Rustic Free-form Pizza
This is really good pizza, partly due to Cat’s “secrets.” One is the crust, which is a very soft yeast dough made with hard winter wheat – ie, bread flour. This allows it to stretch nice and thin and bake into a chewy, crusty crust.
At any time, refer to the video to watch COOKING: Freeform Pizza from Scratch at Home.
Another secret is to roll the dough out in polenta, which makes it extra crusty and chewy and also absorbs some of the liquid that inevitably gathers on the top as it is baked.
Another secret is to evaporate as much liquid as possible from the vegetables and sauce ahead of time – saute the mushrooms, evaporate the sauce to half its volume, and if you use fresh tomatoes, remove all the seeds and juices.
Yet another secret is to bake the crusts all by themselves for about 2-3 minutes before adding toppings. This also keeps the top crust from getting soggy. If you have a pizza stone, the pizza will be at its very best, but you can get a great crust with a hot oven anyway
- Cuisinart with basic metal blade
- Thin metal pans (not insulated) for baking pizza
- Oven that reaches at 500 degrees if possible
- Rolling pin (not absolutely necessary)
Choose a spaghetti sauce you like (about 20-24 ounces) and spread in a flat casserole and place in 275 degree oven for about an hour to evaporate about half the liquid. This intensifies the flavors and makes a a more stable pizza surface.
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon dry yeast (fast-acting is fine)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup water at about baby-bottle temperature, in a 1-cup or larger container.
- 2 cups hot water (like really hot bath water)
- About ½ cup dry polenta (for rolling out the crust)
Stir sugar into water until it dissolves, then add yeast and stir. It will clump; don’t worry. Let sit for about 5 minues. When you return, it will have dissolved and the liquid will be foamy. (If not, your yeast was too old and you cannot proceed. Go to the store and buy fresh yeast.)
Place flour in Cuisinart bowl with blade already inserted and turn on. Add salt. Pulse for a few moments to mix in salt. Leave motor running and quickly pour in yeasty liquid, and then begin adding more hot water slowly until the dough begins to clump and gather itself into one mass (some smaller pieces will remain loose). Remove top and stick finger in dough to see if it is really soft. Your goal is to keep mixing and adding water until the dough sticks to your finger and stretches up with you, like in the video. If you add too much water, you can add more flour until it is right.
Oil a large bowl and put the dough inside. Rotate the dough to coat the other side and then cover the bowl and set in warm place to let rise for about an hour. When it has doubled in size, it’s ready. If you want to wait longer, you can let it rise another half hour, but beat it down first.
Choose from the following:
- Grated cheeses (we used pepper jack, very sharp cheddar, and Parmesan)
- Diced marinated artichoke hearts, drained
- Capers, rinsed and drained
- Chopped fresh basil
- Chopped onions (we used red onions and green onions)
- Ham or other meats, diced
- Sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
- Red or green pepper, chopped
- Mushrooms, chopped (if you like, saute them first with some garlic to remove much of the liquid)
rolling and stretching the crust
Be generous with the polenta; it will keep the dough from sticking to the surface and your hands. It will be thin, but will rise and become wonderful in the oven. Keep the edges thicker than the middle. Place on unoiled pans and let rise, uncovered, for about ten minutes. Turn over on to 500 degrees or as close that as you can come.
Bake crusts for about 2-3 minutes, until they rise and puff and begin to brown just a very little bit. Remove; they will subside and flatten.
Spread tomato sauce over crusts, adding a thin amount to the edges for flavor. Add fresh basil next if using it, then everything else, finishing with cheese. Place in oven again, and bake for 5-8 minutes, or until you decide it is done.
This recipe is enough to feed 6-8 people.