Pizzas, Calzones, and Focaccia

By on October 13, 2019

Homemade pizza is dinner around here regularly, and something I make frequently for casual dinner parties, girls’ night in, that kind of occasion. Pizza can be as upscale or downscale as you want, depending on the toppings. Foods that don’t necessarily go well together in nature work when you throw them on a pizza.

What makes homemade pizza worth eating is homemade dough, but most amateur cooks aren’t all that keen to work with yeast. Yeast is a PITA.

You put yeast and water together, let that burble, or yeast, water, and flour until you get a “sponge,” whatever that means. Then mix that into everything else, then knead the dough (not too much or it will get gluey), then let it all sit in a warm area (not hot, not cool; warm), and hope those yeastie boys do their thing and the dough expands. Then you “punch it down,” whatever that means, and yeah, it’s work.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s the thing:

You can use a bread machine.

Bread machines have a dough setting that eliminates hands-on work, and eliminates the temperature and timing concerns. You literally pour the dough ingredients into the machine, push the “dough” button, and forget about it for 90 minutes.

Bread machines were all the rage 20 years ago or so, and are readily available at thrift stores or yard sales, even eBay. Your parents or grandparents probably have one collecting dust. Nobody uses them anymore. I do, for dough. Since we eat homemade pizza almost once a week, it’s worth the cabinet space.

Or buy premade dough.

There is no shame in this, if you truly can’t manage otherwise. It costs about a buck and a quarter. I’ve bought premade dough when I was really in the mood for pizza but didn’t have time to make dough. You can throw a bag in the freezer for a later date and defrost it in less time than making it. Once we had out-of-town friends over for dinner, but my dough failed. To save the menu, I had to run out and premade pizza dough at Trader Joe’s. Our guests owned a vegan bakery, so they knew a thing or two about temperamental yeast, and we all laughed about it.

Now, on to calzones, which are also made with pizza dough. Calzones (video here) have a couple of intriguing advantages over pizzas. They can handle wet ingredients better, such as sautéed greens. Sure, you can spread your greens over your pizza, but they don’t turn out as well as they do when they finish cooking inside a calzone. Crumbled or ground proteins, too, such as those you’d use for taco fillings, work better in a calzone. You probably want your pizza overloaded with toppings, but calzones need less for stuffing, so they’re good for using up odds and ends. They take a little more labor and finesse to form, but not too terribly much. They are not, however, as Instagrammable as a pizza.

And finally focaccia, which is also pizza dough that is, paradoxically, made fancier by putting almost nothing on it. I’ve made focaccia for potlucks and people go wild, especially when it’s fresh out of the oven ten minutes ago.

On to the recipe.

Pizza dough

3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup warm water (not hot, not tepid, warm)
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon sugar (to give the yeast something to digest)
1 teaspoon salt (to offset any lingering sweet taste from the sugar)
2¼ teaspoons dry yeast (which is one tiny envelope, but you’re going to want to make dough so often you’ll buy bigger containers of yeast, and when you do, you’ll keep it in the fridge)

Add the ingredients IN THE ORDER I SAID to the bread machine’s inner chamber. Select the dough cycle. Walk away. When it’s done, moisten your hands with oil or water and gently lift the dough out of the machine.

Use immediately or seal very well in a plastic bag and refrigerate for no more than a day, or wrap well and freeze. This dough recipe serves two if you eat like a vacuum cleaner, which we do.

Variations: add 2-3 teaspoons of dried herbs such as rosemary, basil, oregano, and parsley with the flour. Do not add any fresh garlic: that seems to work against the yeast. Use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat (your mileage and satisfaction may vary). Can you sub gluten-free flour? I have no idea but I’m sure there are acceptable recipes out there. If you find one, share in a comment.

To assemble pizza

Preheat oven to 450.

Flop the dough on a well-seasoned but dry cookie sheet and carefully press/stretch into shape. It’s not essential that you use a special round pizza pan and form a perfect circle, in fact, I like the rusticity of an oblong pizza with messy edges. But hecking try not to leave holes anywhere that sauce can leak underneath, because that will cause the pizza to stick to the pan. The dough will snap back a little, so prepare to pat it back into shape as you move on.

Spread about 6 tablespoons of tomato sauce over the dough. I use small cans of store-brand tomato sauce (not paste, sauce) but you can use any kind of pasta sauce that isn’t overly chunky. I don’t overdo the sauce, personally, because that’s how things get soggy. Sprinkle with vegan mozzarella, unless you hate that, in which case go cheeseless, it’s your life.

Yes, that’s vegan shrimp

Plop your toppings on that, bake for about 10-12 minutes, until crust edges look done. Let it sit for a minute or two before cutting into it.

Suggestions: vegan sausage, bell pepper, olives, sun-dried tomatoes. Vegan chicken, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, capers. Vegan shrimp, thin-sliced white onions, broccoli florets, sub pesto for tomato sauce. Vegan ham, red onion, zucchini, pineapple (yeah, I said it). Vegan bacon, diced tomato, after baking top with shredded lettuce, avocado, drizzle of ranch dressing.

To assemble calzones

Preheat oven to 450.

Lightly flour your work surface. Divide the dough into two equal portions, roll into balls, and roll out into circles about 9 inches across. Mix your choice of cheese with fillings and a 2-4 tablespoons of sauce if needed.

Drop filling onto half of each circle, leaving about ¾ inch on the edge. Carefully fold over the unfilled side of the dough, and with wet fingers seal the edges. A little roll on the edge helps keep it together. Repeat with the other circle. Cut a slit or two so steam can escape. Transfer carefully to cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes.

Suggestions: vegan chorizo, onion, bell pepper, tomato. Cooked kale, garlic, mushrooms, mashed tofu. Roasted diced eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, crumbled vegan beef or meatballs.

To assemble focaccia

Preheat oven to 400.

Lightly oil or spray the cookie sheet or pan you plan to use. Plop the dough on the pan as if you were making pizza. With a rolling pin, even out the dough to about a half-inch thick all around. Generously brush the surface with oil and sprinkle a 1-2 tablespoons of rosemary (fresh is best, of course), a teaspoon or so of crushed red pepper flakes, and a light dose of coarse or flaked salt. Press the seasonings into the surface a bit so they stick.

Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Transfer to a cutting board and slice with a serrated (bread) knife into strips about 1½ inches wide and then 2 or so inches long. Serve as an appetizer along with a shallow bowl of GOOD olive oil and maybe balsamic vinegar.

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