Bring the thawed dough (recipe here) to room temperature, 15 to 30 minutes (while you are getting everything else ready.) Put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500° while the dough is coming to room temp. (If you don’t have a stone, oil a baking sheet and set aside.) Dust a peel (your rimless cookie sheet) or the greased baking sheet generously with cornmeal or flour. Working with the dough in your hands over a clean work surface, gently begin to stretch the dough into a circular shape, by draping the dough over one fist and pulling at the edges with your other hand.
With both hands, stretch the dough, being careful not to tear it. Lay the dough on the work surface and continue to stretch it until it’s relatively even in thickness (the edges will be thicker) and you have the size you want. Carefully lay it on the peel or prepared baking sheet. Lightly rolling it over a rolling pin makes the transfer easier—place the pin at one end of the “peel” and gently unroll the dough over the “peel.”
Top the pizza as desired. This is where the spatula comes in—unless you are assembling your pizza on the cookie sheet it will cook on. If you are not incredibly fast in putting your toppings on, the dough will begin to stick to the “peel.” Put a little flour on the spatula and work it under the dough. As I am adding my toppings, I shake the “peel” from time to time to check if the dough is starting to stick. It usually does in one area or another. I add a little flour under that spot, put on more toppings, check for sticking again, etc.
When all the toppings are on the dough, check one last time that the dough is not sticking to the peel, and either slide it off the peel and onto your heated stone, or place the pizza on the greased baking sheet into the oven. Cook the pizza for 6 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
Sprinkle on thinly sliced herbs or a handful of arugula and eat immediately.
Use your favorite store-bought pizza sauce, or very easily make your own. This recipe makes enough sauce for one medium pizza.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until tomatoes are reduced to about ½ cup, about 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, add the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. When just about all the liquid has evaporated, stir in the basil and remove from the heat. Let cool to almost room temp—if you put the sauce on the dough while it is still hot, the dough will get VERY sticky and you’ll never get it into the oven without making a huge mess. I make pretty big batches of the sauce and just keep a jar in the fridge for super-fast pizza nights.
Pizza is a great way to use up leftovers—any meat, such as shredded chicken, pulled pork, meatloaf (crumbled) and any vegetables. Some of our favorite pizza toppings are cooked sausage or hamburger crumbles, corn kernels, sliced roasted or boiled potatoes, roasted or sautéed peppers (or thinly sliced raw ones), sautéed mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant, diced or sliced paste tomatoes (if you use big slicing tomatoes, drain them on towels as long as possible first), chopped broccoli, leeks, thinly sliced fennel … just about anything you’d put in a salad works great on a pizza.
After the pizza comes out of the oven, some arugula or chopped spinach along with more thinly sliced basil (or any herbs you like) finishes it off beautifully. Don’t forget my all-time favorite, inspired by Louisville’s BlueDog Bakery and Café: Bake the crust with sauce, and then top with a few poached eggs and some cooked bacon and a sprinkling of spicy greens. Another favorite is to bake the crust with just a brushing of really high-quality olive oil, top with VERY thinly sliced ripe pears and a scattering of chopped walnuts and a bit of blue cheese—finish with arugula when it comes out of the oven. Oh, man, I think I need to go make another pizza right now.
As for cheese, I adore Kenny’s Farmhouse cheeses and in particular for pizza I like a combo of his Asiago for the flavor and the Kentucky Rose for the creamy melted texture. We don’t like much cheese on our pizza so I probably use between a half cup and a scant cup grated, not packed, per pizza. When I’m adding corn or potatoes to my pizza, I love to add a few crumbles of one of his blue cheeses—mixed in with the other two. That sharper flavor is splendid with the starchier veggies. And I haven’t even talked about making your own mozzarella cheese for your pizza; we’ll have to save that for another day. Just know it is completely doable at home, and it’s a lot of fun to do.