[Psst. I promised one of my students a shout out when I finally went to write the pizza post. It is well overdue — but this one is for you Zaha! Happy pizza making. 🙂 ]
Let me tell you a little story that started this tradition of homemade pizza Fridays. Joey and I moved in together in June of 2017. We had been dating for a little over 9 years, so it’s safe to say that we knew each other pretty well (or so I thought!). One day, early on in this living-together adventure, we were trying to figure out dinner plans: I believe it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday (an important detail, please take note…) and I suggested..
“Hey, do you just want to get a pizza tonight?” to which Joey replied, with utmost sincerity…
“Uhm, it’s not Friday?”
Perplexed, I confirmed that it indeed was not Friday, but asked again if he would still want to grab a pizza. Then the revelation happened. The moment I found out this deep dark rooted secre… just kidding! Haha Joey explained [with as much certainty as if he was reading out of the “P” volume of an encyclopedia, with a finger pointing to the “Pizza” section] that “…Pizza is a Friday dinner… then you have leftover pizza on Saturday for lunch.”
RELEVANT SIDE NOTE: Growing up in my family we always had pizza on Tuesday nights. Tuesday was the night that Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired from 8 – 9 p.m. (EST) and my oldest sister who was in high school would have at minimum 7 of her friends over for “Buffy Night.” This of course inspired my dad to deem Tuesday, pizza night, so he didn’t have to cook. However, pizza wasn’t exclusively a Tuesday thing — it was just whenever we had the hankering for something easy and delicious.
So, I return to the conversation with the context of Tuesday-Night Pizza Night in mind and proudly said “well, you know, pizza doesn’t have to be a Friday thing only.” And Joey, equally perplexed, explained that growing up and into his teenage years his family would exclusively have pizza on Fridays, not every Friday, but most. And, in turn, almost every Saturday he would have leftover pizza for lunch. Pizza on any other night, according to him, just didn’t seem right. Annnddddd, as he was saying this and watching my reaction turn from confusion to utter enjoyment, he realized how funny it was for him to describe this tradition, so intensely and so adamantly. Obviously, I began teasing him that we can only ever eat pizza on Fridays moving forward. And at that moment, the tradition of homemade pizza Fridays was born.
Makes one traditional Julia-Style 12 inch round pizza (or you can use a medium size cookie sheet as well)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1.5 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 pinch granulated white sugar (aka “regular” sugar like the stuff you put in coffee)
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 14 oz jar of chunky pizza sauce (I only use 3/4 of the jar for a moderate amount of sauce. Adjust accordingly to your taste.)
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1-2 cups fresh basil leaves, prepared how you like (whole, sliced into ribbons, or rustically pulled apart by hand)
- (Optional) balsamic glaze to taste (we use Wegman’s brand pre-made balsamic glaze)
- (Optional) drizzle of garlic and herb infused oil (we use Wegman’s brand Basting Oil mixture which is a sunflower seed oil with dried parsley, thyme, and garlic. This works really nicely because sunflower oil is a neutral oil, which means it doesn’t have a strong taste on its own like olive oil does so the taste of the herbs really come through nicely.)
- (Optional) sometimes I’ll cut up 2 cloves of garlic and toss them in with the sauce
- Preheat oven to 400 F
- Mix 1 cup warm water, pinch white sugar, and 1.5 teaspoons yeast in a bowl and let sit 5 minutes until yeast proofs.
- Add the proofed yeast mixture to the sifted 1 and 1/4 cups flour and mix well. You can mix either by hand or with a standing mixer using the dough hook attachment.
- Add an additional 1 and 1/4 cups sifted flour and the 1.5 teaspoons of salt, mix until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl forming a ball shape.
- Turn the dough ball out on to a floured surface and gently knead by hand for an additional 5 minutes until smooth. Adding additional flour sparingly; only if the mixture is sticky.
- Cover the dough ball with a damp wash cloth or paper towel and let dough rest 15 – 20 minutes.
- Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil onto baking sheet or spray pizza pan with non-stick spray to evenly coat the bottom.
- Uncover the dough ball and test for stickiness. If still a little sticky, knead sparingly with additional flour (no more than 1-2 additional tablespoons. Over-kneading the dough will make it become tough and chewy.)
- Roll the dough out to about 1.5 cm thickness in the shape of your pan. Place on the pan and cut away any excess dough.
- At this step I give the pizza my signature crust. I do so by just folding the dough under itself at an angle and pinching! Feel free to get creative with your crust.
- Spread the sauce evenly on the dough and bake at 400 F for 10-12 minutes. (Due to the high moisture content of fresh mozzarella I found you get a better result if you pre-bake just the dough and sauce, before adding the mozzarella and basil. If you bake the fresh mozzarella for too long, the water dries out making the cheese itself rubbery.)
- Once the pre-bake is done, add your thinly sliced mozzarella, optional infused oil, and basil and back in the oven for another 10-12 minutes. (Because each oven heats differently, be sure to keep an eye on the pizza during the second bake until the mozzarella is lightly browned and the crust is golden.
- Pull out of the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. If you choose to use the balsamic glaze, now is the time to give a drizzle.
- Cut into 8 slices, or 4, or 2… no one is judging.
The BEST advice I can give you is to keep trying. Your dough might be too tough from over-kneading, maybe you used too much sauce so it’s a little soupy, maybe the dough was rolled out too thick so it didn’t cook all the way through. ALL of those things (and so many more bloopers) have happened to me over the years. Keep in mind, I have been making pizza on almost every Friday (LOL!! Nowadays it’s more like every other Friday) for the past three years and not until just recently that I have become confident with the process.
Once you feel more comfortable with the process itself, get creative! With this dough recipe I have made white basil pesto pizza, veggie pizza, pizza with vodka sauce, bread sticks, calzones, and most recently, homemade soppressata hot pockets (pictured above).
Last but certainly not least, set the mood for a pizza night. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage, my favorite for Pizza Friday is an Aperol Spritz, and throw on some tunes. My go-to playlist is Frank Sinatra Radio on Pandora (Yes, I still use Pandora. Convince me I should do otherwise.)