Earlier I explained how to make great pizza dough, that freezes exceptionally well and is perfect to have on hand for whenever you may need a pizza, which if you are anything like me is about once a week. Pizza has a bit of a bad reputation for being bad for you, but my homemade version, particularly when I use a whole wheat crust, is actually not bad at all.
In general, I’ve found the best thing you can do regarding cheese when going vegan is to forget it exists. I don’t usually try fake cheesy things, with the exception of a very yummy nacho cheese dip I make (which I will have to post sometime) and pizza. With pizza though, please keep in mind that cheese is totally optional. In fact, if you made the whole wheat crust that I suggest and top it with a homemade sauce (to avoid junk like high fructose corn syrup) and a thoughtful – but small – selection of fresh herbs and vegetables, such as sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions, and hot or sweet peppers, you won’t even miss the cheese and you’ll be eating a healthy meal! In fact, since I’m vegan I can’t advocate that you use real cheese on your pizza, but nor can I advocate you use vegan cheese if you aren’t vegan because you will hate it, so I encourage you to try it cheeseless! I like a very simple pizza, however, and since I’ve gone ten years without tasting real cheese, I’m very happy with using a bit of Cheezly or Teese.
Anyway, you need to decide at least 8-12 hours before that you want to make a pizza. Either remove the dough from the freezer and place in the refrigerator if you’ve frozen some (where it can remain for up to three days), or prepare it as I detailed earlier and let it rest overnight. Then, one hour before you want to bake the pizza do the following:
- Heat your oven, with a pizza stone in it, as hot as you possibly can. I’m afraid I consider a pizza stone essential. You can substitute inexpensive unglazed quarry tiles, available at places like Home Depot and Lowes, if you don’t want to fork out the money for a stone. If you decide to spring for the stone, get the thickest one you can find and ALWAYS pre-heat it with the oven and NEVER remove it from the oven while hot. (For this reason you will also be needing a pizza peel.) My stone simply stays in my oven at all times.
- Remove the dough from refrigerator. Liberally flour a workspace and place each piece of dough on it, turning to coat all sides with flour. Then flatten each ball into a circle about 1/2″ thick.
- Cover the dough circles with a clean towel and let them rest somewhere out of the reach of your cat. (I can’t tell you how many pizza crusts have ended up with little paw prints in them…)
- Make your sauce.
Pizza sauce is super easy to make at home. It’s ridiculous to buy it. Here’s all you need:
Makes enough for four personal-sized pizzas. (I halve this recipe for just my husband and myself.)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
In a small saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and allow to come up to temperature for a minute or two. Add garlic and stir for one minute.
Stir in tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes have broken down a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (I buy tomatoes with no salt added because I love using my salt grinder and salt pigs, and I figure, why should the tomato tinner have all the fun?)
After the tomatoes are broken down a bit, remove sauce from the heat and allow it to cool a bit. When it’s cool, blend it until it is as smooth as you like. An immersion blender is easiest here, but you can also use a regular blender, a food mill, or if you like it chunky, you can just mash the tomatoes up with the back of a spoon or a potato masher.
That’s it! You can also add spices like oregano and crushed red peppers, but I just sprinkle those on the pizza later. The reason I do that is because I can control the amount on each pizza to adjust for personal preference, and also if I have leftover pizza sauce, the less seasoned it is, the easier it is to throw into another dish later in the week. And taste the sauce before you add anything to it – it is really good without anything else added in!
When your hour of pre-heating the oven and letting your crusts rest is up, prepare your peels, one for each pizza (if you are making more than two pizzas, or if you have a smaller stone, you will have to bake them in shifts). If you don’t have a peel, you can use the back of a baking sheet. To prepare the peel, sprinkle it with semolina or cornmeal:
Next, remove any rings you may be wearing. I should have gotten a photo of this step for you, but I can’t shape a pizza and take a picture at the same time and considering my husband was (and is) busy ripping about 300 CDs for me today, I didn’t want to ask him to come do it. What you want to do, though, is make a fist with one of your hands, and drape the dough over it so your firt is in the middle. Then go around the edges with your other hand and gently pull. You can sort of bounce your fist a little and turn the dough, although I usually end up just grabbing the dough with two hands and pulling it into shape. Place on the prepared peel.
Now, using the back of a spoon, smear the sauce over each crust. You don’t want too much sauce or the pizza will be soggy.
If you’d like, sprinkle with dried herbs, I suggest oregano and crushed red pepper. (If you’d like to use fresh herbs – basil is fantastic – add them after the pizza has been baked, otherwise they will burn.)
I was so excited about the imminent pizza I forgot to take a picture of them after adding the “cheese”, although you can see a similar picture in my earlier Teese post. I sometimes sprinkle finishing salt on top of the “cheese” because it makes it “sparkle”. Go easy on the “cheese” in any case. Add other toppings if you like; I love sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives.
I realized as soon as I put them in that I forgot the picture, so I snapped one just after putting it in the oven.
They need to bake for about 5 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is. Keep an eye on them. In the meantime, figure out how you are going to remove them. I use a stainless steel peel like the one of the right:
If you make a lot of pizzas, you should definitely invest in one. It’s also good for removing hearth breads. If you refuse to buy such a thing, I have successfully used a large stainless steel wok shovel to remove a personal-sized pizza before. If all else fails, I suppose you can hold a large plate under the oven rack and use an oven mitt to push the pizza onto it, although that may lead to a dirty oven mitt.
Here’s the pizza when it’s about done:
And the finished product:
Let the pizzas cool a few minutes before slicing. As for slicing, I recommend using kitchen shears.