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Gastrokid: The Pizza Project

Gastrokid: The Pizza Project

Leave the take-out pizza for time-crunched emergencies. If you play pizzaiolo (that's Italian for "pizza maker"), not only will you be able to regulate your gooey cheese topping level for the first time, but you will also be able to sneak some green vegetables (seriously!) and exciting new flavor combinations onto that wondrous blank slate that is the pizza dough. Dabble with dough and you will soon find that your kids love making pizza as much as they enjoy eating it.

Who has time to make pizza dough, you ask? You do. It only takes 20 minutes of active prep (as long as you don't adopt a Mario Batali-like fanaticism to engaging those glutens). It is the rising that is most time-intensive and why pizza-from-scratch is a perfect Saturday pastime (you get to run errands while the dough rises in a warm, dry place. . . the author's 4-year-old son is convinced that putting the dough in a bowl under his comforter is the perfect locale!). Check out our recipe below.

And if you are strapped for time, there are plenty of top-notch city pizza shops that often sell their dough if you ask nicely, not to mention that today's premade supermarket dough can be just fine. Look for it in the refrigerator case at your supermarket. But try to go it alone first; making your own dough is so much fun, and crazy-easy.

Here's your Gastrokid friendly pizza project primer: from the dough recipe, to exciting new topping combinations, to what to do with the leftovers.

The Recipes

The Dough
3/4 cup warm water
1 Tbs. milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. olive oil

In a large bowl, combine the water, milk and yeast and stir. Add the flour, salt and olive oil and mix it all up until it begins to form a messy sort of ball of dough.

Flour the counter or table, place the dough on the surface and start kneading. Fold the dough on itself and knead that. Fold again and knead that. Keep going until it becomes smooth. This might take 5 to 10 minutes depending on your strength and stamina!

Rub the inside surface of a large metal bowl with olive oil, and place that newly smooth dough ball inside. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, put in a warm place and let the dough rise. In about 1 1/2 hours or so, it will get pretty darned big.

Here's the fun part: Punch down the middle with your fist (or let your kid do this!). Turn the dough over so it's a smooth ball and let it rise another hour.

Preheat an oven to 450°F.

Now you need to start acting like a pizzaiolo: Toss the dough around like a pizza man until it's a foot or more in diameter. Okay. That can be tough the first time around, so roll the dough out with a flour-dusted rolling pin. Make the dough a foot or so in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. (If desired, you can first divide the dough in half and make two smaller pizzas.) Put the dough on an oiled baking sheet and add the toppings (see below). Then bake until the pizza looks like it should: you know, melty, browned on the edges. Gorgeous. That's the goal.

The Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce is the foundation of the classic pizza we all grew up with, but by no means do all homemade pizzas need this. In fact, if you skip this step and choose your ingredients wisely, making pizza on the fly is super easy (see "the toppings" below for great variations). Or make the sauce ahead and keep frozen for instant access.

That said, this sauce couldn't be easier to make. And the recipe yields way more sauce than you need for one pizza. Use only 1/4 to 1/2 cup sauce per pizza and spread it out thinly with the back of a spoon. You don't want the dough to get soggy. Use leftover sauce on pasta.

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can (28 oz.) peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a sauté pan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat until the sauce is reduced a bit, about 15 minutes total.

The Toppings
The great thing about pizza toppings is you don't need to measure any ingredients. The main thing to remember is, if you overdo it with toppings, the pizza will get soggy. Here's what we like:

  • Cherry tomatoes, thyme and shredded dried mozzarella
  • Italian sausage and tomato sauce
  • Bacon, crème fraîche (or sour cream) and thinly sliced onion
  • Prosciutto or pancetta, sage, mushroom and mozzarella
  • Classic pepperoni and mushroom
  • The classic margherita: fresh mozzarella, drained and thinly sliced; cherry tomatoes (always good, no matter what the season); and fresh basil (not dried). What do I do with the basil, you may ask? Whatever you want, we may answer: julienne it, put it on whole, tear it, chop it. It's up to you and your kids to make it your own. You (or they) are the chef!

Ingredient: Making the Most of Mozzarella

Fresh Mozzarella
Today's Gastrokids can have fresh mozzarella on demand (remember how rare it was in supermarkets just 10 years ago?). We use fresh mozzarella as one of the classic base ingredients (along with tomato and basil) in our margherita pizza. We slice it thinly, then, if desired, press the excess water out of the slices between our hands (over a bowl to catch the mess) so it doesn't make the pizza soggy.

Shredded Dried Mozzarella
The classic pizza shop ingredient, dried mozzarella is saltier than the fresh version, so use judiciously.

The rimmed cookie sheet: Flat, metal and kind of boring on the face of it. But it is one of the fundamental tools in the Gastrokid arsenal: You can use it to roast vegetables, meat and seafood; to bake cookies; and yes, to bake pizza if you don't have a pizza stone. The difference is that you need to spread a bit of olive oil on the cookie sheet before adding the pizza dough (so it doesn't stick).

Technique Tip

Oven Management
A super-hot oven and a roasting pan can be used together for phenomenal and fast results in a Gastrokid family kitchen. High heat (we're talking 425° to 450°F) caramelizes the sugars in vegetables and meats, increasing the intensity of their flavors. Don't be scared of adding a pinch of salt along with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil to boost flavor, add some tasty fat, and help persuade your creation to leave the cookie sheet when done.

At this level of heat, it is always good to take a peek after about 10 minutes of baking to see if you need to get in there with some tongs and flip and move the crust around so it doesn't burn. You will also want to keep the kids well away from the oven until the pizza is on the table and ready to eat.

Just Dough It
While rolling out the pizza dough with a pin is easy, stretching it out is not only fun, it also gives you more control over how thin it is. While flipping and throwing the pizza around is impressive, it's also an easy way of tearing the dough if you haven't had a lot of practice.

An easier way of being hands-on with the dough is to put the ball down on the oiled cookie sheet and stretch it out into a circle, keeping in mind that you're actually stretching every bit of the dough. If you keep just working one spot, it'll snap back into place and will never form that thin, free-form circle you're going for. So start in the middle and work out in ever-increasing circles until you've reached the edge.

Since you probably won't be using all of a fresh mozarella ball in pizza, here are some ideas of what to do with leftovers (provided your Gastrokids haven't snacked their way through what is left during pizza prep):

  • Fresh mozzarella, from the standard baseball-size ball down to those cute little bocconcini, makes a great base for sandwiches; it melts crazy-fast in a grilled cheese or panini.
  • The cheese can be thinly sliced and served with vegetables in a composed salad. It's lovely with black olives and thinly sliced celery and celery tops for contrasting salt and crunch. Or serve with thinly sliced red and yellow bell peppers and a bit of prosciutto.
  • And if you made a margherita pizza (mozzarella, fresh basil and tomato), you can use those exact same ingredients in a classic caprese the next day. Just drizzle the salad with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

Gastrokid is dedicated to helping raise foodie families by cooking the best food possible together and having fun while doing it. For more family friendly recipes and tips, go to