s truck. Uh-oh, redux. Turns out the moving truck had hit a low-lying phone line (this was not the first time it had happened but the phone company was refusing to raise the line), and the line was so strong that instead of snapping, it pulled down the entire telephone pole, and with it all the electric wires as well.

Needless to say, we were without power at home. While the repairmen slowly removed the old pole, raised the lines, and put in a new pole, we got to work on the pizza, figuring that if all else failed we could cook it on the grill (one of my favorite summer treats, but much more of a pain than just baking two pizzas in the oven). Since we have a propane stove, the cooktop was useable, though the electronic controls put the oven out of service. Mom started by making the dough (I will put the entire recipe at the end):

Flour, water, salt and yeast (the bulk kind):

Mix together into a loose dough (it’s not pretty at this point) and dump onto a floured work surface:


Knead for about five minutes, adding a little flour to prevent sticking if you need to:


The dough pulls together into a lovely little ball, nice and smooth. If you’re mom, you can knead this and retain the nice smooth ballness of it. If you’re Tom or me, you don’t have the knack yet, and each time you take a turn kneading it will get sort of sticky. Then mom will touch it and it will become perfect again. This part of the process obviously requires practice. We determined that she kneads with her right hand while picking up and flipping with the left, a smooth movement:


When the dough is smooth and elastic, oil a bowl and place the ball in it to rise:


Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until it almost doubles, 45 minutes-1 hour (blurry pic, sorry):


When the dough has risen but still has a little spring to it, punch it down and roll it out. We had to make little baby ones since we were grilling it and the pizza pan size would have been bigger than the grill:


Here’s where the process differs since we were grilling instead of baking. While the dough was rising we had sautéed wild mushrooms and caramelized onions. We’d also washed and dried some radicchio, to emulate a pizza we ate in Italy a couple years ago.



(A note on the radicchio: In Italy it was left whole on the pizza, but for some reason that didn’t work as well for us. A second batch with the leaves cut up was much easier to eat, though not as pretty.)

For grilled pizza you need all your toppings fully cooked, since they won’t be on the grill for long. We used the mesh pans I’d bought for baking the pizza, which made it easier to get the dough on and off the grill. After heating the grill up, we had the best luck with the heat turned to medium so things didn’t burn too fast. We put the dough on the grill, on the pan, and then closed the grill lid (the pan stuck out a bit):


The dough puffs up rather melodramatically (this one made a perfect rear end, to the juvenile delight of Tom and me):


And then the bubbles collapse, and the dough is ready to be turned:


At this point I pulled the pan off the grill to flip and top the dough. Turn it over, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with cheese (not a lot since it won’t have much melting time before burning) and toppings, and put back on the grill. When the cheese was almost melted, I slid the pizza off the pan onto the actual grill surface to get a little more scorchy flavor. Be careful, it burns fast!


It’s best to have everything ready to go, and to eat them as they come off the grill. Unlike the baked version, these don’t hold very well for some reason. Some of my favorite toppings include mushrooms, pesto, fresh tomato, etc. Go light with the cheese and toppings and play around. This is really fun for a party, with everyone sitting around topping the pizzas and eating them right away!


Naturally, right as we were about to cook the last little pizza, the power came back on. Oh well, this was much more fun!

The recipe:

PIZZA: From Kate’s Mom

Dough: 2.5 cups unbleached flour
1 T active dry yeast
1 cups warm water
.5 teaspoon salt
olive oil

Put dry ingredients in large bowl, add 1 cup of warm water, and mix. Water can’t be too hot or it will kill the yeast. The mixture will be very ragged. Sprinkle some flour on your counter and turn out the mixture. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding as little flour to counter or dough as needed to prevent sticking — 1/4cup total. The dough should be smooth and elastic when ready. Oil bowl with olive oil and turn dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour or until almost double; dough should still have some spring to it. While dough is rising, cut up tomatoes, grate cheese, and prepare any other topping you choose. Preheat oven to 450.

• Roll out dough 1/2 at a time into the right shape for the pan you are using.
• Brush dough with a little olive oil.
• Cover with diced tomato that has had seeds and pulp removed*.
• Cover tomatoes with coarsely grated cheese. (I use mixture of whole milk mozzarella and Italian fontina – not Danish).
• Add your favorite toppings, but not too many or the pizza gets heavy and complicated.
• Scatter a little oregano, a few red pepper flakes and some drops of olive oil. Salt lightly.
• Bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Alternate pans halfway through.
• When they are done, flip each pizza out of its pan, onto to bottom oven rack and let the bottom of the dough dry out for a minute or two; it will be crispier.

• Use granular yeast if you can, sold in bulk in natural food stores, rather than the brand name yeast in little envelopes.
• Use unbleached white flour or even better, organic unbleached white flour.
• Use fresh tomatoes, not canned. Plum or Italian tomatoes are best.
• Use fresh mushrooms, not canned. Put them on raw & they cook perfectly during baking.
• If using sausage or pepperoni, put them on raw & they cook during baking.
• For this amount of dough, you’ll need about .75 lb. cheese and 4 or 5 plum tomatoes.

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