Actually, that's a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John's commercials say, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza." And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don't put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I'm sharing recipes.
A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn't. And it doesn't look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like...
So, let's start with the DOUGH. Here's what you'll need:
(this recipe taken from America's Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It's full of delicious science.)
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it's always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading
*If you don't have a thermometer or you're too lazy to use one (but, really, you're making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy...) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby's bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.
1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.
2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.
3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.
4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.
5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You'll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)
6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We'll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you're going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it's just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It's not that hard - really - and it's super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1" from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you're looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)
7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don't put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.
8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don't.) or a rimless baking sheet (that's more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don't have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.
9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that's all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.
10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!
Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I'll save homemade sauce for another day.
Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:
Lamb - ground, pre-cook until it's about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta - fresh from the deli is the way to go
Ham - I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère - shred directly onto pizza
Shallots - yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception
Tomato (sliced) - I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil - fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella - best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little 'gourmet' packaged kind
Veggie Lovers - you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach - I like baby spinach for this
Arugula - sounds weird, tastes good
Mushrooms - I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs - whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good
Ham - I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple - I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie