Ready to fire up the oven for a pizza party? Whether you're cooking for a family of four or a party of 40, the following resources can help round out the details.
Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, according to the National Association of Pizza Operators. (That translates to about 350 slices per second). Pepperoni remains the most popular topping, but more creative options are emerging, from artichoke hearts and eggplant to crawfish and venison.
Pizza provides the perfect palate for creativity. With minor modifications to crust, sauce or toppings, the pie takes on new personalities. Once you learn the basics, anything is possible.
What's the secret to a perfect crust? Some cooks swear by the pizza stone.
"You definitely need one of these for a great crispy crust," said Julia Schilling, a teacher in Boston who makes homemade pizza about once a week. Schilling recommends spreading cornmeal on the stone to prevent sticking and buying a pizza paddle - a long-handled shovel of sorts - to transfer the pie in and out of the oven.
Short of time? Try these pizza crust shortcuts:
Top whole rounds of pita bread.
Use English muffin halves as a base.
Buy prepared crusts or focaccia bread at the grocery store.
Buy frozen Italian bread dough. Most packages come with pizza instructions.
Employ your bread machine. "We use our bread maker for crust and it turns out very well," Schilling said. "If it weren't for the bread maker, we certainly would not be
eating so much pizza. Hey, maybe we ought to get rid of that thing!" About.com offers a recipe for Bread Machine Pizza Dough.
To create basic pizza sauce, mix a small can of tomato paste with a little water, fresh garlic and Italian herbs (basil, oregano, parsley, etc.).
For a flavorful diversion, prepare pesto sauce instead. In a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup fresh basil, a teaspoon or two of salt, 2 cloves of garlic and 2 Tbsp. pine nuts. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and puree until smooth, then stir in 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Remember, there are no rules. Try using barbecue or peanut sauce as a base for creative combinations.
Over the Top
Again, anything is fair game. Here are a few ideas:
Mexican Fiesta. Combine salsa, refried beans, seasoned ground beef, turkey or chicken, cheddar cheese, sour cream and jalapenos.
Try Thai. Start with a peanut sauce (or chunky peanut butter), then top with chicken, shredded carrots, cilantro, fresh ginger and bean sprouts.
Very Veggie. Combine everything from spinach and broccoli to artichoke hearts and eggplant. Caramelized onions provide a sweet finish.
Simply Seafood. Pair shrimp, crawfish or crab with fresh herbs (basil, dill), cheeses, a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of Tabasco.
Cheese Please. Don't stop with mozzarella. Try goat cheese, cheddar, monterey jack, feta or provolone.
Pizza, The Neapolitan Way
If a trip to Naples is out of the question, this article can show you how to create the genuine pizza at home.