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America's Favorite Pie

by John Raven, Ph.B.

You never hear pizza called "Pizza Pie" anymore. It's just plain pizza all over the world. Best I can discover, civilized man has been eating pizza since about 600 BC. Pizza came about very soon after man learned to make bread from flour and water. Before that, flour and water was just wallpaper paste.

It seems even the smallest berg has a pizza joint. The chains are worldwide, but they leave room for some local favorites. I very seldom eat store-bought pizza. To my thinking, they are way too expensive for what you get. I know there are lots of expenses involved in turning out a pizza other than flour, water and a few add-ons, but I was raised where a nickel was as big as a manhole cover. Our "homemade" pizza came in a little box, and you mixed the dough and assembled the thing and it came out just fine thank you.

This all comes about as yesterday I made the best pizza ever made in Blanco County, Texas. I was inspired to share the tips with my readers at Texas Cooking so they too can brag on their pizzas.

I thought to make a pizza when I spied the opened bottle of pasta sauce in the rear of the icebox. It was time to use it up before things began to grow in it. First of all, we need a crust on which to pile all the goodies. Pizza crust is yeast risen and very simple. I use my all-purpose yeast bread recipe with one small exception. I put some olive oil in the crust. I think the oil makes the crust come out crispier.

Here's how to make the crust. I use the food processor to save time and energy. Into the container put one and one-quarter cups of very warm water (100 to 110 degrees is about right). Add one pack of rapid rise dry yeast, one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt. Hit the "pulse" button a couple of times to mix it all up. Add about one-half to three-quarters cup of unbleached all-purpose flour, or regular all-purpose flour if you don't have the unbleached. Mix this real good and let it sit about thirty minutes to get the yeast working.

While you are waiting on the yeast to work, you can start your toppings. On my prize pizza I used chopped onion, chopped green bell pepper and some fine chopped beefsteak. (My standard pizza pan measures ten inches by fifteen inches, to give you an idea of what size the finished product will be.) If you want to get fancy, you can cut the onion and pepper into rings to make it purdy. I ended up with about three-quarters of a cup of chopped onion and about one-third cup of chopped bell pepper. There was about a quarter pound of the chopped beef.

Okay. Now the yeast mix has bubbled for thirty minutes. Add in about another cup of flour and pulse it until it's mixed well. Keep adding flour slowly until the dough forms a ball that comes clean from the sides of the processor container. Turn the dough out on the counter where you have dusted a little flour and knead it a couple of licks until it's smooth. Form it in a ball and wrap it in clear plastic, and let it rest five or ten minutes.

When the dough is rested, flatten it on the counter into a rectangle and then place it in the pan and press it down and around until the bottom of the pan is covered and there is a lip formed around the edge to hold in the sauce. (My pizza pan is really a jellyroll pan that has a lip around the edge that makes everything stay on the pan -- a cookie sheet is flat and has no lip). If the dough is elastic and wants to draw back up when you try to work it, let it sit covered with a clean cloth for ten or fifteen minutes. It will behave better then.

Now we are ready for the topping. First thing, brush the dough with some olive oil. This will make everything work better. First goes on the sauce. Don't be stingy with it and then again don't drown the dough. I put my cheese on next. I used some no-fat Swiss cheese that had been sandwich sliced. You can use shredded cheese or whatever kind strikes your fancy. On top of the cheese went the chopped beef, onion and bell pepper. A light sprinkle of salt and pepper finished it off.

While this was going on, the oven had been coming up to 450 degrees. All the pizza recipes say use 500 degrees, but I don't think you need that much heat. The pan goes in the middle of the oven. You'll have to look once in a while to see how it's coming along. Fifteen to twenty minutes should be plenty. You want to make sure your topping is all bubbly and the edges of the crust are browned. This crust recipe will rise quite a bit giving a good thick crust that is crispy on the bottom and edges like it's supposed to be. Take the pizza out of the oven and let it set a few minutes before trying to depan it. Slide it out on a cutting board and have your way with it. Don't try to cut it in the pan; you will ruin your pan and your knife.

Tune in to next month's article about grilled pizza, and we will learn how to cook a pizza on the grill out on the patio.

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