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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Homemade Pizza - Pizza Crust Video

When we think of pizza, most Americans think cheese and pepperoni. Of course there are many popular toppings that branch out from these staples, but in general, we tend not to stray too far from the occasional artichoke heart or sundried tomato.

But think about it... pizza crust is just a simple flatbread. Flatbreads are a staple food all over the world and are eaten with all kinds of traditional ethnic foods, such as Indian curries, peppery African stews, Moroccan harissas, and even with a simple South American breakfast. For these folks, flatbreads are used in the same way that Westerners use forks. So why not make a pizza out of it?

3-In-1 Homemade Pizza Crust Recipe

Since the vast majority of Western kids have a positive association with pizza, "making a pizza out of it" is a fabulous way to introduce young children to new and exotic flavors. Not only will the pizza look appealing, the bread will act to soften strong, ethnic spices that may be foreign to the uninitiated palatte. Cheese, of course, can also help soften the blow.

A pizza doesn't have to have cheese on it to make it a "real" pizza, though. Cheeseless pizzas aren't just for vegans and lactose intolerants. My personal favorite is a simple cheeseless pizza loaded instead with pesto, caramelized onions and walnuts (see recipe below). It can be topped with just a dot of feta for the occasional burst of flavor, but cheese is not the highlight of the pizza, as it would be for nearly all American-style pizzas.

Here are just a few creative examples of what can be done for healthier, ethnic or cheeseless pizzas:

Thai Pizza
Base: Thai peanut sauce
Toppings: shredded Napa cabbage and carrots, marinated baked tofu, splash of soy sauce and lime juice, chopped peanuts
Herbs: minced garlic and ginger, fresh cilantro and Thai basil

Fajita Pizza
Base: refried beans, olive oil
Toppings: fajita-style vegetables or meats, quacamole, sour cream, splash of lime juice
Herbs: minced garlic, fresh cilantro

Polish Pizza
Base: saurkraut
Toppings: Polish sausage (or veggie sausage), onion, green pepper, olive oil
Herbs: minced garlic, caraway seeds

Curry Pizza
Base: saag paneer (pureed spinach with cheese)
Toppings: chicken or vegetable curry, cashews
Herbs: minced garlic and ginger, fresh cilantro

Making Pizza At Home

Isn't pizza dough hard to make, though?

Actually, no; quite the contrary. Making good crust isn't nearly as much of an art as making good bread. Many people see 'yeast' in the ingredients list and get scared. They think, "Uh oh! I'll have to knead it, and rise it, and shape it and bake it." Yes, but it needs only a few minutes of kneading, and the rising happens by itself. Shaping takes all of a minute and most pizzas only need 12-15 minutes in the oven. The only time-consuming part is waiting for the dough to rise, which happens in about an hour.

It's also cost efficient to make a homemade crust; all that is needed is some flour and water, a packet of yeast, salt, sugar and a touch of olive oil.

With the right equipment, making pizza at home is fun, fast and friendly. Here are two inexpensive items recommended for homemade crusts that brown evenly and stay light and airy on the inside:

Pizza Stone - A pizza stone is a slab of stone used for baking pizzas and other flatbreads. A pizza stone is the next best thing to a wood-fired brick oven. It helps distribute heat evenly to the bottom and top of the crust, ensuring a perfectly crispy crust that's soft on the inside.

Since it is made of stone, it should be placed in a cool oven and preheated with the oven so that it doesn't crack from the rapid change of temperature. Once preheated, the stone will evenly transfer the heat to the crust. The raw pizza crust is then placed directly onto the stone, without having to remove the stone from the oven.

If you don't have a stone, you can use a pizza pan or the back of a sheet pan for baking pizza. The crust can be shaped right on top of either of these, as these pans do not need to be preheated.

Pizza Peel - This baking shovel has a long handle to keep your hands safe while transporting your pizza to and from the oven. It is a large, thin, wooden or metal spatula that slides the pizza quickly and easily to the pizza stone in the hot oven. The crust can be made directly on top of the pizza peel and then transported to the hot stone.

To help with ease of transport, cornmeal is usually sprinkled on the surface of the shovel before preparing the crust. But wait... move over Mama Mia, a piece of parchment paper on top of the peel works even better! Shape the crust on top of the parchment, then slide the pizza, along with the parchment, onto the pizza stone in the hot oven. The parchment goes right into the oven and easily slides from the pizza peel to the stone. No more smooshed pizzas!

If you don't have a pizza peel, use the back side of a sheet pan with the parchment. The crust will slide right off.


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