I’m not much of a cook.
Not because I don’t know how, but rather because I can’t really be bothered to get fancy with my food.
I have about five or six main dishes that I cycle through every few weeks. Being a vegetarian, almost all of my meals contain varying combinations of the same key vegetables.
I’m not a gourmand – I eat mainly to have eaten, not to savour new and exquisite flavour combinations. If there was a way to obtain one’s necessary nutrition partly or solely from a pill, I’m pretty sure I’d do so.
In living alone, lacking the sociality that comes with a family meal, cooking and eating really just take up time I could use to do something else.
That said, every so often, I get inspired to eat particular treats.
For example, lasagna.
Recently, as a late birthday present (since I was overseas during my actual birthday) a good friend made me the best lasagna in the world.
I am not even exaggerating.
It was vegetarian, obviously. But in her expert hands, my usual zucchini, mushroom, carrot, spinach, and yellow pepper combination – smothered in a slightly boozy red wine tomato sauce and layered between noodles, stuffed with ricotta and slathered in mozzarella – was borderline something to die for.
I actually think it shaved a few years off my life; it was so delicious, it brought me a little bit closer to Heaven.
I knew right then that this delicacy had to be reciprocated with a specialty of my own.
But what would I make?
It eventually came to me mid-text message.
Come over for some… Francophone lentil soup, I was going to say, in reference to the hilarious yet delicious transliterated lentil soup recipe given me by a former roommate from Quebec (an example: one little onion shoped in small dice).
But my fingers took it upon themselves to tap out something quite different.
I will make the crust myself.
When my dad immigrated to Canada in the 60s, his first job was working in a bakery.
Growing up, I frequently had homemade bread that my father made – something I didn’t appreciate nearly enough at the time amidst today’s preference for artisan, organic, and homemade baked goods.
(Neither did I appreciate his regular Saturday afternoon lessons in breadmaking when I’d have rather been roaming the streets with my friends.)
All this to say I, I did know how to make dough, for all that I hadn’t actually done so since Valentine’s Day 2009.
(I remember the day both because I took pictures and because I purposely shaped my kneaded dough in the shape of a heart, for all that one of my roommates insisted it looked more like a delicate part of the female anatomy. I’ll let you judge for yourself).
Fortunately, bread/pizza dough is ridiculously easy to make no matter how long it’s been. It contains only five basic ingredients: flour, water, some type of oil, yeast, and salt. Anything and everything else you might include are just embellishments on this basic recipe that’s almost as old as civilization itself.
For my recipe, I turned to the trusty Purity Cook Book – a Canadian classic originally published in 1917, so named for Purity brand flour and baked goods from Newfoundland rather than a commentary on the desirable trait of its users.
(What the name of the flour itself is commenting on is unknown to me, and perhaps wouldn’t have been appropriate for my dubiously heart-shaped dough from 2009.)
This recipe calls for a few extra ingredients (scaled milk, sugar, “proofing” of the yeast), but the process, as always, is the same: combine, knead, let rise, shape, bake.
Here are my top four tips for making awesome pizza dough:
1) Your yeast must be reasonably fresh
In other words, that which I froze back in 2009 and then forgot about is not definitely recommended. If it’s been around longer than four months in your fridge or six months in the freezer, obtain a fresh supply.
2) Kneading is like doing laundry
Kneading isn’t at all as difficult as it looks: just fold the dough in on itself over and over again like you’re folding a shirt, giving a little push down with the ball of your hand after each fold as if you’re trying to stuff that shirt into an over-full drawer. Continue folding until the dough is smooth – at least 10 minutes. Remember to take your rings off!
3) Show some warmth
Before setting your dough out to rise, turn your oven to 100°F or so. Once the inside is nice and toasty, turn the heat off, insert the covered bowl of dough, and close the door. Heat will make it rise much faster.
4) Cook without cheese first
Once the dough is spread and dressed with all your favourite vegetable and meat toppings, bake the pizza as is for at least 20 minutes before adding cheese. Cheese melts and browns quickly, often giving the impression of a completed pizza when, in fact, neither the toppings – and more importantly, the crust – are thoroughly cooked.
Have you ever made homemade pizza? Do you enjoy cooking? Do you have a signature dish you like to cook? Tell me about it in the comments.
(Image source #3, all others: J.G. Noelle)