A few months ago I was having trouble sleeping and for some reason I kept waking up at 4:35am. I didn’t even need to look at the clock to know, I already knew before looking that it was 4:35. What does that mean? It went away for a while but recently it has started up again, this time less precise and I wake up sometime between 3:00 and 4:00am. The house is totally dark and everyone is asleep though Jason is tossing and turning restlessly. One of our cats, Chewy, follows me around from room to room while our other cat Bella (who’s name long pre-dates the vampire novels) sleeps on top of her big stuffed elephant, one eye open, as she glares at me half asleep. I pace the house hoping I will get sleepy again. Outside the window the traffic light blinks yellow and there are no cars, buses, or trains in sight. Its cold, and so I crawl back into bed and lie there waiting to drift off to sleep.This morning, we braved the bitter cold, its -7C (19F), cloudy and windy. On days like this we want to stay in bed savoring the warmth, and leave the storm shutters drawn to block out the bleary grey light, and pull the covers back over our heads. Instead, we bundled up in layers, tied scarves around our necks and pulled on hats and gloves. We have two dutch bicycles. Have I mentioned them before? We don’t own a car here in Germany, whenever we travel we hop on our bicycles and pedal through rain or shine, snow, frost, and streets caked with ice. My bicycle has a wine crate mounted to the back (which my wonderful husband made for me) and this serves as my trunk. That’s where I stow my purse along with empty shopping bags. Every day I head to the grocery store, fill up my crate with whatever strikes me and pedal home to cook the foods you see here.Jason and I have a long-running cold-weather tradition; we like to make homemade pizzas together once or twice a week. Having lived in Chicago we have love Chicago style pizza, and no, not the deep-dish everyone assumes we are talking about. We prefer the much more common thin-crust pie cut into party squares that is typical of south-side pizzerias Over the past 4 years we have made countless pizzas, always adjusting our recipes to make them as close as possible to what we enjoyed back home. Every time one comes out of the oven we try a slice and even though they are always delicious, we talk about next time adding a bit of this, changing a bit of that, and sometimes we come up with something that really hits close to home; “I think we are on to something!”, Jason says.
One of the great things about making your own pizza is that it is a blank canvas waiting for flavors to be added. Meat or meatless, variety of cheeses, perfect vegetables and ripe fruit, delicious, tangy sauces and wonderful spices and nuts. You’ve just re-read the last sentence, haven’t you? Let me paint you a picture to dress up a blank canvas for you. Imagine caramelized onions and apples on top of emmental cheese or a red grape pizza with slivers of prosciutto, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts? Or tandoori chicken with cilantro and red onions? You’re vegetarian? No problem! How about a shaved brussels sprout pizza with porcini mushrooms and red onions, all topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, lightly drizzled with balsamic vinegar? Or, maybe new potatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized shallots with tarragon, topped with arugula and drizzled with olive oil. One of our favorite pizzas in Chicago had pepperoni, crushed garlic, and pineapple which we would order from a little pizzaria called Tomato Head. And my husband’s favorite is pepperoni pizza from Aurelio’s. Once we made a caramelized red onion and home-made Italian sausage pizza, which was fantastic. We try, with varying success, at re-creating these pizzas, and no matter how it turns out we always enjoy trying new things. Substitute pesto or alfredo for marinara. Maybe toss some feta cheese in with the mozzerella. You can try anything.
My dough recipe makes enough after rising for two large thin-crust pizzas but feel free to adjust it to your liking. If you like thicker crust, don’t roll it out so thin but if you do like thin crust, this one is almost cracker-like when rolled out. We tend to have left-overs but in a few days it’s all gone and soon we start wanting more. Fortunately, the crust doesn’t take too long to make. Another plus is that it doesn’t necessarily need time to rise. After mixing all the ingredients together for the dough, simply add a little flour to your counter and place it on the work surface, then start rolling it out. I however, like to let mine rise for at least two hours, to develop some elasticity.
We don’t usually use prepared pizza sauce from a can, at least not without at least doctoring it up with some fresh herbs and olive oil. Instead we usually make our own sauce starting with canned tomato puree and canned whole or diced tomatoes. There’s something satisfying about making your own sauce, it can be spicy, tart, or sweet as we like it; and lightly seasoned with onion and garlic to very herbal, with lots of fennel, basil, and oregano. Add a whatever seasonings appeal to you, our recipe is easy and fool-proof.
Even though I love to work in the kitchen when the house is quiet and I’m all alone to brainstorm new recipes and play with my food there is one thing I look forward to everyday. At 6:30 every evening there is a light tap on our storm shutters, ‘shave and a hair-cut’, to which I tap back ‘two-bits’ and go to the front door to hit the lock buzzer and there he is arriving home after a day’s work. He gives me a kiss, drops his bag next to the computer, kicks off his shoes off, hangs up his coat with one hand, the other receiving a dirty martini I shook up just a minute before he tapped on the window. I unwrap the already risen dough from the window and meet him in the kitchen, where he is already stirring up a pot of sauce and letting go of the day’s stress. Our kitchen is quite small but it is ours and we love it. Having lived here for a few years we have choreographed our little “dance” routine around the kitchen that is necessary when we cook together. I glide behind him to the sink while he walks in a half circle around me to get to the stove, sometimes gently bumping into one another while meeting up at our small counter to chop and dice the ingredients. We always have fun but the dance of the pizza is the most fun. Even though it’s tiny, I wouldn’t change it, it’s perfect the way it is and the way we are together. I hope you try this recipe and perhaps it will become a part of your family dinner tradition as well.
Homemade Pizza Dough
makes two large thin crust pizzas
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water (35-37c or 95f-98f)
*Herb pizza crust can be made simply by adding some of your favorite spices. We tend to use dried oregano, fennel and garlic powder (as seen in the images above).
Homemade Pizza Sauce
makes enough for three large pizzas
1 14 1/2 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14 1/2 oz can tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fennel
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
olive oil for drizzling
Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes stirring often to prevent sticking from the sugar and tomatoes. Once sauce is done allow it to cool before placing on your pizza dough.
Preheat the oven to 500°F / 250°C (on convection fan setting)
Mix warm water with the yeast and honey and let it sit for 10-15 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy and has a nice foam on top. After the yeast has matured add the salt, olive oil and any spices you are using then mix. Add the flour to the liquid mixture and blend start in the middle and working your way out till the bowl is clean and you are left with a pizza dough ball in the middle. Either turn the dough out immediately on a flour surface and roll out thin or if you are letting it rise, cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for at least two hours in a warm area.
When the dough is ready, punch it down and knead it on a flour surface for a minute or so. Dough will be a bit sticky so make sure you sprinkle flour on top of the dough before kneading. Roll your dough into a log and cut it in half for two pizzas. Whether you’re using a pizza stone or baking sheet prepare either at this point. I use a large baking sheet and place the pizza on baking paper. Roll out the pizza dough as thin as possible. Brush the side with olive oil and gently sprinkle with cornmeal (this is a Chicago staple when it comes to pizza). Place the baking paper on top of the oiled side and gently wrapping the pizza dough off the flour surface flipping the dough till it’s on top of the baking paper. Place on your baking sheet. Spread the base with tomato sauce, add your toppings, and sprinkle with cheese of your choice.
Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until cheese turns golden and crust becomes crisp.
*Our pizza as shown: Pepperoni (that we smuggled back from the States), diced onion and mushrooms with shredded and fresh mozzarella cheeses sprinkled with oregano.