Americans love pizza. If we mix and match toppings according to what's in season, make sauce from summer's abundant flavorful tomatoes (and freeze the extra), we can enjoy it year-round, hot from the oven in winter and at room temperature alfresco in summer.
Summer's great for stretched-out evenings and before a baseball game, some gardening or an evening of grading papers, I sometimes find all I have an appetite for at the usual dinner hour is a sandwich or salad. Then, as dusk settles, I'm starving for a substantial meal.
This is where pasta and pizza do the job. Nine o'clock is hardly the hour to break out the farmers' market garlic and just-harvested basil and start cooking. Or is it? Calling for a pizza delivery is one way to meet the craving, but making your own, using dough on hand (either homemade or bought-ahead) and ingredients fresh from the farmers' market is much easier than most people think. The taste difference is notable, especially using vine-ripe tomatoes, herbs and garlic in the sauce and varying the toppings according to what you scored at the market. If you're making this dish with another person, the co-op method works great: One person mixes the dough and prepares the veggie toppings; the other minds the sauce. Ideally, though, the sauce is already made and you pull it from the fridge or freezer. My husband and I tested the following recipe start to finish, in one hour, including making the sauce.
2 pounds pizza dough, store-bought or homemade, using recipe below
1 cup sauce, recipe below
2 cups sliced or grated fresh mozzarella, goat cheese or other cheese of choice
2 slender zucchini sliced thin (about 1 cup)
1 bell pepper, sliced into rings (about 1/2 cup)
1 small onion, sliced into rings
1 clove garlic, minced
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
Optional additional local toppings: sliced plum tomatoes, eggplant, Swiss chard, basil and oregano leaves, Italian-style sausage, leftover cooked chicken
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring dough to room temperature. Using your fingertips, stretch it to fit an extra-large, lightly oiled pizza pan, a 10-inch by 15-inch cookie sheet or two 10-inch cast-iron skillets. (Lightly oiling will keep crust from sticking and make it crispier.) It's best not to overstretch, so don't worry if it doesn't make it all the way to edges. Set crust aside.
Sauté onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil until just soft and set aside. On medium-high heat, sauté the zucchini quickly on both sides, about 30 seconds each and set aside.
Spread crust with sauce to cover lightly, about an eighth of an inch thick (the color of the dough should be visible through the tomato red). Distribute cheese evenly across the crust; layer on pepper-onion-garlic mixture, followed by the zucchini. Season according to taste with salt and pepper and additional freshly snipped herbs, olives and meats. Bake in preheated oven for 17 to 25 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned on bottom and top is golden. Because my oven is uneven, I also test for doneness in the center.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 cups unbleached white flour or bread flour
Put water and sugar into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Sprinkle yeast on top and allow a few minutes to dissolve. When foamy, add salt, oil and 2 cups of the flour. Pulse to combine for a smooth, heavy batter. Add another 1/2 cup of flour and run machine for 30 seconds. Watch to see if dough gathers into a ball; if it doesn't, add another 1/2 cup of flour and run for another 30 seconds or until a ball is formed. Run the processor to knead the dough for another 15 to 30 seconds.
(Note: Flours vary in moisture, so you may need to add more still. Do so in 1/4-cup increments and do not overprocess or crust will be tough.)
Leaving dough in work bowl, spray top lightly with vegetable oil and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk (30 minutes or so for rapid rise yeast; 45 to 60 minutes for regular yeast). Proceed with pan preparation as above. If you aren't ready to bake, chill the crust in the pan, covered tightly, for up to 24 hours.
Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce
2 quarts whole plum tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
Up to 1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil (more to taste)
1/4 cup each packed fresh basil and oregano leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place tomatoes in a large nonstick skillet with at least a 12-inch diameter, dry. Bring to a sizzle over medium heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer and allow juices to evaporate, 15 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. When close to the consistency of sauce, add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, depending on how wet tomatoes are. Add herbs, oil, sugar and salt and pepper. Heat until just bubbling and oil is incorporated; do not oversimmer if you want the just-picked tomato taste. Cool and use immediately, refrigerate for up to one week or freeze.