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Pesto pizza, chez Simon

  • 12th Sep, 2006 at 4:48 PM

Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

Recently, at parties, I've discovered that I'm one of the least geeky people there. Which is bizarre, because I've basically been geeky all of my life. To address that issue, I had a very nice weekend full of random dorkiness.

On Saturday, I went with angorian and Damian to marché Jean-Talon where we picked up a few things. Like pine nuts, parmesan, and a crate-full of basil. Due to a more innovative washing strategy, we finished making six litres of pesto in six hours. I brought my half back home and am slowly freezing it into ice cubes.

Actually, I still have some pesto left over from last year. Whoops! Better have some people over for dinner, I suppose.

Then on Sunday, I invited a group of friends over to play geeky games. angorian showed up with Damian, and was quickly followed by wlach, cloquewerk, and _watchtower_. We pulled out Munchkin and Chez Geek. I can hear you muttering "comfy" right now, elliptic_curve, and I don't care.

There was a break for dinner, where I pulled out some salsa, tabbouleh, and pizza. I made the pizza dough in advance, so I kept on leaving to check on it, but it seems to have been worth it. Especially after the pizza stone cracked in the oven. Ah well, I've always wanted a thicker one anyway.

You can always order out for pizza, but that doesn't seem to turn out as nicely as I like. By the time it gets to your door, it's been steamed in the cardboard box for a while, so the crust begins to taste like wood. And everything turns a tad soggy. And the toppings aren't exactly what you want. So you might as well make pizza at home. Now, you can buy frozen pizza dough, which is really quite good, but try making pizza from scratch. It's easier than you might think.

Pesto pizza


  • 10mL active dry yeast
  • 300mL warm water
  • 400g Canadian all-purpose white flour
  • 15mL salt
  • 15mL sugar
  • 30mL olive oil
  • 15mL basil pesto
  • Various toppings


  1. In a small bowl, mix the yeast and warm water together. Let it sit for about five minutes, until the yeast is dissolved and the mixture is cloudy. It will start to smell a bit like bread or beer, which is exactly what you want. Don't add the yeast to hot water or you'll kill the little critters.
  2. In a large bowl, mix your flour, salt, and sugar with a balloon whisk.
  3. Make a deep hole in the centre of your dry ingredients and add the oil, pesto, and yeast mixture. Combine the wet ingredients with a fork and slowly incorporate the flour from the edges.
  4. You'll eventually end up a moist ball of dough which should pull itself together. If it's too dry to do that, add a few splashes of warm water. If it's too wet, dust it with some more flour. Eventually, you'll have something moist that you can knead.
  5. Scatter some flour evenly on your counter and scrape the dough on to it. Then knead and work the dough until it dries out a bit and becomes smooth and elastic. Don't be afraid of it, you can really get all your aggression out this way.
  6. Once the dough is springy, take your large bowl and coat the bottom and sides with olive oil. Transfer your dough to that bowl and roll it around a bit so that it's covered lightly in oil.
  7. Cover the bowl with cellophane and leave it in a warm place for it to rise. I typically leave it resting close to the pilot light on my stove. It takes about an hour or two for it to double in volume, so waste some time surfing the Internet.
  8. Once it gets big enough, punch the dough down. Cut it in half using a plastic dough scrapper, but you can use a knife if you don't have one. Roll each half into a ball and loosely cover each with cellophane to rise again. This should take about fifteen minutes.
  9. You should preheat your oven at about this time. Set it to the highest temperature it will go, as pizza is best when it's baked quickly. If you have a pizza stone, leave it in the oven so it will heat as the oven heats. Putting a cold stone in the oven will guarantee that it explodes from thermal stress. If you don't have a pizza stone, you can use baking sheets.
  10. On a floured work surface, stretch one of the dough balls until it's rather thin. But not so thin that it breaks. I find that using a rolling pin helps, but you can also do this by spinning it in the air. After you've got the crust in an approximately pizza shape, we're ready to top it.
  11. Get a cutting board that will fit the dough. Rip a piece of parchment paper and put it on top. Then put your dough on top of that. Add a small amount of pizza sauce and your favourite toppings. I like using huge blobs of low-fat mozzarella, because it melts gorgeously and also provides good structural integrity.
  12. Slide the whole pizza with the parchment on to your pizza stone. Bake for about fifteen minutes, pulling the parchment paper out from underneath in the last five or so. This should give you a gloriously crispy crust. Bring the pie to the table, cut into wedges, and dig in.
  13. Now bake the second pizza, because people will be clamouring for seconds. Optionally, you can freeze that second dough ball, and pull it out for an easy dinner later in the week.

Serves 6.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
12th Sep, 2006 22:23 (UTC)
Oh man, that sounds good. My parents went on a fresh pizza dough blitz for a while when I was a kid: scientists that they are... we had a lot of different types of little rolls made out of pizza dough experiments. I guess they eventually got bored of experimenting, because they stopped and we haven't done that in years.

Your recipe made me think about how yummy those experiments were (well, some of them). Maybe I'll pick up some yeast at the grocery store tonight. :)
12th Sep, 2006 22:32 (UTC)
Yay! Fresh bread is among the best things you can make. It takes a bit of time, so weekends are well-suited for this endeavour. But it makes your whole house smell fabulous.
12th Sep, 2006 23:49 (UTC)
I invited a group of friends over to play geeky games.

Please invite me next time :) Of course, you probably knew I was busy.

