“Can I help?”
When my eight-year-old daughter Paige asked to help craft this recipe, I was happy to say yes.
I love the lessons I can share over a cutting board — how to spread pizza dough by hand (let it warm slightly, flour the surface and be gentle).
What to sprinkle on the pizza paddle (cornmeal, but a little flour is ok too). Why we prick the dough before baking (so it doesn’t rise too much in the oven).
And then there’s the more subtle lessons — the ones about working together, following directions and (perhaps most subtly) working with the freshest ingredients for the best results. These are all little things, but they build up to craft personal food philosophies.
Though my grandmother didn’t love cooking like I do, some of the most vivid memories I have of her from childhood revolve around her love of fresh produce from farm stands and her devotion to homemade — homemade spaghetti sauce, lasagna, applesauce, whatever. Couple that with her habit of shopping each day for dinner, and you have a lot of subtle lessons that helped create my own food philosophy, which can be boiled down into a single, simple phrase: fresh is best.
Right now, at farm stands and farmers markets around the state, fresh tomatoes are king. Red, yellow, orange, whatever. They’re ripe, grown here in Maine and allowed to mature on the vine. And they’re so juicy, sweet and full of summer flavor.
They’re also perfect for making this homemade pizza. And while my grandmother didn’t own a pizza stone or make her own pizza, I think she’d approve of this one.
When I make pizza at home, I always use my well-loved (read: deeply seasoned — ahem, stained — from pizzas past) pizza stone. The stone preheats in the oven, and gives the pizza good flavor. And the crust? It develops a wonderful crispness to it. I can’t say enough good things about baking pizza on a pizza stone.
Of course, if you don’t have a pizza stone, fear not. You can also use a baking sheet or a pizza pan. The cooking directions are nearly the same. But you may want to make the pizza directly on the baking sheet for easy transfer into the oven and you also may need to adjust cooking time (it may take a little longer).
For the tomatoes on this summery pie, I used part of a big, juicy heirloom tomato. If you’re making it, use whatever fresh tomatoes you have — cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, whatever. The flavor will shift slightly with the different tomatoes, but it will be good nonetheless.
For the cheese, you’ll need a creamy ball of fresh mozzarella. I buy mine at BJ’s. They sell a nice, firm fresh mozzarella that’s like the hand-pulled kind I used to enjoy when I lived further south. Slice it thinly and then quarter the pieces so it melts evenly. The pizza also has some parmesan on it, which lends a complexity to the flavor and texture of the pie.
A little seasoning — salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano — round out the flavors.
Then bake it. The hot oven will make the crust rise, the tomatoes cook down and cheese melts. It comes out crisp but doughy, savory but with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes, and oh so cheesy.
Once this pie is baked, it’s heavenly to dig into. And it’s even better when you can dig into it with your child who helped craft it.
- 1 ball pizza dough (store bought or homemade)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- fresh ground pepper, salt and garlic powder
- 1½ cup fresh diced tomato
- 4-5 ounces thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, chopped
- ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- dried oregano
- Preheat a pizza stone in an oven set to 500 degrees for 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, dust the dough with flour and prepare a surface (a cutting board or pizza paddle) to work. I usually dust the surface with cornmeal but flour works too. Work the dough into a round disk -- about 15-inches in diameter. Place on the prepared surface. Stab the dough all over with the fork and then brush with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the dough with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Spread the tomatoes all over the prepared dough. Top with mozzarella and then parmesan. Sprinkle with oregano, as desired.
- Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone.
- Bake for 12-16 minutes, or until golden. Remove the pizza from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting with a pizza cutter.