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Monday, February 7, 2011

How Pizza Saved My Family

That’s perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but nonetheless, made-ahead pizza has come to my rescue many a time. 
After my first son was born, I was truly surprised by how exhausted I was…I mean, I knew it would be exhausting, but I didn’t know you could be THAT tired and not be dead!  Even on those days when all I had to do to make dinner was turn on the oven and stick something in it, I couldn’t always remember to get the oven turned on in time.  Forget about planning a meal, organizing a grocery list, actually leaving the house and going shopping, coming home and putting away groceries, and then still having to prep and cook.  Nuh-uh, couldn’t do it.  Before my second son was born, I socked away four of these pizza “kits” and pulled them out when I was too tired to do much besides turn on the oven.
The kit gets you most of the way to a pizza, but does require some finish work because I personally don’t have anything that I can seal a fully assembled 16” pizza in.  If you do, go ahead and assemble the pizza and then freeze it…less work on the back end, though it will take up more freezer space that way too. 

I like to make my own dough and pizza sauce, but you can certainly assemble kits with store-bought sauce and prepared pizza crusts.  In fact, making pizza for dinner one night and portioning out the remaining jarred sauce for kits is a perfect way to manage the sauce leftovers. 
Toppings can be just about anything you want.  Meat toppings like pepperoni or browned sausage will freeze well, or you can buy a can/jar of something (sliced olives, artichoke quarters, pineapple chunks) and stash it in the pantry to go with the freezer kit.  If you’re like me, though, you’ll want to label the stuff in the pantry so that you don’t forget and use it for something else!  I don’t recommend freezing anything you want to have  crunch though, like green peppers, or delicate fresh ingredients like sliced tomatoes and basil leaves.  Save those for days when you have a chance to hit the store (or the garden).
This, like so many prep-ahead meals, is a money/time saver, too.  This is a great way to capitalize on a sale on cheese …if you can get a good deal on the 8 oz. packages of shredded mozzarella, just freeze it as is.  Or you can make some nice cheese blends with mozzarella, parmesan, romano, even cheddar or blue cheese, and save yourself some work by shredding a lot at once and freezing the mixture in 2 cup portions for pizza later.
The basic pizza kit components are:
  • 1 prepared pizza crust or ½ of the following Pizza Dough recipe
  • ¼ cup sauce or ¼ of the following Pizza Sauce recipe
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • Toppings (freezable toppings include pepperoni, browned sausage, sautéed mushrooms and onions, roasted garlic; pantry toppings include sliced olives, pineapple chunks, artichoke quarters, roasted red peppers)
Freeze the dough, sauce, cheese and toppings in separate zip-top bags or vacuum-sealed bags.  Label everything with permanent marker (works best if you write before filling the bags).  Place everything into a 2-gallon zip-top bag and write the baking instructions on the large bag (or write the instructions on an index card and place the card in a snack-size zip-top bag inside the 2-gallon bag.
To bake, thaw the pizza kit on the countertop for a few hours (it doesn’t have to be totally thawed).  Press the dough into a 12” pizza pan, and let it rest for 10 minutes or so while you preheat the oven to 375F.  Add the sauce, cheese and toppings and bake for 20 minutes.
The Recipes!!
This dough recipe is an adaption of Tony Rosenfeld’s Pizza for the Grill.  I make a double batch to match up with my pizza sauce recipe which makes 4 pizzas’ worth of sauce.  It really is an easy dough recipe…I make it in the stand mixer or in the bread machine, and I’ve never had to add a pinch of flour or a splash of water…the proportions work out just right every time.
Pizza Dough
Makes 2 12”pizza crusts
  • 1 ¼ cup warm water (110F)
  • 1 package (2 ¼ tsp) yeast
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  When you see bubbles in the yeast, stir in the salt and olive oil and 1 cup of the flour.  Keep adding flour by the ½ cup until you have a smooth ball of dough.  Knead for 8-10 minutes.  Put in a greased bowl and allow to rise for 1 hour.  At this point, you can divide up the dough and freeze it in airtight bags or put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. 
Pizza Sauce
Makes approximately 1 cup
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Saute onion, garlic and tomato paste in oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned.  Add diced tomatoes and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Puree mixture with a food processor or blender.
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