I miss New York City pizza so much. Whenever I go back to the city, I head straight to Claudio’s on 10th Avenue not because it has amazing pizza…just because it’s right there next to my parents’ house, and even non-amazing New York pizza is amazing. (It’s a cliche, but an absolutely true one. Even the 99-cent pizza you get from the random kiosk outside the Port Authority Bus Station? Amazing.)
Pizza in California is not amazing. I’ve found a few places that are good – even very good – but they’re all of the personal pizza variety, and tend to be fancied up way more than I want my pizza to be. I need a medium crust. And red sauce. And a lot of drippy, melty cheese. That is all.
So I started making pizza myself, and you know what I discovered?
I’m not especially good at it. Sometimes it comes out pretty well, but other times it falls through my grill grate or ends up undercooked or overcooked or whatever. The one time I made completely perfect pizza – and I do mean it was perfect – was at my friend Alisa’s house. I used her ingredients, but they appeared to be completely identical to mine, so I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was Alisa’s oven just…magical? So I asked her to come over and show me from start to finish how she makes her pizza, and what I learned was that yes, the elements that we’re using (store-bought dough, homemade sauce, grated cheese) may appear identical, but they’re not. And those tiny differences apparently make an enormous difference.
Here is how you make a truly perfect homemade pizza.
Tip 1: Before you do anything else, preheat your oven to 450F and put your pizza stone at the very bottom. Let it preheat for at least half an hour before you plan to start cooking your pizzas.
Tip 2: Buy whatever pre-made pizza dough you like best (I like Trader Joe’s; Alisa uses Lamonica’s, from Whole Foods) – but make sure it’s not from a can. (Remember to bring your dough to room temperature before you start trying to roll it out, and if you’re making bunches of pizzas separate them using parchment paper, as pictured above.)
Tip 3: Make a simple, fresh red sauce by combining the following ingredients in a saucepan:
- 1 large can of crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano brand)
- A heavy drizzle of olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- A small handful of fresh roughly chopped basil.
Simmer for at least 10 minutes. That’s it.
Tip 4: Buy a block of part-skim mozzarella, and grate it yourself. (Yes, I know. I hate grating cheese too. But in this case it is super worth it.)
Then just slide your pizza onto the pizza stone, bake for 25-30 minutes, and enjoy the simple glory of a truly perfect pizza.