Budget Cooking — Oh, Pizza!

To me, pizza is the world’s most perfect food. All the essential food groups are combined into one delicious package — the crust is your starch, the cheese is your protein, and the toppings are your vitamin-rich veggies. You can eat it with your hands, so there’s little cleanup, and at least in my house there’s hardly ever any leftovers. What could be more
efficient?

My family is fortunate enough to live in a city where there is an abundance of amazing pizza places nearby. Dial a number and some of the best pizza in the world can be at our door within the hour. But ordering a pizza can be a luxury if you are on a budget, unless you order from an inexpensive chain pizza store, where quality is often sacrificed at the expense of cost-savings and speed.

The good news is you can serve your family steaming, delicious pizza anytime you want for just a couple of bucks if you make it yourself. I’ve been making pizzas professionally and for my family for more than 20 years and it’s still one of my favorite dishes to make. It’s easy, fun, and can even provide priceless family time if you get the kids involved
kneading the dough or placing the toppings. The variations are endless and it’s also a great way to use up leftovers. Plus, pizza!

Today, I’m going to share with you my recipe for a mouth-watering cracker-crust whole wheat pizza. Although it takes a little time because I proof my own dough, it’s not complicated and all the ingredients are probably already in your cabinets.

This simple recipe makes enough dough for two 16” pizzas, or four mini (8”) pizzas. You can freeze whatever you don’t use. Pizza dough freezes great, and can last for months. When you’re ready to use it, just pull it out to defrost for a few hours, then roll it out. Nothing could be easier. Plus the cost is roughly $.50 per 16″ pizza crust.

The Dough

2 cups lukewarm water (105-115 degrees F)

1 teaspoon honey

1 envelope active dry yeast

4 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

1 TBS salt

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1.   Measure the lukewarm water into a large bowl. Don’t worry about using a thermometer to temp it, just make it the same temperature as baby bath water. Sprinkle the yeast into water then stir in the honey until dissolved. Wait about 10 minutes for the yeast to start eating the sugars in the honey, causing tiny bubbles to form. Meanwhile, combine the flours and salt in a mixing bowl.

2.   Once the yeast starts to bubble, stir in 3 TBS of EVOO. Save the remaining EVOO for later. Add about ¾ of the flour mixture into the liquid one cup at a time until it starts to form a loose dough. You can use a Kitchen Aid mixer on low with a dough hook if you have one, or just stir it with a wooden spoon.

3.   Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter, then use your hands to knead it for about 8 to 10 minutes, slowly adding the rest of the flour mixture. When the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, form it into a ball. You can tell it’s ready when the dough springs back when you press your thumb into it. Spread the remaining EVOO around all sides of a mixing bowl using a paper towel or napkin, then roll the dough around in the bowl so that its covered with the oil. This prevents a skin from forming while it rises. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for at least an hour. This is called “proofing” the dough.

4.   Once the dough has roughly doubled in size, punch it down to its original size, knead it for about 30 seconds more, then let it rest for a couple of minutes. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into at least two pieces. I usually put one half in a plastic zip-lock freezer bag and freeze it for another day.

5.   Use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a circle or rectangle, depending on your cooking sheet. The dough should be slightly larger than whatever pan you’re using. Transfer the dough to the cooking sheet, then use your thumbs to crimp the sides to make a nice crust. Spray or brush the crust with a little EVOO to make it crispy. Use a fork to poke holes throughout the dough. This is called “docking the dough” and it keeps air bubbles from forming in the dough while it cooks.

Pizza Dough Crimped and Docked

Pizza Dough Crimped and Docked

6.   Cook in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes or until dough just starts to brown, turning once or twice.

The Sauce

There is nothing complicated about my pizza sauce, but it is delicious and very inexpensive – depending on the tomato sauce you buy, it can cost anywhere from $.11 to $.34/pizza. It’s easy to make it while your crust is cooking, plus the hearthy smells of the cooking crust and the tangy tomato smell of the simmering sauce are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

8 oz can tomato sauce (any kind)

1 TBS Italian Seasoning (or dried oregano)

1 tsp granulated sugar

Combine ingredients in a small sauce pan. Heat until just bubbly, stirring once or twice, then simmer for a minute or two to get the tin can taste out. Turn it off and set it aside until the crust is ready.

There's nothing complicated about my pizza sauce

There's nothing complicated about my pizza sauce

Assembly

Once the crust is ready, spread the sauce on the pizza using a spatula, then add whatever toppings you want.  I often use fresh sliced red onions and green pepper, canned or fresh sliced mushrooms, canned sliced black olives, partially cooked Italian sausage, or whatever I have at hand. Whatever you choose, it’s going to be delicious.

On this one, I put red pepper, red onions, black olives, sliced mushrooms and pulled smoked chicken

On this one, I put red pepper, red onions, black olives, sliced mushrooms and pulled smoked chicken

Cover your toppings with about 8 oz of low-moisture, part skim mozzarella, a package of which will cost anywhere from $1.49 to $3.00, depending on where you go and if it’s on sale. Or you can use fresh mozzarella if you want, but it’s going to be a little more expensive, usually about $2.98-$3.98 for a half pound. Before it goes in the oven, I usually sprinkle the pizza it with a little grated parm and Italian seasoning, some red pepper flake, and a little granulated garlic for some additional flavor oomph. Cook at 400F for about
20 more minutes, or until the cheese starts to just slightly brown.

Slice and serve with additional grated parmesan or Romano and crushed red pepper flake on the side. This recipe feeds about three hungry adults or a family of four. You’re a hero for under $4.00!

Oh, Pizza!

Oh, Pizza!

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