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Pizza Party
At-home pizza making ideas

10/15/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Whether you’ve got an oven, grill, pan, toaster oven or electric pizza stone (yes they do exist, and local foodie Susan McLean says they’re awesome), you can make your own pizza just the way you like it.

The Hippo talked with local food bloggers McLean (laptop2tabletop.com) and Andrew Toland (pizzanh.com) for ideas about how to be creative, fun or fancy with your at-home pizza making. The good news: it’s kind of hard to completely screw up.
 
Crust, sauce and cheese
Your pizza’s flavor starts with your bases, and if you want yours to be restaurant quality, Toland suggests going to your favorite pizzeria for advice. Toland, who started a pizza review blog with his wife Deidre Ashe in 2010, is constantly talking with their favorite neighborhood joint, Tano’s Pizzeria in Manchester, for tips and techniques, and so far, they’ve been pretty responsive. In fact, when he asked about their dough, the maker on site scooped a bag of what they use — dough with high gluten flour — and handed it to Toland to try out.
Toland also likes dough from the Portland Pie Company, which he said you can get at most grocery stores, and for cheese, he prefers straight mozzarella, shredded or sliced himself, over packages labeled “pizza cheese.”
“I’ve noticed other kinds of cheese don’t melt very well, or maybe they don’t melt consistently. And a lot of times with pizza cheese, the cheese melts very greasy,” Toland said via phone.
Of course, it all has to do with your own tastes; the best thing to do is practice and experiment with different ingredients, combinations and proportions.
“I’m still searching for a sauce recipe I like,” Toland said. “And I’ve bought every kind of sauce under the sun. But I still haven’t found one I like better than my favorite pizza place’s.”
If you’re concerned about gluten or want to forego dough all together, McLean said she’s made a mean wheat-free dough from cauliflower (though you can also do this with zucchini). She squeezes out the moisture with the help of a grater or food processor, cheesecloth, colander and paper towel, then binds it with ingredients like eggs and grated parmesan cheese. It tastes best fresh — the vegetables get soggy if it sits too long.
When it doubt, look online, search YouTube. Toland’s personal favorite resource is thepizzabible.com, an online community of pizza makers (and the official site for Tony Gemignani’s book, The Pizza Bible). If you’re in a real bind and don’t feel like dealing with dough, Toland said pizza can still taste good with already-made crust, in which case you only need to worry about toppings.
 
Toppings
These can make or break a pizza.
“Don’t overload it with toppings. You want to taste all the ingredients, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming, with 10 different things. You want to see the crust, and you want to taste the crust,” McLean said.
Most things will taste okay on pizza, but just as with any cooking recipe, you should have an idea in your head of what you want to taste. Think less mushy, more crunchy.
“You do want something to provide a little texture — fresh broccoli on pizza is delicious. It gives it a little crunch without being too soggy,” McLean said.
 
In the oven
If you want your pizza to resemble that from a restaurant, Toland advises investing in a pizza stone -- though maybe don’t invite guests over the first time you use it.
“The first pizza I made on a pizza stone was a complete disaster. It got stuck to the pizza peel and flipped over on itself, sauce side down,” Toland said.
And so, his tip for beginners: if you’re going to get the stone, get the pizza peel and use cornmeal to prevent stickage. Also, make sure the pizza stone is heated up well — and follow the directions.
Toland said he’s noticed pizza steel trending — it’s more conductive of heat and can, obviously, get much hotter than a stone. 
If you use a cookie sheet or pan, McLean said she uses parchment paper for easy removal. Hotter is better.
“If you can get your oven to 450 degrees, you can get a nice, crispy crust, and that can prevent the center from becoming too soggy,” she said. 
 
On the grill
Cooking on the grill gives pizza that charred or smoky taste.
Toland uses an outdoor pizza oven (called Uuni, created with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, which cooks pizza super fast and heats up to 840 degrees, according to the website), on which he likes to make a classic margherita pizza.
“We’ve tried barbecue chicken pizzas [on the grill] … and for whatever reason, it doesn’t pop the same way,” Toland said. “The best way on the grill, we found, is to just make little flatbreads, like the kind you would get at any restaurant. Make a strip of dough, put it on the grill, cook it halfway — then take it off, put toppings on and grill the rest of the way.”
If you’re short of fancy grill gadgets, McLean said you can do just fine with a grill-top pizza pan that allows air to come through without sticking to grates. She’s even put pizza right on the grill itself, though very carefully and after excess olive oil spray. If you’re wary, this may be a good time to pull out the already-cooked crust, which will ensure there’s no seepage.
 
Electric pizza
McLean’s newest pizza toy is the Breville Crispy Crust Maker, which looks like a fat waffle maker from the outside and cooks pizzas in three minutes.
It’s not cheap and is kind of hard to store because it’s big, but in McLean’s opinion, it’s worth it, enabling better temperature control than her at-home oven. Its speed also means her family can make their own individual pies with little time and effort.
“It gives fast food a new name,” she said. “We do a make-your-own pizza night at home. I prep the pizza dough, lay it on the parchment paper — people get their own toppings, and boom. It’s done.”
 
Other ways to get your fix
Traditionally it’s Greek pizza that’s made on the stove, but you can make your own that way if you’re wary of grilling and pizza stone doodads, or even if you’re in a pinch. McLean makes her own Mexican pizza in a pan using tortilla bread as a base, salsa as sauce and taco ingredients as toppings, or just whatever’s left in the fridge: grilled chicken, pulled pork, beans, cheese, jalapeno peppers, guac, sour cream, etc.
“It’s really quick. I take the tortilla, spray the pan with Pam, put it on the stovetop, and when it gets warm and crispy, I put the ingredients on top,” McLean said.
Then there’s the trusty-old English Muffin pizza, which is especially fun for kids.
“That way, you can get the kids involved, scooping out the ready-made sauce and putting on sliced pepperonis and any other toppings and cheese before baking it in the oven,” McLean said. (Or, if you prefer, toaster oven.)
Other ideas, courtesy of McLean: use a half pita and give your pizza an Indian feel with curried vegetables and thai peanut sauce. Or, on the sweeter side, go for dessert pizza; she once made one with brownie batter crust, fresh fruit and drizzled chocolate on top. Other favorite dessert pizza toppings include pumpkin, honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, hazelnut spread, cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans, chocolate, whipped cream, marshmallows.
It’s all about research, trial and error.
“Pizza is a great comfort food. It’s easy to eat, and again, because it’s so versatile — you can have so many different bases with so many different combinations of toppings,” McLean said. 





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