Mother Earth Living

Round Robin: Homemade Pizza with Herbs

Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners
By Pat Herkal
June/July 2003
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Recipe: Homemade Pizza Dough 

RIVERTON, Wyoming — I’ve been experimenting with making pizzas almost every week this year. Some have been better than others — a few were excellent and some could have used more herbs for flavoring. None were loaded with fat and salt, and most didn’t have tomato sauce. Combining different herbs and vegetables has been the fun challenge.

The first hurdle was discovering an elastic dough that was easy to handle — thin but not too crispy. I experimented with various flours, and to help the yeast develop I use honey instead of sugar. coated with chili oil until doubled — about 45 minutes. Wolfgang Puck suggests in one of his cookbooks using chili oil instead of olive oil in the dough and we like the slight spiciness it adds. Chili oil is available in most grocery stores, and we also make our own hotter version by mixing 1/4 cup of a variety of lip-numbing peppers my husband dries and grinds in the fall into 1 cup of olive oil.

I have never mastered the art of twirling and throwing dough into an even round, nor can I ever push the dough into the proper shape using my fingers. A rolling pin is my tool of choice, and my crusts can be described as “rounded free form.” Because I seldom use traditional sauces, I don’t worry about building up the edges (although I do some creative folding if the dough wants to flop off the sides of the pizza stone).

Frequently, I brush on pesto (which I made in the summer and froze in small containers). Cilantro pesto adds an interesting taste twist as well. The fun part is experimenting with toppings. Try some caramelized onions with mushrooms and herbs de Provence, or reconstituted dried tomatoes with grated Parmesan cheese, oregano and mushrooms. (After I’ve reconstituted tomatoes, I use the liquid for part of the water in the dough.) Other tasty combinations include fresh sage with mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and artichoke hearts and olives with fresh thyme. Adding roasted garlic also improves the flavor of any combination. Fresh spinach leaves covering the top of the dough makes a delicious base for other vegetables and cheese. When it comes to summer squash and eggplant, I prefer to sauté them before adding them to the pizza.

Soon there will be fresh tomatoes for a scrumptious first layer. I think I’ll try a dill pizza. For cheese I choose from Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, Asiago, blue cheese and fontina. There are no rules, but I prefer to use what is in season and available or ingredients we have put up for winter. There are no wrong combinations, only taste preferences.

I bake my pizza on a stone in a 500-degree oven for 12 minutes. For a change of presentation, before baking I sometimes fold the dough over the topping, paint the edges with water and crimp them with a fork. Pizza becomes a calzone baked at the same temperature for the same amount of time. After removing it from the oven, brush olive oil over the top to give it an appealing glow.

My year of pizzas continues. They just get better as the garden produces more interesting choices for combinations. Served hot from the oven, they are a delicious, easy meal for family and company.

Pat Herkal is a regular contributor who enjoys the gardening challenge of Wyoming’s schizophrenic Zone 4 climate. 

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