Don Mauer: It’s not delivery, it’s better
It probably comes as no surprise that I love pizza, since for almost 18 years I’ve written about pizza several times. However, for those who may still not know my story, here’s a brief review:
At 15 I made my own pizza using a boxed dinner roll mix for the crust, canned tomato sauce, A&P grocery store sausage and hand-grated mozzarella cheese. My best friend, John, and I got so good at making that pizza that for one weekend we delivered, as our folks drove, pizzas ordered by our friends. Gasoline reimbursement drove our already slim profits into the red and our small business abruptly closed.
I’ve sampled pizza from New York to California, Florida to Oregon and once even stopped in to what turned out to be a much-better-than-expected neighborhood ma-and-pa pizza joint in New Orleans to see how they coped surrounded by Cajuns.
When it comes down to a “one-and-only” favorite pizza, a thin crust pizza that crackles when I bite into it and starts to crumble in my hand and sets my heart a-thumpin’: Chicago’s the best.
I’ve recommended to more than one out-of-town traveler that if they ever have time between flights at O’Hare International, they should stop by Wolfgang Puck’s for the best pizza I’ve ever tasted in any airport.
Yes, I’m prejudiced. Pineapple chunks belong in a fruit cup, smoked oysters belong on crackers and barbecue sauce belongs on ribs or chicken; none of the above belongs on a pizza.
A couple of years ago, when I wrote about my continuing failure to make a crisp, thin crust pizza at home, many of you wrote and shared a broad variety of suggestions and secret personal methods to help me.
A few of you stated in strong terms that the one true path to a crisp crust meant a pizza that spent its oven time on a pizza stone.
Shortly thereafter, while wandering through my Walmart’s kitchenware section, I spied a round pizza stone that got me to let go of $10. On my way home I surprised myself with a level of excitement usually reserved for more important things.
A couple of years ago, I greatly reduced the frequency with which I made scratch pizza, due to its high hassle-factors and personal time crunches. Good quality store-bought pita bread, like Trader Joe’s Pita, makes a better-than-adequate scratch crust stand-in.
I placed my new stone on an oven rack set in the upper-middle position and began heating my oven and stone to 425 degrees. I cut and fit thin-sliced part-skim mozzarella cheese over the tops of three pitas. I smeared some low-fat roasted-garlic spaghetti sauce over the cheese. I dusted the sauce with dried basil, salt and fresh-ground pepper. I then dotted the top with store-bought chicken Italian-sausage that I’d lightly sautéed and kept refrigerated for my weekly pizza dinners. I finished my test pizzas with a light covering of shredded mozzarella.
My pita pizzas baked for 12 minutes and came out a beautiful, light golden brown. After cutting them up, I sat down and took a bite of my first stone-baked pita pizza and the crust crunched between my teeth. Yeeesss. I gobbled-up the first 7-incher in no time and had a couple more slices from the second pizza.
I like my homemade stone-baked pizza because it assembles and bakes as fast as any delivered pizza, I control every ingredient and produce a pizza every time that tastes better than a delivered one, and finally, I can use lower fat versions of toppings without hassling my way through that process on the phone or in a restaurant.
Stone baked pizza, whether from frozen, scratch or pita is truly a winner.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stone-Baked Pita Pizza
3 (7-inch) good quality pita breads
6 to 8 tablespoons low-fat spaghetti sauce (whatever flavor appeals to you)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried basil
Fresh ground black pepper
4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Favorite toppings: such as sliced green or red sweet pepper, sliced onion, thin-sliced mushrooms, imported black olives, lightly sautéed low-fat Italian sausage or even a few canned and drained anchovies.
Set an oven rack in the upper-middle position; place a pizza stone on the rack and begin heating the oven to 425 degrees.
Place each of three slices of cheese across the pita bread near the edge and trim the ends to near the edge of each pita. Use the end trimmings and the fourth slice to cover the pitas edge to edge with cheese. Smear about two tablespoons or so of sauce over the cheese to the edge. Season with the basil, salt and pepper. Distribute your toppings between the pitas. Divide and evenly distribute the shredded mozzarella on the pitas.
Taking care to use an oven mitt, pull the rack with the stone forward and place the pizzas on the stone, not touching. Bake for 12 minutes, using a spatula, carefully remove from the stone and cut into wedges. Serve immediately. Makes 3 pizzas.
Nutrition values per pizza (topped with green peppers, onion and mushrooms; with no added salt): 376 calories(26 percent from fat), 11.1 g fat(6.1 g saturated fat), 46.7 g carbohydrates, 4.3 g fiber, 22.3 g protein, 32 mg cholesterol, 971 mg sodium.
Salt Sense: Since the sodium comes from only three sources (not including adding salt), the only way to reduce the sodium content is to use a low-sodium or no-salt-added spaghetti sauce, reduced-sodium cheese or reduced- or low-sodium pita bread.