Homemade Pizza That Will Liven Up Your Friday Night Routine

#TopChefHome's latest recipe gives us (healthy!) pizza so good you'll never order out again. 

As we mentioned earlier this summer, Top Chef Home Edition is back! It's where we put your cooking skills to the test and see if you have what it takes to be a Top Chef. In addition to challenging you, we're teaming up with your favorite food writers around the web and putting them to the test, too.

Our theme for September is Chef Hacks and we've asked Elana Iaciofano of Zaza & the Perfect Pie to take our Top Chef Home Edition Junk Food Challenge. Check out her delicious take on common snacks and then step up to the plate and show us your own version of this meal.

I was approached by Bravo to contribute to their Top Chef Home Edition which features chef hacks, or ways to transform popular dishes into something satisfying and meal-worthy that you can recreate in your own kitchen. My topic was junk food, and I immediately knew what I would be contributing: a homemade pizza recipe.

Pizza has a bad rap. It’s become the breakfast of unchampions, the late night snack of beverage over-indulgers, the Frito-topped-heart-attack-delivery-system, the stuffed-with heavens-knows-what crust creation. I’ve even seen slices that can render a paper plate transparent due to their overwhelming grease content. That, my friends, is not pizza. It’s a nutritionally void excuse for sustenance. I’m not saying that these imposters can’t be pleasurable on some level, but they are not pizza.

Pizza is healthy. Really. Pizza is fresh. Pizza is the perfect meal. I’m here to show you how to make this “perfect pie” and create a healthy, satisfying, homemade pizza that you can feel good about eating…even for breakfast.

The typical “slice” has the following toppings:

Marinara sauce or crushed tomatoes

Shredded mozzarella cheese

A lot of olive oil

Salt

This is not so complicated. And not so unhealthy, either. The problem lies with the ingredient choice and amount. Let’s address each in turn:

Tomatoes: Use real tomatoes. I don’t object to canned tomatoes, but as it’s September, there are some truly extraordinary tomatoes to be found. People grow them! (I know, it’s crazy, but true.) Beefsteak varieties are peppery, cherry tomatoes are sweet, and there are heirlooms in all colors that will brighten up your pizza color and taste “palette." 

Mozzarella cheese: Did you know that shredded cheese comes dusted with cornstarch? Yum… I prefer my cheese sans corn. And starch. Cheese is indeed a saturated fat. But skip the low-fat varieties and instead use a light hand to apply a modest amount to your pie. Opt for fresh mozzarella. It’s easy to find in your grocery store’s cheese section.

For the lactose intolerant, vegan, or dairy objectors, feel free to leave it off. No one says you have to put cheese on your pizza. If you do like cheese (as I do), opt for fresh mozzarella.

Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil will add an earthy flavor to your pizza and keep it moist. Olive oil is credited with many health benefits, too, so you’re doing something nice for your body. Which is what you were looking for from pizza, yes? YES. Drizzle some lightly over the top. Aim for no more than 1 tablespoon per personal pie.

Salt: Salt is a flavor enhancer. It even decreases the bitterness of some foods, heightening other flavors. While sodium is an electrolyte that our bodies need, too much salt can be unhealthy, so be conscious when you apply. I sprinkle a pinch on top of my topped, raw pizza. If you’re using canned tomatoes or salted mozzarella, be more frugal with your salt application. You may not need any. Check labels and be aware.

Basil: Fresh herbs are like the ice cream sprinkles of pizza — they add more than just color. A note of mild and sweet basil flavor will pair perfectly with your smooth mozzarella and tangy tomatoes. Apply liberally!

Dough: I like to make my own dough. That way, I know exactly what goes into it: yeast, flour, salt and water...and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. You can easily find fresh, raw dough at your local supermarket. To keep portions in check, I use a scale and weigh out 7oz of raw dough per pie. 

Now, let’s get to the recipes. Here are a few perfect for tomato season:

Zaza’s recipe for Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella and Herb Pizza

Makes 4 personal sized pizzas

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Enjoyment: Forever

Ingredients:

1 recipe homemade pizza dough (recipe follows) or 28 oz store-bought dough separated into 7 oz balls

2 lbs fresh tomatoes of any kind

1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese (you may not use it all)

Fresh herbs: basil and oregano, whole or roughly chopped

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt, distributed over 4 pizzas

flour for dusting

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 500 °F. If using a pizza stone, allow the stone to heat in the oven for 30 minutes before baking on it.

Slice the cheese into rounds no more than1/8” thick. If your tomatoes are large, slice them thinly. If using small, round tomatoes, quarter them. Set the cheese and tomatoes aside.

Stretch out one of the pizza dough rounds onto a pizza peel dusted with flour, or onto a cookie sheet (if not using a pizza stone).

Place a few rounds of mozzarella cheese on top of the pizza dough, taking care not to overload your pie.

Add the sliced tomatoes on top of the cheese. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Slide the topped pizza into the oven to bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Remove from the oven, garnish with freshly chopped basil and oregano, and serve immediately!

Here's a twist on the classic:

Green and Red Cherry Tomatoes with a Balsamic Glaze Drizzle and Fresh Oregano

Zaza’s Recipe for Homemade Dough

Prep Time: 5 hours

Equipment:

  • Digital Scale
  • Stand mixer with a dough hook attachment OR a food processor OR a large mixing bowl and your clean hands
  • Dough scraper
  • 1 large bowl for dough rising

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs Type 00 Flour (Note: All Purpose Flour will work too, but Type 00 yield a lighter, fluffier crust)
  • 0.2 oz active dry yeast (Note: active dry yeast is sold in handy packets at your grocery store)
  • 1.5 cups of room temperature water
  • .25 oz salt
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Instructions:

Sprinkle the yeast in ½ cup of the water. Mix with ½ cup of the flour, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. This will activate the yeast and integrate it with the flour.

Combine the flour, remaining water and salt in the bowl of your mixer, or a large mixing bowl. Whisk the ingredients lightly to incorporate.

Add in the yeast mixture, along with most of the remaining water — reserve about ¼ cup of water. 

Mix for two minutes, making sure all the flour has been incorporated. The dough should start to hold together and form a smooth, slightly tacky to the touch, ball. If the mixture seems dry, add more water, a little at a time. If it seems to wet, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Pause the mixer and add in the olive oil. Mix for three more minutes.

Now cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. This permits the glutens in the flour to relax. After the 20 minutes is up, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand for one final minute. This will allow you to get a feel for the dough. At this point you can still incorporate a bit more flour if the dough seems too wet.

Transfer the dough to a large container. Coat a sheet of plastic wrap with olive oil, and place it over the dough, taking care not to expose any of the dough to the air, or it will form a crust. Use two pieces of wrap if necessary.

Allow to rise at room temperature for 3-4 hours.

After this time has elapsed, your dough should be noticeably expanded. You have two options: you can refrigerate it for up to 72 hours OR you can section it into 7oz balls using your dough scraper and scale to measure.

Form the measured dough into balls by tucking in the loose ends with your hands. You can also roll them along a work surface.

Place them on a flour-dusted work surface and cover them with either plastic wrap or a non-terrycloth kitchen towel. Allow them to rest for at least 30 minutes, but up to 2 hours.

Once this final rest is complete, you can stretch out your dough and top it! 

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