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make-your-own pizzas

Every Friday night is our designated indoor family camp out night. We clutter the living room floor with sleeping bags and pillows, extra blankets and favorite stuffed animals. We pick out a few movies to pick from throughout the evening, and sometimes we sketch together from a silly cartoon drawing how-to book loved by my 9-year old. Loki the cat burrows into our soft spaces, inserting herself in the middle of the action, occasionally swiping a playful paw at someone who dares to leave the nest of sleeping bags.

Sometimes we order pizza, but usually I make our own. I've been using an altered version of Ina Garten's pizza recipe, from her Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook, as my base recipe for many years. I've never tried another pizza dough recipe that I liked as much as this one. My girls prefer to put their own toppings on sometimes, and this recipe makes 6 individual dough balls that are perfect for individual pizza creations.
 
 
Make-Your-Own Pizzas
Adapted from the White Pizzas with Arugula recipe in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Yields: 6 individual pizzas
Prep Tip: Start the dough process about 3 hours ahead of when you plan to eat dinner. Most of the prep is inactive rise time, making it simple to mix up and set aside for a few hours. I always add dried herbs because they add so much flavor to the finished crust; you can add thyme or sage, rosemary or a pinch of Herbs de Provence. I've used all of these before, but my standby combination is oregano and crushed red pepper for that classic pizzeria flavor.

For the dough:
2 (1/4-oz each) packets active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups very warm water (not too hot or the yeast won't bloom properly)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

For the toppings:
Sun-dried tomato pesto
Basil pesto
More dried oregano
More crushed red pepper flakes
Fresh baby arugula
Yellow cherry tomatoes
Pitted kalamata olives
Thinly sliced shallot
Whole milk ricotta, drained of any excess moisture
Turkey pepperoni
Finely shredded mozzarella and Parmesan
Flaky sea salt, for finishing

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the yeast, water, sugar, and 3 tbsp of the olive oil together until the yeast is dissolved. Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes until it looks thickened and bubbly and frothy.

Fit the dough hook onto the mixer and add the flour to the yeast mixture, 1 cup at a time, mixing on very slow speed after each addition. When adding the final cup of flour, add the salt, oregano, and crushed red pepper as well. Mix on low speed again until the entire mixture is just combined, then raise the mixer speed to high and let the dough hook knead everything for about 10 minutes. After kneading, you want to the dough to be firm, elastic, and smooth to the touch; when you gently press a finger into the dough, it should leave an indentation mark.

For the rise:

Put the remaining tbsp of olive oil in a large mixing bowl and use your fingers to brush the oil up along the sides of the bowl. Put the dough ball into the ball and roll it around until all of the dough is oiled.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put the bowl in a warm place for an hour or two (just an hour is all the dough needs to rise nicely, but it won't hurt to let it rise for longer.) My trick for the perfect draft-free warm environment for the dough to rise? Turn on your oven to 350 degrees, leave it on for about a minute, then turn it off and slide the dough bowl inside to rest.

To make the pizzas:

1.) Take the dough out of the oven and lightly punch it down. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

2.) Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper (you'll need one sheet pan for 2 pizzas, two sheet pans for 4 pizzas, etc.)

3.) Dump the dough onto one of the lined pans and use a sharp knife to divide the dough evenly into 6 pieces. Refrigerate any unused dough in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

4.) Use your hands to quickly form each dough piece into a ball, then stretch and pull into a rough 8-inch circle. It doesn't matter if it isn't exactly round; these are rustic pizzas. If the dough gets stretched too thin, that's okay - gently lay the dough onto the lined pan and push it back together. Once the toppings are on, you won't even notice.

5.) Place your desired toppings on. But - after spreading on the pesto of your choice, you must sprinkle more dried oregano and crushed red pepper on top. It really amps up the flavor so much. And - if you use ricotta, be sure to dollop it lightly on top of a bed of other toppings; if the ricotta rests directly against the dough, it can make the crust soggy as it bakes.

6.) Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan around halfway through the baking time. Let it go for another minute or two if needed; peek underneath the crust to see if it's golden brown but not too charred, and that the cheese on top is bubbling and lightly browned.

7.) Pull the pizzas out of the oven and sprinkle lightly with a bit of flaky sea salt. Don't skip this; it adds so much flavor at the end. Slice and serve.

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