"I figured if we won't eat it during a pandemic, we never will!," remarked a friend during a recent Zoom chat happy hour. We'd been discussing the "interesting" meals we'd managed to come up with during this time of shifting shopping and cooking habits. The far recesses of cupboards everywhere are seeing light for the first time in a long while as folks look to use up what they have on hand and make room for sensible shelf-stable provisions. Odd jars of condiments, beans and tinned tomatoes suddenly have new worth in this era of precarious grocery shopping.
Another friend remarked that she'd never before cooked so much in her entire life, and good god the dishes! They never seem to end. Nods of agreement came from every corner of my screen. Indeed, our dishwasher has been running at least three time a day, with dishes in waiting still managing to back up between cycles. And as much as I'd love to support my local restaurants by ordering out breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, that's just not practical either.
Due to the need to reduce shopping frequency, meal planning has become more important than ever. We include takeout for one or two meals a week in our weekly meal plan, mostly in an effort to keep our beloved restaurant community afloat, but also as a carrot to reward ourselves for complying with social distancing. Last night we ordered fajitas and burritos from the little Mexican place across the street. After two weeks of cooking everything we eat at home, I've never been so excited to nosh on carryout. What I used to guiltily fall back on now feels virtuous.
Pizza Friday was something my seven-year-old looked forward to each week at school, so we decided to make it part of our home school schedule as well. I generally prefer a thin crust, hand-tossed style pizza, but I'll happily wait to have thin crust pizza on Take-Out Night. This recipe is so easy and low-mess that it's become our go-to method for homemade pizza. The dough is ready after a 90-minute rise on the counter, or it can be left to rise slowly in the fridge for up to two days. It's a perfect vehicle for using up odd ingredients, and don't be afraid to think beyond traditional pizza favors. No marinara sauce or mozzarella cheese? Spread some jarred salsa on top of the dough instead, sprinkle with nacho-inspired toppings like black beans, frozen corn, peppers, cilantro and cheddar cheese for a wacky delicious taco pizza. Go for a gastropub-worthy flatbread by brushing a mixture of hot sauce and butter on top of the dough, then scattering the top with shaved Brussels sprouts, shredded chicken and blue cheese crumbles. Drizzle with more buffalo sauce and creamy yogurt ranch after baking. Frozen spinach and drained marinated artichokes would also make a nice combination. Think of it as a blank canvas for your pantry! Oil the pizza pan well and it shouldn't be too hard to wash: mine comes out of our overworked dishwasher clean as a whistle.
Pan pizza recipe
4 cups flour (I use half all-purpose and half whole wheat)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ½ cups water
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the pan
Toppings of your choice
Combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, water and oil in a mixing bowl. If you plan to cook the pizza that day, use warm water. Use cold water if you're planning to let it rise in the fridge overnight. Mix the dough with a machine or by hand until a loose ball forms, then knead for about seven to eight minutes. To do this by hand, gather the dough into a ball, then turn it out onto a smooth, floured surface and knead, dusting your hand as needed with flour, until smooth and slightly tacky. Place in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise in a draft-free area for 90 minutes or for up to two days in the fridge.
After the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place an extra sheet pan or heavy pizza stone in your oven if you have one.
Generously oil an 11x17-inch rimmed sheet pan. Place the dough in the pan and use your hands to gently press and stretch the dough to fill the pan. Cover with a damp towel or an inverted pan to rise for an additional 20 minutes, then top as desired (try not to pile on too many toppings to avoid a soggy crust) . Bake at 450 degrees, preferably on a stone or another preheated sheet pan, for about 20-25 minutes total. I have had good results adding all the toppings except the cheese and baking for 15 minutes, then removing the pizza from the oven and sprinkling the cheese over the top before baking for a final 5-8 minutes.