(pizza goodness)

You can also make the dough in a food processor, which works well if you're lazy like me. I also bake the crust for 5min or so before adding toppings - I guess your parchment sheet technique solves the same problem of an insufficiently crispy crust.
13th Sep, 2006 06:03 (UTC)
Yes, you shall be invited next.
13th Sep, 2006 06:27 (UTC)
Actually, I also make the dough in the food processor, because it's relatively fast. The parchment paper doesn't help much if you don't have a pizza stone, in which case you may want to prebake the crust in the bottom rack. Results may vary based on your oven.
13th Sep, 2006 00:31 (UTC)
Get a wooden pizza peel, dust it with durum semolina, put your stretched-out dough on it, top it quickly, and slide it onto the stone. The parchment paper doesn't result in as crispy a crust, even if you take it off when you can. (Also put a bit of the semolina into the dough.)

Put the cheese on as late as you can, because it tends to brown before everything else is quite ready.

The frozen dough isn't nearly as good as the fresh. I stopped freezing it.

If you have a stone that's a centimetre or more thick, fifteen minutes won't do it. Try half an hour.
13th Sep, 2006 06:03 (UTC)
Semolina is a good idea, but is sometimes difficult for people to source. I used to buy some, but I've run out. As for the parchment paper, I've found that if your stone is hot enough, it makes little difference.

I keep my toppings fairly thin and don't shred the cheese. This lets some of the cheese brown and the rest of it melt nicely.

As for frozen dough, not all of us can bake fresh bread from scratch on Wednesday nights. But perhaps we should?

As for preheating, you can always turn on the oven earlier in the process, like in the middle of your first rise. But I had a thin 1cm stone, so I found that twenty-five minutes was enough. I had to spend the time rolling out the pizza and topping it, of course.
14th Sep, 2006 10:12 (UTC)
Your call on the parchment paper. I stopped using it for free-form breads because it was making a difference on the bottom crust. Besides, the stuff is expensive. If you can find a thin reusable silicon sheet, that's an alternative.

It's not easy to find durum semolina. In Waterloo, Bulk Barn has it.

I use the dough cycle of my bread machine for pizza dough, which has the advantage of not requiring any attention after adding the ingredients. Proofing yeast is fiddly. You do have to be home two hours before eating... or use the timer which some of these machines have.

Oh, and with pesto -- the French/Italians are adamant about not cooking it (ie adding it to soup only after it's taken off the heat). While I've made many pizzas with it spread on at the usual time, lately I've taken to either flicking bits over the completed pizza or thinning it and using a squeeze bottle to drizzle over the completed pizza. It tastes different that way.

13th Sep, 2006 01:50 (UTC)
I can hear you muttering "comfy" right now

13th Sep, 2006 03:30 (UTC)
So because I was a re-curring character in your weekend of "dorkiness", does this make me a dork? Thanks Simon. :P
13th Sep, 2006 06:00 (UTC)
Only if you think so. Plenty of people are merely accessories to my own personal dorkiness.
13th Sep, 2006 04:34 (UTC)
that sounds mighty tasty :)
13th Sep, 2006 05:59 (UTC)
It is!
13th Sep, 2006 04:48 (UTC)
I'd highly recommend BBQing pizza -- it's now the only way I make it - it produces a fantastically crispy crust.

Basically you lightly grease the grill, roll out the dough, and put it on one side of a pre-heated BBQ, with the heat on low underneath it. Let it sit for a few minutes with the lid closed until bubbles start to form, and then turn it over and turn the heat off underneath it. Leave the other burner on to provide heat. put whatever toppings you want on, close the lid, and about 10 minutes later you've got a pizza.


I can't claim the original idea - saw it on the surreal gourmet: http://www.surrealgourmet.com/html/recipes/gpaal.html
13th Sep, 2006 05:59 (UTC)
I was planning on putting my stone in the barbecque to see what happens. But I suppose this might work as well.

Do you get a proper rim on the pizza? It seems like that might fail to set properly, due to the upside-down crust action.
13th Sep, 2006 12:39 (UTC)
not really - it ends up completely flat - but it hasn't been a problem. I like the fact that you can spread your toppings right out to the edge.
13th Sep, 2006 09:31 (UTC)
oh! I believe both Munchkin and Chez Geek reside in my geeky aparment-hold (vs. house-hold?) as well!
13th Sep, 2006 15:45 (UTC)
They're excellent games, aren't they?
13th Sep, 2006 12:46 (UTC)
hey simon, I bet I could make pizza in my fish grill, (the closest thing I have to an oven), but I wanted to ask you if you have any good rice cooker recipies.
13th Sep, 2006 15:46 (UTC)
For pizza? Sadly, rice cookers are not good for baking. You'll just have to go out and buy baked goods.

Rice cookers are good for steaming things, though.
13th Sep, 2006 13:37 (UTC)
I received today you postcard from mexico!! What a long delay! thanks!
13th Sep, 2006 15:46 (UTC)
Wow! That did take a long time. Glad you got it.
13th Sep, 2006 13:57 (UTC)
We were just going to pick up some food for this sunday, but now I feel inspired. I will definitely make pizza from scratch if I have the time. Oh, and if you still have a bit of your old pesto hanging around, I wouldn't mind a bit. That stuff you gave my sister last year was super useful.
13th Sep, 2006 15:46 (UTC)
Of course you can have a tub. Give me a call to make sure I'm home and drop by to pick one up.
13th Sep, 2006 17:33 (UTC)
I don't think I have your phone number. Will you be around on friday?
13th Sep, 2006 18:04 (UTC)
Likely yes. My telephone number is +1-514-845-4887.
31st Aug, 2008 12:14 (UTC)
i think...
I do not believe this
31st Aug, 2008 14:02 (UTC)
Re: i think...
I’m puzzled. What’s unbelievable here?
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )