Pizza! Oh yes we’ve all had pizza. Most of us love it, but how many of us really take the time to make our own?

What a better way to enjoy your pizza then building your own from crusts to toppings. Making your own pizza is a great opportunity to make mealtime an all-inclusive activity. Be it a pizza party or a family meal, most of us appreciate being involved in the mealmaking. I know very few children who don’t like pizza and even fewer who don’t enjoy taking part in creating their own.

Let us begin with the crust

There are a few other questions to keep in mind. Pre-made crust or from scratch? Rice, cornmeal or wheat? Deep dish or thin? Chicago-style or New York-style? The differences between Chicago- and New York-style pizzas are quite distinct.

Chicago Style pizza

The Chicago style pizza is a wonderful, hearty, heavy goodness that is made using a crust formed in more of a dish fashion. The outer crust creates a wall one or more inches high which is why this pizza is often called “deep dish.” The crust is then filled with meat, vegetables and cheese and the sauce is spread across the top. The dough itself tends to be more biscuit-like.

New York pizza

A delicious, light alternative to a deep dish pizza is the New York- style. This is a hand-tossed thin crust pizza that begins by putting the pizza sauce on the bottom followed by your choice of exquisite toppings. This is essentially every other pizza you see besides Chicago-style or the influence behind it. Even so, what we consider traditional pizza originated outside the United States.

The origins of pizza

In fact, the origins of pizza most likely date back to more ancient times and civilizations pre-dating even the Italians. Any ancient people that used flat, unleavened breads baked in mud ovens or over stones would have dined on something very similar to what we see as pizza today. As for pizza here in the States, a man named Gennaro Lombardi is believed to be the first to open a pizzeria in New York City back in the early 1900s. So whether or not pizza got its original start in Italy, we here in America can thank them for its introduction here.

Items we carry at the Co-op

I’m sure that as intriguing as all of this is you may be waiting for me to get to some of the products that we carry here in the store. So I will give you a quick rundown on some of these items. Afterwards I will briefly discuss preparation methods and provide you with a few ideas for making everything from scratch.

Frozen crusts

If you tend to be on more of a time crunch then perhaps the frozen pizza crusts will be a little more appealing. In our frozen section, located in aisle seven, you will find different crusts to choose from. Fresh Meadows makes a thinner crust in sour dough or spelt. Nature’s Highlights also offers a thin crust but this crust is made from brown rice. If none of the above strikes your fancy, then perhaps a thicker crust is what you’re looking for. If so, we carry a thicker corn meal crust from Vicolo. Frozen crust, however, is by no means your only option.

Pre-mixed crusts

If you’re really looking to take more part in the creation of your one pizza from scratch but would prefer not having to deal with yeast and so forth, then try one of our many pizza crust mixes. One benefit from making your own crust—pre-mix or from scratch—is that you can choose the size of your pizza and the thickness of the crust. If you happen to have smaller children or just a lot of differences in pizza toppings this gives you the opportunity to make smaller personalized pizzas.

For instance we carry Ecco La Pasta, which is a semolina pizza crust mix. This is a coarsely ground grain. Wanda’s offers two flavored pizza crust mixes (rosemary-basil and oregano-basil)—these mixes are also organic. Of course if you need to take special dietary considerations or are trying to avoid wheat and gluten, then Gluten Free Pantry is the mix for you. And lastly we carry a pizza crust mix from Jiffy. These items are all located in aisle three near the registers and conveniently above my next topic—pizza sauce.

Pizza sauce

Sauces can make or break your pizza. We have three red sauces to choose from, two of which are organic (Muir Glen and Eden Organic) and one all-natural (Enrico’s). You can always make your own little additions if a sauce isn’t quite what you want. For instance, if you prefer a sweeter red sauce then try adding a little sugar or use something sweeter as a topping (like pineapple). You can also be a little creative and use an alfredo sauce. This can go lovely with chicken or even garlic and spinach. If you are making your sauce from scratch be sure to allow it to cool before spreading across the dough.

The cheese

Oh, we mustn’t forget about the cheese. This is my favorite part of the pizza. Most commonly one sees mozzarella and provolone on a pizza. However, adding a few hard cheeses can add a wonderful sharp bite. Romano is a hard, salty and sharp flavored cheese that will require grating. Parmesan is another hard cheese that tends to be matured longer and is a grainier cheese. Another wonderful hard cheese is asiago, which one can find either smooth or crumbly depending on the aging process. Another cheese worth trying is from New Cheese Stella called Kasseri. This is a medium hard yellow cheese.

Meat and dairy substitutes

We have a number of meat substitutes located in the dairy section across from the yogurts. There you will be able to find Yves Canadian bacon and veggie pizza pepperoni as well as Light Life’s Gimme Lean sausage, Smart Ground and Smart Bacon. For dairy substitutes just slide to the left a couple of doors. There are a few brands to choose from for mozzarella such as Soya Kaas and Follow Your Heart. The Parmesan comes in two varieties: Parmesan Flavored Vegan or Rice Style, both of which are produced by Soyco.

Homemade dough

For homemade dough, warm one cup of water (not too hot) and mix one tablespoon of yeast in letting stand three to five minutes or until yeast has activated (this will be something you can smell). Next mix in two cups white flour and two cups wheat. Begin kneading dough. If the dough is too sticky (i.e., sticking to your fingers), add more flour until you can knead the dough without it clinging to your hands. Let dough rise fully and press down to remove excess air, be careful you’re not kneading the dough, only removing air. Now let stand again until dough rises and you’re ready to go. This will make three 12- to 14-inch pizzas.

Toppings

Let the preparation of the dough be as creative as choosing the toppings. Try adding a few herbs or other seasonings. Before you begin rolling out your dough place flour or cornmeal on the counter-top to allow you to transfer the pizza more smoothly onto your “pizza peel” and then to the stone or onto your pizza pan. (A “pizza peel” is a wooden-handled, flat-headed spatula used to remove the pizza from the stone.) Once you have your dough rolled out, you may choose to add a little more cheese by placing a smaller amount around the inner edge of the crust and then rolling the excess over.

Preparation and pointers

To bake your pie it is recommended that you use a baking stone/pizza stone or I’ve heard you may also use unglazed Terra Cotta tiles. This will allow for a more evenly baked crust. The pizza peel mentioned above would also be a good consideration. When using mushrooms as a topping, cook them down first to eliminate excess water; additional water will only interfere with an even cooking of the top of the pizza. Be sure to watch the amount of toppings used, as this will also contribute to difficulties in moving the pizza from one place the other. You’ll want to keep this in mind during the baking of the pizza as well because you will want to rotate the pizza.

Have fun

Most importantly of all, have fun. Let this be an activity that involves everyone! The more joy and fun you put into the preparation the more you’re bound to enjoy the outcome.