Here's why: Homemade pizza tastes better than anything you can buy and it takes much less time and effort than you would think. Making the dough takes just 10 minutes. Then, during the next hour while the yeast is working its magic, you have plenty of time to prepare whichever toppings you and your guests are hankering for — shredded cheeses, sliced meats, vegetables, whatever.
The trick is to mix and "knead" the dough in a food processor rather than by hand. It's quicker and cleaner that way. And as long as you measure the ingredients accurately (going by weight, not volume) and don't add very hot water, this dough is failure-proof.
This recipe makes enough dough for six 9- to 10-inch pizzas. You're welcome to invite more adventurous guests to roll out and top their own dough. Otherwise, roll out the dough ahead of time and pre-bake the crusts for them, which speeds up the final cooking time. Pre-baking the crusts also makes them even crispier than usual.
For years, I found stretching out pizza dough to be a pretty frustrating process. I'd roll it out in one direction and it would spring right back at me. I'd roll it in another direction and the same darn thing would happen. Then one day a Sicilian pal of mine passed along her mother's method; she rolled it out on a counter that was lightly oiled, but not dusted with any flour. Eureka! In this scenario, the dough doesn't roll back; it sticks to the counter. In just a few rolls, you're looking at a perfectly round, perfectly thin pizza shell.
One last note: Encourage your guests to avoid making Dagwood-style pizzas. Piling on too many toppings sogs up the crust. Stick to the amounts I've recommended and everyone will end up with his own excellent personal pizza. In fact, chances are the pizza will turn out better than the game.
HAVE-IT-YOUR-WAY PERSONAL PIZZAS
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
For the dough:
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4-ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoons) quick-rising yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup lukewarm water (95 F to 105 F)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
3 cups coarsely grated mozzarella, cheddar, Monterey Jack or other good melting cheese
Mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in oil
Salami or prosciutto, cut into thin strips
Roasted red peppers, chopped
Green bell peppers, cut into thin strips
Red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
Loose Italian sausage, browned
Fresh tomatoes, chopped
To prepare the dough, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Pulse once or twice. Add the water and oil, then process until a dough forms. It should be soft and slightly sticky. If it is too sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. If it is too stiff, add water 1 tablespoon at a time.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and place in the oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat evenly with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Once the dough has risen, heat the oven to 500 F. Arrange a rack on the oven's lowest shelf. Line multiple baking sheets with kitchen parchment. You may need to work in batches.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. On a lightly oiled surface, one at a time roll out each piece of dough into a 9-inch circle. Transfer each piece of dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. If working in batches, transfer, assemble and bake as many pizzas as you can, then repeat the process reusing the baking sheets.
Top each pizza with about 1/4 cup of marinara, spreading it evenly to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the cheese. Finish with 3/4 cup of optional toppings.
Bake the pizzas on the oven's lowest rack until the bottom is golden and the cheese is melted, about 7 minutes. For a crispier crust, roll out each piece of dough into a 9- to 10-inch circle, transfer it to a baking sheet and smooth it out. Bake it for 3 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, add the toppings, then bake until the cheese is melted, about another 5 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 440 calories; 130 calories from fat (30 per cent of total calories); 14 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 22 g protein; 1110 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."