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Disaster-free Pizzas At Last! Thank You, Smitten Kitchen!

June 24, 2008

Zucchini Pizza Crust

My time back in the kitchen has been inordinately devoted to pizza, and for this, I have to profusely thank Deb of Smitten Kitchen, one of my all-time favorite food bloggers. A few weeks ago she wrote a post outlining 10 ways to make pizza in the kitchen a bit less painful. And the two pizzas I’ve made in the last two weeks? They have been perfect, all thanks to the parchment paper.

Such a simple thing, really, I could kick myself for not thinking of it sooner. Forming the pizza on parchment paper makes it much, much easier to slide into the oven, without that maddening crust-folding, pizza-sticking frustration that caused countless tantrums in my kitchen. And it doesn’t diminish the pizza’s crust-crisping capabilities one bit! It is like my months upon months of experimentation and rage have been wiped away with one brush of Deb’s capable hands and smarty pants kitchen ways. I am so grateful.

For my first parchment paper attempt, I wasn’t feeling quite ready to use my own dough. I’ve just had so many dough-related disasters, and I was feeling far too emotionally fragile to deal with the potential for failure inherent in any dough making experience. I bought a bag of pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s. It was excellent: It was so easy to shape and it browned and crisped perfectly and was just the right amount of salty and chewy. How do they do it?

Zucchini and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Caramelized onions and zucchini are definitely my new favorite pizza toppings. I always saute the zucchini before it goes on the pizza because otherwise it leaks water all over and ends up strangely dry and kind of rubbery. Not delicious. Caramelizing the onions is easy enough: I melt 1 tablespoon of butter and a bit of olive oil in a skillet, and add about half a yellow onion, sliced thinly. I cook the onion on really, really low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring and flipping the onions only once, about halfway through. And I add salt about halfway through, too, just a pinch. I’ve heard tell some people add sugar when caramelizing onions, but I feel like they get sweet enough on their own. Deb also recently featured a pizza with fresh ricotta and beautiful red onion marmalade. I will have to be trying this very soon.

At the last minute I decided to add manzanilla olives with pimentos to the zucchini and caramelized onions, and they were a great salty addition. And the parchment paper was my pizza savior.

Of course, once I discovered that there is a way to make pizza without anger, I have been all about it, and last night I finally felt I was ready to try a new dough recipe. I turned to Deb once again, as she seems to have figured out the answers that were eluding me. She has a simple pizza dough recipe that makes just enough for one small, thin crust. I mixed it up in the morning (and using the dough hook attachments on my hand mixer seemed to help the process along a lot, though I still had to knead by hand for a bit at the end). I let it sit in the refrigerator all day. I took it out to thaw about an hour before I made the pizza.

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

Once again, Deb did not steer me wrong. The dough was so easy to work with! I will probably use a bit more salt in the future, and I could have left it in the oven for another minute or so to really let the crust crisp a bit more, but finally, finally, I feel like I have a winner!

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

I topped this pizza with hot Italian sausage, sauteed portobello mushrooms, and caramelized onions, and sprinkled it with fresh basil once it came out of the oven. Deliciousness. I love pizza, and am eternally grateful to have finally discovered the secrets that have been eluding me all along. I suspect you’ll be seeing a lot more pizzas from me. Until, of course, the unbearable heat of Boston in the summer becomes so terrible that the very thought of turning on an oven is unthinkable.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2008 1:22 pm

    I love parchment paper, though I have to admit I use it mainly because I am lazy and that way I don’t have to wash my cookie sheet (yes, singular at the present time).

    I haven’t made pizza in a while. Yum. I’d do that tonight but my kitchen is hot enough at the end of the day without adding the oven into the mix.

  2. kim e. permalink
    June 27, 2008 5:07 pm

    thank you! we always buy (have yet to take the challenge of making our own dough) our dough from t.j’s and have yet to master the perfect pizza. i think that the parchment paper might be the crucial ingredient that we’ve been missing. excellent! :)

  3. Crimson permalink
    June 28, 2008 5:43 pm

    Hey, do you have any tips to making the dough by hand? I have only done this once, and it was a tedious disaster. I too have finally broken down and will try my hand at pizza making. I need tips!!!!

  4. June 30, 2008 10:04 am

    Sad to say, my first tip re: making the dough by hand is to use an electric hand mixer! Ha! Actually, this last time making dough was the first time I ever used my mixer, and I never had too many problems just using a wooden spoon and my hands. The trick is to really not be afraid to get in there and use your hands to mix the dough. Peter Reinhardt recommends using your hands like a dough hook: Grasp the dough and twist is upward, while rotating the dough bowl with your other hand. I just found it so easy and fast to use my hand mixer, which has dough hook attachments. I would also say to add the flour bit by bit, and not all at once. Different flours absorb liquid differently, and temperature affects it all, so you might need a lot less flour, or a lot more. Just add about a cup at a time and mix it in. You want the dough to be silky and not too sticky. And the trick to kneading is to use the heels of your hands, and your whole arms, to push the dough into the counter and away from you. Just keep folding it over on itself and pushing. It’s weirdly satisfying.

    So that is my super long answer. I also wrote out relatively detailed instructions here:, though these might need to be updated soon.

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