Would it be weird if I told you I had super powers?
It doesn’t include anything cool like x-ray vision or flying (I wish), but as I’m sure you can guess, involves food, as if often does.
Just as freshly baked bread makes itself known to your nostrils when you’re walking or driving within a square mile of its presence, my nose takes it a step further by being able to discern pretty much any scent coming off a grill, stove or oven. It’s a true gift. Or a detriment, since after I solve the mystery, I want that very thing right that very moment.
Grilling smells in the summer? All I have to do is close my eyes, take a deep breath in and I can detect whether the neighbors are grilling, hot dogs, burgers, brats or steaks.
On my daily walks around the neighborhood, I know which house is making dinner, and what it is. Blue house, white picket fence, stir-fry.
In the comfort of my own car, while driving on the highway, my head whips around like I’m possessed, because I swear I smell doughnuts, and what do you know, a half a mile a head – doughnut shop.
Perhaps the most prominent smell that I can detect in heartbeat (besides freshly baked bread and French fries) and one that you might be able to as well, is pizza. Doesn’t matter what kind – New York-style, St. Louis-style, Neapolitan-style, deep dish – if it’s within 50 feet of me, I can distinguish it.
I think it’s a combination of my acute sense of smell and my monumental love for all varieties of pizza that facilitate the heightened perceptiveness of this particular food, and as I said before it’s an attribute I love and hate at the same time, because all I want to do once I figure it out, is to hightail it to the counter to order a slice.
This happened to me a few days ago, I was minding my own business, just driving along and be-bopping along to “Honey I’m Good” (LOVE that song), when BAM, intoxicating pizza smells came wafting in from the open window. There went my plan to eati healthy that night…
After my errands were over I raced over to my favorite neighborhood pizza joint to pick up a batch of their perfect pizza dough (emergency pizza sessions require instantaneous pizza dough), then to the grocery store for the necessary toppings.
In this instance, a plain old pepperoni pizza would have sufficed, but I’d had an interesting combination of green olives, roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes floating around in my head for a while so I went with that.
I had some turkey Italian sausage leftover from a project I worked on the previous day so I also threw that into the mix.
The pizza sauce is a simple recipe, and one that every person should have up their sleeve. I’ve talked about it before, but for me, tomato paste – not tomato puree or whole tomatoes – is the best option for pizza sauce (and these spaghetti and meatballs). I just love how concentrated the paste is compared to the tomatoes, and it makes for a less watery, more sturdy sauce for pizza.
A little bit of water, sugar, garlic and oregano are the only other ingredients in the simple sauce, and everything simmers together for less than ten minutes, the sauce is cooled and is then ready to be slathered onto dough.
For the cheeses, I went with a trio of shredded mozzarella, fontina and gruyere – a combination I find to be utterly irresistible, but any medley of the three will work perfectly.
The combination of toppings with the sweet pizza sauce was so ridiculously delicious, I even had it again leftover for dinner last night, but as most pizzas go, you’re only limited to your own creativity. Caramelized onions would also be phenomenal here, or dollops of goat cheese or ricotta. Spicy slices of soppresata would be perfect instead of sausage.
The key to making restaurant-quality pizza at home requires two pertinent steps and a few other key tips.
1. Use a SCREAMING hot oven. I’m talking hot hot hot. Mine only goes up to 550 degrees, but if yours goes up to 600 use that.
2. Use a pizza stone! I cannot reiterate this enough, if you love to cook pizza at home, a pizza stone will change your life. No exaggeration. I put mine in the oven before I preheat, then keep it in there for 20-30 minutes before I slide the pizza in the oven. Perfectly crispy crust, every single time.
3. Use a pizza wheel dusted liberally with cornmeal to assemble the pizza. I put an obscene amount of cornmeal on my pizza wheel to ensure the pizza slithers off ridiculously easy when I transfer it to the pizza stone.
4. When assembling the pizza, make sure ALL of your ingredients are cool. If anything is hot, it will make transferring the pie to the oven near impossible.
If you follow these steps, I PROMISE, you will have perfect pizza every single time, and dare I say it, never need to call delivery again….
- 1 batch of your favorite pizza dough
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup shredded fontina
- 1 cup shredded gruyere
- ¼ pound cooked sweet italian turkey sausage
- ¾ cup rosted garlic
- ½ cup roughly chopped spanish olives
- ½ cup roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 550 degrees. Place pizza stone in the oven and preheat for 15-20 minutes.
- Heat a small sauce pan to a medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Saute for 30 seconds to one minute. Add tomato paste, cook for one minute. Stir in water, basil, sugar and salt. Simmer for 5-6 minutes until thickened. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temp.
- Roll out pizza dough to 12 inches. Place on a pizza wheel covered in cornmeal.
- Cover in pizza sauce.
- Sprinkle with cheeses followed by sausage, roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes.
- Slide pizza from pizza wheel on to stone. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until dough is crispy and golden brown and the cheese has melted.