DIY Pizza: Cheaper, Tastier, More Fun

In the food business, there’s a saying, "If you want to make money, make pizza." The ingredients cost next to nothing, and you’ve always got a market hungry for your product.

Turn that logic around, and you’ve got an economic case for homemade pizza. Flour and packaged yeast are cheap, water is free (or close to it), and you probably already have the toppings in your fridge. A homemade pizza party can cost less than $2 per person. You can’t even get a slice for that these days.

Worried that you lack the know-how or heat to make pizza at home? Andrew Burman, a graduate student in New York University’s Food Studies program, insists he can make fantastic homemade pizza—from scratch—using ordinary kitchen equipment in less than 45 minutes.

“It’s all about the heat,” Burman says.

To make the dough, he empties the contents of one package of Fleischmann’s yeast in a measuring cup, and covers it with 1¼ cups of warm tap water. Then he mounds two cups of all purpose flour on the counter, and makes a well in the center. He slowly pours one cup of water/yeast into the well, stirring it into the flour with a fork, until he’s got a shaggy dough. He adds a generous pinch of salt and begins kneading.

“I want the texture to have the stickiness of a lint roller,” says Burman. He adds the remaining water/yeast and a bit more flour. He kneads for 5 minutes, until the dough, according to Burman, “becomes smooth, like a baby’s head.”  He lets the dough relax, covered under a damp paper towel, for at least ten minutes. “It’ll be even better in half an hour, and really good after a day in the fridge,” says Burman.

Meanwhile, he has a cast iron griddle heating on the stovetop, and has turned the broiler on high with a rack four inches below the heating element. He cuts off a racquet-ball sized portion of the dough, and uses his fingers to stretch it, careful not to break the dough.
He puts the dough on the griddle, drizzles olive oil, thinly sliced red onions, grated Parmesan and green olives on top, and pops it under the broiler. He watches it until the dough rises and browns, and the toppings melt and bubble, about 4 minutes. “You could call this pizza, flatbread, it’s all the same thing,” says Burman. Bottom line: It tastes really good.

If the thought of making pizza dough doesn’t thrill you, try a premade crust, like Boboli (original, thin crust or two minis, $4.39), or a tube of Pillsbury pizza dough ($3.99) (Stock Quote: GIS). Or try frozen pizza dough. Though you’ll have to defrost it a day ahead, it’s less expensive than the other pre made varieties; my supermarkets carries a local brand for $2.49 a bag. Though pre-made doughs are pricier than homemade, and a whole lot less fun, they still cost less than ordering in.

Toppings can be as pricey or as inexpensive as your budget will bear. For a classic margherita-style pizza, reach for a large can of whole tomatoes ($1.29) instead of pricier tomato sauce, chop, and scatter on the dough. Shred some mozzarella ($2.49 for half a pound), and spread it on top of the tomatoes. When the cheese melts and bubbles, take the pizza out of the oven, and top it with torn fresh basil ($1.49 per bunch).

Or, get creative. At Otto, Mario Batali’s high-end Manhattan pizzeria, they make an incredible vongole pie with whole clams, mozzarella and garlic; he makes another with garlic, olive oil and fresh chiles (ask for an egg on top. It cooks sunnyside up, and that runny yolk is divine.).

At the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, I recently tasted two non-traditional pizzas made with all local ingredients: feta cheese, spinach and pumpkinseed oil on one, and sliced tomatoes, Vermont bacon and cheddar cheese on the other. They were as tasty as they were unusual.

And though I appreciate Dominos (Stock Quote: DPZ) CEO Dave Brandon’s “super big taste bailout” offer to Main Street Americans, now that I can make creative pizzas for pennies, $15 seems like big bucks for a couple of pies.

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