I no longer remember where it originally came from. It’s written in red permanent marker on a piece of yellow foolscap spattered with a couple of decades worth of spilled tomato sauce, red wine, oil and who-knows-what-else. For many years now it’s been committed to memory, and remains folded at the bottom of the kitchen junk-drawer, but its instructions are followed by me or my partner at least once every couple of weeks, and it has been the been the basis for countless enjoyable evenings spent with family and friends. I’m talking about my “no-fail recipe” for pizza dough.
To me, food is all about sharing. And I don’t mean just the experience of eating it, but also preparing it and cooking it. My favourite way to host a dinner party is to cram as many people as possible–six to eight is usually the optimum number for our kitchen–in their shirt sleeves and ready to get involved. For this purpose, pizza is the ultimate party food. It’s a rare person, after all, who doesn’t like it, and it’s fabulously flexible. It’s equally good for kid’s birthday parties or adult get-togethers, a Friday night bash or a romantic dinner. Like a good romantic partner, it has the honest and unpretentious soul of a peasant, but if you’re willing to splurge for some exotic finery, it can show you an elegant night on the town.
This season, for a spin on the pre-Christmas pot-luck gathering, you can throw a winter solstice or tree decorating party by asking your guests to bring the pizza topping of their choice. Goat chevre, Portobello mushroom caps, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, chives, roasted garlic cloves, and crushed walnuts have all made a recent appearance at our house. For something a little extra special, track down a chunk of good-quality handcrafted cheese and take a few minutes to blend up your own pesto sauce for the base topping, instead of just grating up some waxy factory-produced Mozarella and cracking open a jar from the supermarket. For something really transcendent, try drizzling the creation with a little truffle-infused olive oil (you can track it down in most specialty food shops). As an alternative to wine, a nice microbrewed beer captures the right spirit of refined earthiness.
Finally – getting more than one good pizza pan is a worthwhile investment, but any upside down cookie sheet, lightly oiled, will serve in a pinch, and make a nice crispy-thin crust.
Pizza Dough (for one pizza)
1 cup cold water
1 pkg. active dry yeast
2 1/2 – 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsps olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1. Combine water, yeast, 1 1/2 cups flour – mix well. Add oil, salt, and remaining flour. Work together until dough holds shape.
2. Knead on lightly-floured surface. If dough becomes sticky, sprinkle more flour.
3. Put dough in lightly-oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then let rise until doubled.
4. When dough rises, place on lightly-floured surface, divide into two or more parts, roll into balls, cover them with towel, let rest 15-20 minutes.
The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped, cooked, and eaten.