I come from a pizza town. Pizza is an essential part of every Chicagoan's identity and we take it very very seriously. Doughy, undercooked crusts? No thanks. Sauce that's too sweet or tastes like ketchup? Hard pass. Too little or, *gasp*, NO CHEESE?! Girl, bye.
Unfortunately, I currently live in a part of the country that doesn't idolize pizza like those of us from the Windy City. Don't get me wrong, DC is lovely for lots of reasons - cherry blossoms, mild winters, majestic monuments - but pizza, especially delivery pizza, is not one of them.
After trying and failing miserably to find good delivery pizza in this darn city, my husband and I decided to take matters into our own hands. After starting with a basic dough recipe and tweaking it constantly over the past few years, I have to say that we've come up some pretty tasty pizza. PLEASE NOTE: this isn't Chicago style, deep-dish pizza. I leave that to the professionals.* The recipe below includes my favorite toppings, but, as with most of my recipes, feel free substitute at will. Same goes with the spice mix in the dough or the cheeses I've used - if you think something's missing, go to town.
MOST IMPORTANT THING: DON'T MESS WITH THE OVEN TEMP! My husband kept telling me for years that 500 degrees F is too hot and would turn it down when I wasn't looking. And then our pizza came out floppy and gross. 500 degrees is not too hot. It's essential to getting a good crispy crust.
*Pro-tip: NEVER GET CHICAGO STYLE PIZZA OUTSIDE OF CHICAGO. You're welcome.
-1 packet active dry yeast (CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE - don't find out the hard way that expired yeast doesn't work. Like I did.)
-1.5 cups warm water
-3.5 cups all purpose flour
-1 TB olive oil
-1/2 jar tomato sauce (if you have the time and inclination to make your own, I salute you)
-4-6 medium sized balls of mozzarella, sliced about 1/4" thick rounds
-sliced black olives
-quartered cherry tomatoes
-1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
-1 package Trader Joe's Chicken Andouille Sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (don't hate - it's really good!)
-grated Parmigiano Reggiano
-In a small bowl, mix yeast into the warm water, whisking gently to combine. Let sit for about 5 minutes, or until water becomes frothy.
-Sift flour into a large bowl, then add salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, basil, and oregano to taste (I use a few large pinchfuls of each, although maybe a little less for the cayenne). Form the dry ingredients into a mound with a hole in the center.
-Pour olive oil and yeast mixture into center hole, then use a spatula to gently combine the ingredients.
-Once well combined, turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead long enough for the dough to take in a bit more flour and stop sticking to your hands.
-Spread a little olive oil on the inside of a large, clean bowl, then form the dough into a smooth ball and place in oiled bowl. Slash the top with a knife, and rub with a little more olive oil. Cover bowl with a kitchen cloth, and leave to rise in a warm part of the kitchen for 1.5-2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume.
-Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Punch down the dough (don't actually punch it - my husband did that once. It was hilarious, but he kind of hurt his hand on the bottom of the bowl. Just gently push the air out a bit), then divide the dough into three equal sized pieces.
-With each piece of dough on its own oiled baking sheet, form pizzas - they should spread out to about 12 inches or so, sometimes bigger (the dough can stretch pretty darn thin). Mine are super free-form, so don't feel constrained to make them perfect circles. Life's too short for perfect circles.
-Add toppings to each pizza (sauce, cheeses, veggies, meat, etc.) and sprinkle with a little more salt.
-Bake each pizza for about 15-20 minutes, or until it looks done.