Spring Vacation Will Start Soon; Pizza Can Help
There is of course no actual reason to make your own pizza, from a culinary point of view. Your average pizza professional will toss a much better pie than anything you can make in an afternoon at home.
There is nonetheless one very compelling reason to try making the food favorite (which some legislators are trying to make the official state food of Connecticut): Making pizza is fun and a great activity to do with children.
Spring vacation is coming soon for students in Region One. That means that children of all ages will be bored and hanging around the house (especially if it’s cold and muddy outside); plus, you will have to feed them.
Pizza is here to help
This is a project that checks a lot of activity boxes:
• It can be enjoyed by all age groups, from teens to toddlers.
• It has several educational components. For instance, all cooking projects teach children to count, to measure and to follow instructions. Ideally, you will model good behavior by getting all the ingredients out ahead of time, pre-measuring them and reading the instructions aloud together.
Another educational component is to talk about pizza’s origins in Italy. This is a moment in cooking history when we talk about cultural appropriation; before you get cooking, do some internet searches for Italian pizza (or watch the excellent television show “Stanley Tucci, Searching for Italy.” In the episode about Naples you can watch a mouthwatering demonstration of how true Italian pizza is made).
• For older children, learning to make a favorite food is a confidence booster. Maybe your teens will even invite friends over for their own pizza party.
• Any project that involves yeast is automatically a lesson in life science. Yeast is alive. It’s fun to watch what it does to flour and water.
• Making pizza falls into the category of “decorative craft projects.” Children above all else love to decorate things, and any child of any age can enjoy arranging cheese, basil, sauce on a crust canvas.
As the parent, your job is to keep your hands off; don’t tell them how to decorate unless they ask for your help. You’ll have enough to do preparing the ingredients and cleaning up; let them create the edible art. This is about doing an intergenerational project that, in the end, will also provide you with lunch or dinner.
It’s important to warn your pizza makers that the pretty pizza they put in the oven will be less pretty after it’s been exposed to 450-degree heat for a quarter of an hour. Children who love monster films might be thrilled by this; younger children might be disappointed.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe at www.allrecipes.com by Chef Rider. I made several changes, including leaving out the sugar. Bakers use sugar to be sure their yeast is active (to “proof” it), but if you use an unexpired packet of yeast you shouldn’t have any problems.
I use SAF instant yeast (I buy it at Sharon Farm Market in Sharon, Conn.), which gets mixed right in with the dry ingredients. You can do the same with active dry yeast, in spite of what the package says.
However, if your young chefs will find it exciting, by all means begin by combining one packet of active dry yeast with a teaspoon of white sugar and your warm water. Let the mix stand for 10 minutes until it puffs up. Then mix it with the other ingredients.
This recipe calls for bread flour, but I made it with all purpose flour because I think that’s what most people have at home. If you have bread flour and want to use it, go ahead; it will improve the texture. But I found the all purpose crust to be crisp and tasty.
You’ll need a strong stand mixer for this; I used my fancy high-power KitchenAid mixer and the dough was so stiff it shut my engine off. If you don’t have a sturdy mixer, you can knead the dough for a few minutes but really don’t worry about it too much. You want it to be smooth but it doesn’t have to be professional quality.
Adapted from www.allrecipes.com
Makes four small pizzas
• .25 ounces of dry yeast (or one packet of active dry yeast — note it is .25 not 25)
• 1 1/4 cup of warm water (heat it to 110 degrees; if you don’t have a thermometer, it should feel warm not hot if you put a drop on the inside of your wrist)
• 2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 1 teaspoon of salt
Toppings can include tomato sauce from a jar, pesto sauce, fresh or shredded mozzarella, good-quality ricotta (drain it over a colander first), olives, mushrooms, fresh basil, peppers, artichoke hearts — you know what you like.
Combine all your ingredients (except the toppings) in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth. You can knead it instead; don’t worry over it too much, it doesn’t have to be perfect, just smooth.
Let the dough rest for a half hour in a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal but again, don’t worry about it too much). If you have an Instant Pot, wipe the inside of the pot with olive oil on a brush or paper towel, and then put your dough inside. Do not lock the cover on, just put a plate on top of it. Heat your dough on the yogurt setting for 30 minutes.
If your chefs are antsy, you can skip the rest period and go ahead and roll out the dough — but it will be stiff and uncooperative.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. After your dough has had its 30-minute rest, it should be puffy and tender. Divide it into four roughly equal pieces with a heavy knife or a pastry cutter. Lightly cover three of the pieces with a damp dishtowel or a sheet of plastic wrap.
Take the fourth piece of dough and roll it gently into a ball, then stretch it and flatten it into a disc. Put it on a sheet of parchment paper and roll it out gently. You probably won’t make a perfect circle; feel free to make shapes (make a rabbit and give it mozzarella whiskers and a fluffy white mozz tail).
Shape the other three balls.
Give each young chef a pizza crust and some ingredients to work with. It’s best if they can decorate their pizza in 15 minutes or less; if it takes longer, the dough can dry out and start to puff up. Make sure they stay on the parchment paper.
If you want to give your pizza a little more flavor, brush it lightly with olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper before you start decorating.
Slide your pizza and parchment paper on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until it looks done. Don’t let anyone burn their mouth on the hot sauce and cheese. This pizza reheats beautifully (325 degree oven).