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Homemade Pizza — Six Tips to Making a Gourmet Pizza

homemade pizza

I first got into making homemade pizza through the Dad of one my daughter’s BFFs. I am ever indebted to him (dude, you know who you are). I took his tips and ingredients and added some of my own and here we are—KKG’s Gourmet Veggie Pizza with spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, and pesto. (And a pepperoni and cheese section for my daughter.)

(Full confession: I cheat on some of the elements, but, nonetheless, produce a tasty final product that’s got healthy ingredients and is pretty darn hip.) Now the tips. . .

1) Buy a metal pizza pan with holes in the bottom.

What? I’m snubbing the purists, I know. Everybody knows you must use a stone! Not so. Stones are a hassle—they take time to heat up (and then cool down) and also require that you buy a paddle and learn how to use it. I tried one at first, but it wasn’t worth the trouble when I could get just about as crisp a crust with a pan.

But the pan MUST have holes in the bottom. That way you at least have a fighting chance at some crispness. And make sure it’s big enough—14 inches minimum. Otherwise it’s too much work for too small a pizza!

I recommend: Cuisinart AMB-14PP Chef’s Classic Nonstick Bakeware 14-Inch Pizza Pan
pizza pan w-holes

2) Do NOT make your own dough or sauce.

Sorry to spurn the purists again, but unless you live in the boonies without a single pizzeria or gourmet food store within a 20-minute radius, it’s probably not worth the time. Save your chefing for concocting what goes on top!

That’s not to say that all pizza doughs were created equally good tasting—far from it. Shop around. Ask friends. Try the dough at local pizzerias until you find one you’re most happy with. If your source is not so close to home, buy a couple and freeze them. As long as you don’t leave them in there for an ice age (I date mine), they’ll make great pizza. And please make sure the dough feels solid, not too squishy, and doesn’t have any bubbles. Otherwise it can be a pain to work with.

Sauce-wise I use premium store-bought and recently lost access to my favorite brand. I’m still in mourning. Generally, you want a sauce—especially if there are any kids involved—on the sweeter side. The new sauce I auditioned wasn’t sweet enough, so I added some honey. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody.)
OXO pizza wheel

3) Heat the oven to only 450 degrees—that’s hot enough.

The standard instructions call for a 500-degree oven. But 500 degrees makes the preheat time interminable (at least 20 minutes), wastes a heck of lot energy for just 10 minutes of cook time, and isn’t really really necessary. The difference in the crust between 450 and 500 degrees I’ve found negligible. But I cook with a convection oven. In a regular oven, 450 may not be hot enough. Test it out and see for yourself, but don’t assume you need to be at 500. (At right: OXO Good Grips 4-Inch Pizza Wheel. OXO makes the best kitchen accessories. I love the feel of them and the quality’s good. We’ve had an OXO pizza wheel and peeler for over a decade.)

4) Not too much sauce, not too much cheese.

Discretion with your sauce and cheese is the mark (and taste) of a gourmet pie. Let the other elements shine without being smothered. Plus, too much sauce makes for soggy curst. Who wants that?

5) Don’t over cook.

In my convection oven, 9 or 10 minutes will do the trick. Even if the crust doesn’t come out super-crisp, it’s best not to melt into oblivion everything on top. And make sure to place the pizza on a rack as close to the bottom of your oven as you can get.

6) Pesto—it’s the secret ingredient. And Fontina cheese. (See my recipe below.)

I stumbled into Fontina because the Dad who first got me into making pizza in the first place was lactose intolerant. A blessing in disguise. Fontina is one delicious cheese for pizza. Cold and not melted, it’s a touch edgy. But once you heat it up and get it gooey, it tones down a bit, yet remains super flavorful. Even my picky-as-all-getout daughter woofs it. Speaking of which. . .

BONUS TIP Create a special pepperoni section. If you have a picky-eater in your family, just reserve a section of pizza for them with their favorite topping!

Drum roll please. . .

