Sundays are a downer. If Friday is anticipation, and Saturday, fulfillment, Sunday is…inertia. The shadow of Monday looms over Sunday and makes the entire day a bit melancholy. So in my house, Sunday is the perfect day of the week to turn into a standing pizza night.
No matter what day of the week it may be, I like the idea of having a regular pizza night. Rituals are calming, and I appreciate that having one night devoted to pizza gives me one less dinner to have to get creative about. Also, homemade pizza can be pretty healthy, as it tends to be lighter on cheese and heavier on fresh ingredients. Best of all, kids enjoy making pizza, so you get a time-killing activity on top of the actual dinner. Divide the dough into mini-pizzas, so each kid can customize their pizza to their exact specifications. If a booger should fall into the cheese, so be it–you’re not going to be the one eating it.
Pizza night is perfect for low-key entertaining. Just pick up enough dough for everyone, mine your fridge and pantry for toppings, and open a bottle of wine. Your guests can bring a salad or dessert, and you’re set.
If you’ve tried pizza at home and were underwhelmed, a few tips. Get that oven preheated early, and make it screaming hot (425-450 degrees, depending on the oven). Make sure your dough has a chance to rest outside the fridge, for 20 minutes, to get it pliant and workable. Don’t overload your pizza with too many toppings, or it will get water-logged. And break out that Silpat you thought was only good for cookies. My pizza was sometimes prone to burning on the outside and under-cooking on the inside, until my friend Suzanne suggested I stretch my dough on my Silpat mat. The crust turned out golden brown, crisp, and amazing.
One last tip: I like to get the kids’ pizzas in the oven first. The grownups can chat and assemble their pizzas while the kids are eating theirs. Then the kids can play or watch a movie while the adults socialize over wine and their pies. Doing the pizzas in batches also alleviates any oven space issues.
Below, my recipe for my favorite grown-up pizza.
Pizza With Clams, Red Onion, and Arugula
One large disc of fresh pizza dough (store bought or homemade)
4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin rings
3 6.5 oz. cans chopped (not minced) clams (I prefer Snow’s), drained
4 cups arugula (loosely packed)
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
crushed red pepper
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1. If your dough is refrigerated, pull it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you’re ready to start.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. Sprinkle some cornmeal or flour on your pizza pan, cookie sheet, or jelly roll pan, and stretch your dough evenly on it. I use a 13 X 17 jelly roll pan with a Silpat mat. If you are using a Silpat, you can skip the flour or cornmeal, because the pizza will slide right off the Silpat after baking.
4. Drizzle olive oil over the dough, and spread it with your hands until the dough is evenly coated, but without pools of olive oil. Start with a tablespoon and go from there.
5. Sprinkle the minced garlic evenly over the dough.
6. Evenly distribute the mozzarella on the pizza. Don’t place the cheese too close to the edge, as it will spread quite a bit.
7. Spread the red onion evenly over the pizza, and then the clams.
8. Sprinkle pizza liberally with crushed red pepper and black pepper, according to your preference. Sprinkle with some kosher salt.
9. Bake somewhere in the top half of the oven. Start checking it at about 12 minutes. The baking time will vary depending on the oven. You’ll know it’s done when the cheese is melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown. The crust should be golden brown, as in the picture below.
10. While the pizza is baking, toss the arugula with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper–just enough to moisten the leaves.
11. When the pizza is done baking, pull out of the oven, and spread the arugula over the pizza.
12. Slice into wedges or rectangles, and serve with additional crushed red pepper alongside! Pizza will serve 3-4, depending on appetite.
*Notes: Stores these days sell some great fresh pizza dough (I especially like Trader Joe’s), but if you have a bread machine, try using it to make your own. Homemade dough is beautiful stuff–stretchy, yeasty, and pillowy. I like Beth Hensperger’s recipes for cornmeal pizza dough and whole wheat pizza dough (shown above) in “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook.” If you’re making the dough by hand, you can Google any number of recipes.
If, like Rush Limbaugh and my husband, you don’t like arugula, try a cup of chopped flat leaf parsley instead. You can cook the parsley right on the pizza, or sprinkle it on when you pull the pizza out, if you want to keep that vibrant green color.