Regardless of your age, your culture, where you live or where you’re from, the universal question – What is your favorite food? – is routinely answered with the same response . . . pizza! Perhaps the greatest gift from our Italian friends, pizza has an uncanny capability to bring people together and always bring a smile to people’s faces. Not many foods are enjoyed worldwide in every demographic, can satisfy even the most finicky eaters and are requested almost every Friday and Saturday night.
You have to appreciate a food that starts with a blank canvas – the crust – and is transformed into a customizable masterpiece. Perhaps this is why pizza is adored around the globe. Every layer, from the style of crust, to the type of sauce, to the infinite number of topping combinations, allows pizza makers to be completely creative. From the good people of Chicago, who prefer their deep dish, to squid-and-eel pizza in the streets of Japan, green peas recommended by Brazilians, and Russians’ love for red herring pizza, there are no boundaries to the pizza pie. What started as simple peasant food for the ancient Romans has become legendary local cuisine, no matter where you call home.
I am sure fire houses across the country have enjoyed their share of pizzas. If your department is like mine, the local pizzeria’s phone number hangs next to the department’s phone list and you are considered a preferred customer. Although pizza is the No. 1 choice for ordering in, everything tastes better if we can build it ourselves. Homemade crust and fresh ingredients are the perfect starting point for any great pie, whether with your family or at the station with your brothers and sisters. The personalities in the station are much like the variety of toppings we can choose – every one is different. Start with that blank canvas and allow each member to personalize his or her creation. Most importantly, enjoy the building process together; it’s pizza – you really can’t go wrong!
I’ve provided the recipe for my basic go-to crust and some tried and tested favourite pizza variations. Enjoy making them as much as you will enjoy eating them.
|Basic pizza dough
- 1 cup warm water (40 C to 46 C)
- 1 (¼ ounce) envelope dry active yeast
- 1 tsp honey
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- Yellow cornmeal, for sprinkling the baking sheet
- In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, honey and one tablespoon of the olive oil, stirring to combine. Let the mixture sit until it is foamy, about five minutes.
- Add two cups of the flour and the salt, mixing by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue adding the flour, ¼ cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until the dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. You might not need all of the flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth but still slightly tacky, three to five minutes.
- Oil a large mixing bowl with the remaining olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic and set in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about one-and-a-half hours. When finished, roll the dough out on a flat, floured surface. If you are ready to use the dough, heat the oven to 260 C (500 F). Dust your rolled out dough with cornmeal and place on a pizza peal or baking tray and cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until the crust begins to become golden brown. Remove from the oven and lower the heat to 232 C (450 F). Create your favourite pizza and finish cooking with your toppings for about eight to 10 minutes.
Spicy muffuletta pizza
Olive Salad (see recipe below)
- 8 ounces provolone cheese, deli sliced
- ½ cup thinly sliced sweet onion
- ½ cup roasted red peppers
- 4 ounces hot cappicola, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces hot Genoa salami, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces fresh bocconcini or mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1 pre-baked large thin pizza crust
- Crushed chili pepper flakes
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Preheat the oven to 232 C (450 F).
- Place the crust on an ungreased baking tray or baking stone. Spread most of the olive salad over the bottom of the prebaked crust. Build your pizza in this order: provolone, onions, roasted red peppers, all the meats, the remaining olive salad, and top with bocconcini or mozzarella. Sprinkle to taste with chilli pepper flakes and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
- Cook until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, eight to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for five minutes before slicing. Enjoy!
- ½ cup jumbo black olives, such as Nicoise, sliced
- ½ cup large green olives, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp minced shallots
- 1 tbsp finely chopped celery
- 1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
- 1 tsp minced fresh oregano
- 2 tsp minced fresh basil
- 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Steakhouse chimichurri pizza
Ingredients: For the steak:
- 1 flank steak, roughly 1 ½ pounds
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp Montreal steak spice
For the pizza:
- 1 large prebaked pizza crust
- 1 250-millilitre (ml) jar chimichurri sauce (Station House brand recommended)
- 1 pound small button mushrooms, sliced in half and sautéed in 1 tbsp each butter and olive oil until golden
- 1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1 bunch fresh arugula, tossed in olive oil
- Fresh cracked pepper
Directions: For the steak:
- Combine the steak and the marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for four hours or, preferably, overnight.
- Heat the grill or a cast iron pan over medium to high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Grill until slightly charred on both sides and cooked to a medium-rare doneness, about seven minutes per side. Remove from the grill to a cutting board, tent the steak lightly with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice into ¼-inch thick slices.
For the pizza:
- Preheat the oven to 232 C (450 F).
- Place the prebaked crust on a tray or baking stone, brush the crust with the chimichurri sauce and sprinkle with the pepper jack cheese. Top with the grilled steak and sautéed mushrooms. Bake in the oven for eight to 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the crust becomes golden. Remove from oven and top with blue cheese, arugula and fresh ground pepper. Enjoy!
Thai shrimp pizza
- 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ tsp crushed chili pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 mango, julienned
- 3 green onions, sliced long and angular
- ¼ cup candied peanuts
- 3 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
- 8 ounce jar Thai chili garlic sauce (Rooster brand recommended)
- 1 prebaked 12-inch thin pizza crust
- 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
- Sriracha sauce
- In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the shrimp and chilli pepper flakes in oil for two to three minutes or until the shrimp just turn pink. Add garlic in at the last minute of cooking. Remove the skillet from the heat and reserve.
- Place crust on an ungreased pizza pan. Spread the Thai chili garlic sauce evenly over the crust and sprinkle with a small amount of the cheese blend. Place the shrimp, mango, green onion and candied peanuts evenly on the crust. Top with the remaining amount of cheese.
- Bake at 232 C (450 F) for eight to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and edges are lightly browned. Allow the pizza to cool for a few minutes before slicing. Top with fresh cilantro and drizzle with Sriracha sauce if desired. Enjoy!
Patrick Mathieu is a 13-year veteran of Waterloo Fire Rescue, where he is acting captain. He has won several cooking competitions and has helped raise thousands of dollars for charities by auctioning gourmet dinners at the fire hall. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org