Don’t forget Pizza (with bonus Focaccia)

Who doesn’t like pizza? We usually eat it, of course, with cheese, sausage, anchovies, and so on; but a strict-fast pizza topped with tomato sauce, cooked onions and mushrooms is still delicious, especially if the crust is well-made.

We make pizza from scratch at least a couple of times during Lent. If you’re not in the mood to make it from scratch, you still have several options. Chances are you won’t find a Lenten Pizza in the frozen foods section of your supermarket, but you will find refrigerated or frozen pizza dough; from there it’s only a matter of coming up with a topping. There’s no need to buy jars of special “pizza sauce”; as far as I can tell it’s exactly the same stuff as bottled spaghetti sauce. (Speaking of which, pasta with tomato sauce is another strict-fast meal that’s so familiar and simple that it doesn’t really merit its own post. Now I’ve done my duty and mentioned it.)

To make a good topping entirely from scratch, slice up several onions and a bunch of mushrooms. With a good amount of oil, simmer them in a large skillet until the onions have turned brown but not burned. Add some salt. Stir in some herbs, fresh or dried. This by itself makes a fine topping. If you want to keep going, dice a bunch of tomatoes (or open a can of tomatoes), stir them in, turn up the heat and simmer till the tomatoes have broken down a bit and the sauce is no longer watery. Spread on your pizza crust and stick it in the oven.

Pizza comes out best if you turn your oven temperature as high as it will go. Keep an eye on the pizza so it doesn’t burn. If the oven is at least 450°, baking it will take no more than 15 minutes.

For crust, we use a no-knead, long-rise formula that comes out really tasty. It does require planning ahead, since you make the dough (ideally) 12 hours before baking. If you’re having pizza in the evening, starting the dough in the morning works fine.

In a large bowl, mix:

  • 2 cups water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (or other oil, or none at all)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast.

Stir everything together well; the dough will be sticky and not difficult to stir with a big spoon. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let sit for the rest of the day. Before you start to make your topping, dump the dough out on a large oiled cookie sheet and spread it out with your fingers until you have a big, roughly rectangular piece of dough that fills the cookie sheet pretty well. If possible, let it sit for an hour or so before baking. Spread on the toppings and bake.

When making the dough, you can mix some fresh or dried herbs right into the crust. If you only have time to let your dough rise for a few hours, add more yeast, at least a teaspoon.

Foccacia is a delicious Italian flat bread, essentially pizza dough without the toppings. Use the recipe above. Drizzle with a little oil just before it goes in the oven. A good variation is to chop up a generous number of black olives and stir them into the dough as you make it. When it comes out of the oven, let it cool, then cut it into wedges or longish rectangular strips. Serve as the bread that goes alongside a good soup or chili.