KKG’s Gourmet Veggie Pizza

Estimated time: About 1 hour (But I clean up a lot as I go which costs more time.)
Ingredients: (approximate amounts—it’s pizza for heavens sake)

1 1/4 lb of store-bought pizza dough (if you roll it thin like me, you’ll have enough leftover to make a small calzone)

1 cup of marinara sauce

1/2 lb or more of fontina cheese, rough grated

1/3 cup of parmesan cheese

5–6 oz of baby spinach

6–8 oz of baby bella mushrooms

8-10 baby artichokes (canned or bottled)

1/4 cup or less of pesto

[a dozen slices of pepperoni]

– Steam the spinach. Drain it on some paper towels (and give it a little squeeze). Nothing worse than watery pizza.

– Slice up the mushrooms and sauté. Drain the baby artichokes and slice in quarters. (If slicing baby artichokes isn’t the test of a sharp kitchen knife, I don’t know what is. If your knives flunk, maybe you should check out Kitchen Knife Sharpening Action Plan.)

– Right about now, turn on the oven. It will take at least 15 minutes to reach 450.

– Grate the cheeses. It will take longer than you think. If you’re into pre-prep (I am), you can do your grating earlier and keep in the fridge.

– Oil the pizza pan—even though it’s “non-stick”.

Now you’re ready for the messy, fun stuff—making the pie.

– Sprinkle some flour on whatever surface you’re planning to roll the dough on. (I do it straight on my granite countertop. It’s not marble, but close enough.) Get the flour on your hands, on the rolling pin, and on the ball of dough as well.

– Massage out the dough a bit with your hands. Then start rolling. (I find this the trickiest part of the whole operation.) Roll out in all directions—you want to keep the thickness even and at the same time keep the shape round. First time out, don’t pick up the dough and try to spin it in air the way you’ve seen every pizza maker in every pizzeria you’ve ever been to do. It’s much much harder than it looks. (OK, try it a little for fun—but earlier on, when the dough isn’t too thin.)

– Make sure to spread the pie significantly larger than your pan (an extra inch or so around). Then pick the naked pie up, gingerly and carefully, and place it in on the pan. Trim the excess dough drooping off the edge of the pan with kitchen shears or a very sharp knife. (If you happen to be in need of a new chef knife, see Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations and How to Buy a Great Chef Knife.)

Order of toppings:

– Tomato sauce first, remember not too much. Spread in a circular motion, starting from the center, just like the pros.

– Next, spinach. Place it in little mounds.

– Next mushrooms and artichokes. Scatter in the open stretches.

– Fontina cheese—in a combination of little mounds and general spreading.

– Finally, the pesto (yes, store-bought)—in small dabs with a teaspoon (a variation on the mound technique). And then—here’s a killer tip my Dad-friend taught me—spread a thin layer all around the outside edge. Mmmm . . . everyone’s going to eat their crust!

– Finish off with a dusting of Parmesan. (And if you’re doing the pepperoni section, do it last.) Ready to bake!

homemade pizza eatersFirst time out, set your oven timer for 9 minutes—but watch it like a hawk. In an oven this hot, just 60 seconds can make a difference. When it’s done, use a spatula to loosen it from the pan and then slip it off onto a cutting board. It’s a whole lot easier to cut this way, plus you won’t dull your pizza cutter or scratch up your pan.

Mangia, mangia!

P.S. If you’ve gotten a taste of easy pizza and it’s not enough and you want to get to the bottom of things, there’s now an iPad app. Can you believe it? Put out by Mark Bello who runs Pizza a Casa—a pizza-making school in (where else?) NYC. Everything you ever might want to know about making your own home pizza at your fingertips for $5.

4 Responses

  1. This pizza sounds delicious, but even easier – arugula, fontina and prosciutto. Though cutting up the prosciutto is tricky, but I guess when would have to have the right knife.

  2. This is great, thank you for posting it. My wife and I absolutely love home made pizza and I hear you on the dough thing and also that stone. We have one but you got it, a bit of a pain.

    Great post

  3. Adding pesto is a great tip:)

    Can’t wait to try this on our next pizza…even if it isn’t home made, I’m sure it’ll make it so much more flavorful!


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