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It’s Time To Make Your Own Pizza

You can do it at home, don't listen to the haters

A pizza on a metal peel, in front of a burning oven
Eneida Nieves|

Not like this though, you can’t make one like this

Yesterday, I got up at 8am on a Sunday to make a pizza. Why did you have to get up that early to make a pizza? you might ask, followed by, Why would you make a pizza when you can just buy a better one? I am here to answer your questions. I am here to tell you that you should make your own pizza, even if it will never look like the ones on the cooking blogs or the ones you can buy literally everywhere, because when you make your own pizza, you can make any kind of pizza you want.

Case in point: I had to get up at 8am on a Sunday because I decided I was going to make a sourdough pizza crust and top it with squash blossom pesto, cherry tomato confit, and burrata. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it, like something you would pay a lot for at some fancy bistro. But the ingredients were easy to source at my local farmer’s market and not notably costly–burrata was even on sale at the grocery store. The only reason I had to get up so early was that the sourdough crust takes a while to rise, but I blitzed up the pesto and prepared the tomatoes while it rose, and then went on with my day until the pizza was ready to cook.

How was it? Well, I lost track of time during the crust’s second proof and was worried I’d ruined it, but it came out with a crispy exterior and soft interior that was a bit like focaccia, with just the right sourness. The squash blossom pesto is a great orange color, with a vegetal note that makes the pizza–dare I say–intriguing, and the tomato confit adds a bright yet tempered burst of flavor. Between the burrata and the oil from the confit, things are a bit wet; I wish it were less soggy in the middle, but I figured this would happen. (I’m not above admitting that I blotted the pizza with a ton of paper towels before putting it away.) Is it restaurant-quality? No. Is it pretty? Nope. But is it good? Yeah, man! Look how I just described a pizza I made! Who cares what it looks like?

Here is where the first barrier to homemade pizza comes in: you are probably not going to be able to make a pizza as pretty as the ones they make at restaurants. Despite considering myself a pretty solid baker, I am abysmal at anything involving shaping a dough. I tend to make my pizzas square, using a half sheet pan, because it’s more forgiving shape-wise. I almost never get it even; some spots are always too thick, and some are always too thin, and I can never figure out how far toward the edge to spread the toppings. But whatever! I have a theory that regular people, like you and me, tend to feel bad about how our cooking looks because we only see images of food made by professional chefs or bloggers. What does a pizza actually look like? It looks like whatever pizza you made.

The other, more challenging barrier, is that you will never make a pizza in your home oven as good as the ones in restaurants. Your home oven does not get hot enough evenly enough, and its actual temperature is a total mystery. You could buy a standalone pizza oven, or a pizza stone, and I will totally support you in doing those things and be a bit jealous of you. But what I do is: I just cook the pizza. I know my oven’s quirks, and I’ve found that my sweet spot is to cook my pizza near the bottom of the oven at about 475 for somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. I throw some cornmeal on my pan to keep the bottom from sticking, and I keep an eye on things near the end, sitting on the floor and staring through my oven window like I’m watching a cooking show. It doesn’t always work; bits burn sometimes, and it will never have the blistered spots and evenness of a professionally-made pizza, but these tradeoffs are worth the benefit.

And what is that benefit? It’s that you can make any kind of pizza your heart desires, any time you want. I cannot overstate how this will change your life. Imagine something, anything, that could conceivably be good or at least interesting on a pizza. Before, you might have scanned the menus of restaurants near you, or sighed wistfully at your dream pizza, never to be. But now, here in this blog, I give you the permission–nay, the order–to just go make the damn pizza. Get the ingredients, try it out, see if it works.

My very first pizza, with wild mushrooms, was a damp, tasteless disaster. But it taught me a couple things: one is that if you have wet ingredients, like mushrooms, you should cook them first. The other is to be very judicious with your cheese and sauce; you need way less than you think. You’ll feel weird about this when prepping your pizza, thinking it will be dry and dissatisfying, but trust me, it’ll be fine. Too much cheese and sauce will make your pizza a soggy bummer. Exercise restraint.

Since that first failure (which wasn’t really a failure; I ate it the next day for breakfast and it was cold breakfast pizza, God’s greatest gift), I’ve gotten better. If I’m not doing sourdough, I usually use this dough recipe from the ever-reliable Sally’s Baking Addiction, which has the benefit of making two crusts, so you can freeze one for later. I prefer to make my own pizza sauce, with canned tomatoes or fresh if it’s the summer, but you can also just buy some. (Bonus tip: pizza sauce is different than pasta sauce!) You’re also not bound by sauce: you can do pesto, as I did yesterday, or jam, or harissa, or curry, or no sauce at all.

Here are some pizzas I have made, dreamed up from the fertile wilds of my heart and the occasional recipe for inspiration:

  • Brussel sprouts and veggie bacon 
  • Duck confit with homemade cherry barbeque sauce
  • Whole squash blossoms, zucchini ribbons, and burrata
  • Fig jam, prosciutto, and gorgonzola 
  • Corn and blistered shishito peppers
  • Mixed summer squash and heirloom tomatoes

Do they sound good? Do they sound like folly? They are both! Not all of them were successes (the veggie bacon was a bad choice, though it was offset by the crispy brussel sprouts), but I was very happy to eat them all, because a mediocre pizza you pay for is an indignity, but one you make yourself is elevated by your labor and ambitions. Each one was a learning experience, opening the door to even bigger pizza dreams. All of them were ugly as sin, but that only matters when I post them on social media, and you do not have to post photos of your pizzas on social media. They can be your private pleasures; maybe ugly, maybe weird, but unique. They are your pizzas, invented and brought into being by you, because pizza does not belong to the fancy pizza place or the greasy dollar slice store that doesn’t sell pizza for a dollar anymore anyway. It belongs to us all. 

Let go of your preconceived notions of who is worthy of making a pizza and who is not. You are a living being on this earth, with as much right to make a pizza upon it as anyone else. Make manifest pizzas humankind has not yet dared to dream of. The power is within you.

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